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In his period epic Far and Away, director Ron Howard seems to make use of gunshots, to signal a change of "chapters", if you will, in the story.

  • A gunshot spooks a horse at the beginning of the movie leading to the fatal injury of Mr. Donally and introduces Joseph
  • The exploding rifle when Joseph tries to kill Mr. Christie signals the introduction of Shannon
  • Mrs. Christie's gunshot into the fog as Joseph and Shannon escape the duel
  • Mr. McGuire being shot in the street at the Port of Boston signals the beginning of Joseph and Shannon's new life in America
  • Shannon being shot by the homeowner signals Joseph leaving Shannon and heading west
  • The off screen gunshot (presumably at Mr. Christie) reintroduces the Christies at the Land Run of 1893
  • The canon shot beginning the Land Run race also signals the final chapter

There may be more I am missing. In particular, the interlude returning to Ireland when Christie Manor is attacked as part of the Irish Land Wars. There is no clear device signaling the interlude.

I have not been able to find any commentary by Ron Howard confirming or denying the use of gunshots. Does this seem to be a legitimate device being used in the way I have described or am I extrapolating?

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    I +1'd this because I think it's an interesting theory. I'm curious to see if anyone can find, or knows of, some factual content to back it up. – Johnny Bones Apr 27 '17 at 14:38
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There seems to be no evidence that Ron Howard has ever spoken to either confirm or deny your theory, but I'd venture to say that this is not the case. I base it on two pieces of evidence:

1) The use of a gun does not ALWAYS precede a change in the setting, destination, frame of mind, etc. You are absolutely correct when noting the scene where the Christie's are run off. In that scene, 4 gunshots are heard, all fired ineffectually into the air by Stephen Chase. It does not start the event, have an impact on the event, nor conclude the event. Also, there are a dozen gunshots fired into the air on the night of the race, and the only implication is a dead horse. Ditto the start of the race, where a man is shot as he crosses the line early.

2) A change of scene that one would normally consider a chapter does not always include a gunshot. Although as you have noted many of the events in the film that one would consider major have a gunshot in or around them, here are a few that do not:

  1. Joseph's sexual frustration leading to his career as a pugilist.
  2. Joseph's decision to leave the train and join the Oklahoma homesteaders.

Ultimately I think your question is answered in two ways. First, as a case of Square Peg, Round Trope. Far and Away isn't a shoot 'em up movie, and Ron Howard does not abuse the use of guns. They affect the film and are not used lightly, so they usually appear with consequences. Second, it fits one of the themes of the film nicely. Violence was a major factor in the founding and settling of the US and was a way of life for many. As I said earlier, Ron Howard shows consequence to the violence and how it changes the circumstances of the characters. This is shown with guns, with fire, fists and pitchforks throughout the movie.

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I can not find any commentary in which Ron Howard Discusses it, but I do think that even though dvaeg makes interesting points that the gunshots are not "exclusively" used in the ways in which you describe, that there are too many of them for it to at not at least be a motif and is ultimately thematic noise that may be used for several things that ultimately move the film forward, provide some comic relief (Far and Away at times seems to have a melodramatic portrayal of Ireland and America and ultimately the leads relationship), and/or helps sets the tone.

Motif Definition:

Motif and Theme In a literary work, a motif can be seen as an image, sound, action or other figures that have a symbolic significance and contributes toward the development of theme. Motif and theme are linked in a literary work but there is a difference between them. In a literary piece, a motif is a recurrent image, idea or a symbol that develops or explains a theme while a theme is a central idea or message.

https://literarydevices.net/motif/

And just as a point of interest, because name is also amusing considering the topic of the question, there is something that is called, Checkhov's Gun. It's a principal in film-making that states that every element must be necessary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun

I find Ron Howard a competent and successful filmmaker and so I would argue, his gun-use in Far and Away did serve a purpose, even if it's multi-faceted.

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