The Many Masks of The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie "The Lone Ranger." (CNS photo/Disney)
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie “The Lone Ranger.” (CNS photo/Disney)
“There come a time, when good man must wear mask.” These words, uttered by Native American guide, friend, and partner Tonto as the introduction to The Lone Ranger, cut straight to the core of the film. In The Lone Ranger, Texas Ranger John Reid responds to the death of his brother by trying to bring the men who killed him to justice. Tonto, however, in favor of protecting not only Reid, but the people he cares about, suggests that in order to do this, he put on a mask, and adopt a new identity — that of the Lone Ranger.

However, by the end of the film, these are not the only reasons that John acts as the Lone Ranger. John is given the choice between accepting a life of fame and prosperity if he removes his mask and renounces the Lone Ranger identity or remaining the Ranger and standing for justice in his own way. Naturally, he chooses to continue with his life as the Lone Ranger. Why leave a charmed life behind, though, to stay a vigilante? And how can we apply the lessons of The Lone Ranger to our own lives?

The answer lies in the Gospel of Matthew, particularly Matthew 6. Here, Jesus tells His disciples: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1), going on to add that if you do your good deeds in secret, “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:18). The Lone Ranger, like many superhero types, lives this passage by hiding his identity as he serves others. Rather than exposing his identity and taking credit for his good deeds (he does not “announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others” (Matthew 6:2)), John Reid chooses to wear the mask of the Lone Ranger, and to offer his help in secret.

So, how can we be like the Lone Ranger? Certainly I’m not advocating popping on a mask and riding around on a horse, but there are definitely ways that each of us can live in a way that coincides with these teachings. A good place to start would be finding a way to serve your community. Once you’ve got that down, take the next step and try not to be boastful about it — put on your Lone Ranger mask, so to speak. Perhaps even find a friend to be your Tonto; the two of you can do good side by side just like the film duo, and it’s always good to have someone to hold you to your word when you promise to serve!

While we’re on the subject of Tonto, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the character in this film has been raised as a potential human dignity issue. In an interview with NPR, Hanay Geiogamah, a Kiowa tribe member, calls Depp’s Tonto “a major setback for the Native American image in the world because that’s how millions of people will think American Indians are now.” Similarly, the website Color Lines discusses how the movie’s marketing opens the door for Native American exploitation. Yet at the same time, these viewpoints make a critical error in their analysis of The Lone Ranger — they assume that Tonto is the sole and predominant representative of Native American culture in the movie. Instead, as those who have seen the movie will understand, Tonto is portrayed in the film as an outcast — a man apart from the Native American community, shunned for the things he has done.

In fact, some of the elements of Tonto’s character that are attacked (the crow on his head, his “war paint,” even his characterization of the film’s main villain as an evil spirit called Wendigo) are the direct result of actions that cause his ostracism. In an effort to remain mostly spoiler-free, I won’t go into this in detail, but I will say that the first time we see Tonto ever put on war paint (he’s the only Native American in the film shown wearing it) and the moment we see him put the crow on his head are in the same instant — after Tonto has witnessed a traumatizing event that was his fault. These things are a representation of his guilt, his own “mask” as it were. This, I feel, is why when we see him as an older and more mature character, he has abandoned the war paint. He has moved beyond his guilt, left his mask behind. This other sense of the mask, unlike the Lone Ranger’s version, is something to evolve from, the remorse and sadness we must overcome in our lives.

Whether we adopt the Lone Ranger’s mask of humility or confront Tonto’s mask of sorrow, each one of us can work on the “masks” in our lives. Use this summer as an opportunity to kick-start a change in your life, perhaps one that works to confront and fix a wrong you’ve done or helps others to live a healthier and happier life. Hi ho, Silver … and away!