THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
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This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film is told through a storybook that makes up six different tales.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs:
Outlaw Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson) is riding his horse Dan across Monument Valley and crooning "Cool Water" along the way. He addresses the viewers as he describes his reputation as the "San Saba Songbird", as well as being a misanthrope, which he disagrees with. Buster decides to head into town to play his hand at cards.
Upon arriving at a quiet and nearly empty cantina, Buster asks for whiskey but is denied service by the bartender due to his lack of belief that Buster is an outlaw. He is called out by the other crooks in the bar before he demonstrates his gunslinging skills by killing the four men and bartender in there when they attempt to draw their own pistols on Buster.
Buster then enters a saloon with more patrons. He sits in on a card game and is told to play the hand of a man who just left the game. Buster refuses since the cards aren't good and he hasn't anted. He is then threatened by one of the outlaws, Surly Joe (Clancy Brown), who draws his gun on Buster after he has had to give up his guns at the door. When Joe chooses to not put his gun away, Buster stomps his foot on the table, causing Joe to shoot himself in the head three times. Buster rubs it in by singing a rousing song about killing Joe. He is then confronted and challenged by Joe's brother (Danny McCarthy) to a duel outside in retribution for Joe's death. They step outside, and Buster shoots off each of the man's fingers before taking his last shot at his head by looking through a mirror. As Buster prepares to sing another song, he is approached by a young outlaw known as The Kid (Willie Watson), who politely challenges him to another duel. Cocky as ever, Buster accepts the challenge, but is surprised to find that The Kid draws his gun much quicker, hitting Buster with a single shot to the forehead. Buster dies, and his spirit floats out of his body and on the way to Heaven. As he laments the fact that one can't always be on top, Buster and The Kid sing a duet about a better place for people on Earth as he continues to ascend on high.
A Cowboy (James Franco) enters a bank by himself with the intention of robbing it. The Teller (Stephen Root) grabs his rifle and shoots at the Cowboy before making his way out the back door. The Cowboy proceeds to grab some loot and head back to his horse, only to get shot as he is running, causing him to drop his money bag. He hides behind a well as the Teller runs up to him, covered in pans to protect himself, before he runs up and whacks the Cowboy across the head with the butt of his gun.
The Cowboy finds himself hung up to a tree while sitting on his horse. He is faced by a posse and their leader (Ralph Ineson), who is to carry out the sentence. As the rest of the posse argue about taking the Cowboy's horse, a tribe of Comanche warriors appear and start to fire their arrows upon the gunslingers, all while the Cowboy watches the chaotic battle unfold. After killing all the posse members, the Comanche chief attempts to scare the Cowboy's horse into riding away from him, but only as a joke.
Hours pass, and the horse continues to slowly move further from underneath the Cowboy, pulling the rope around him even tighter. He spots a Drover (Jesse Luken) and calls him over to get him down. The Drover does so, and the Cowboy joins him on the ride. The Cowboy then discovers that this man is a cattle rustler, and not long into the ride, they are caught by another lawman and his posse. The Cowboy is brought into town and is quickly sentenced to a hanging. He is placed alongside other men, one of whom is weeping as he dreads his impending fate. Before the hood is placed on the Cowboy's head, he spots a young woman in the crowd and admires her beauty before he is hung in front of a cheering crowd.
A man, known as an Impresario (Liam Neeson), travels across the country with his performer, Harrison (Harry Melling), who has no arms or legs. Harrison recites classic written works, such as that of Shakespeare, the poem "Ozymandias", and even the Gettysburg Address. They turn in little profits, and the audiences get smaller and less interested in what the two have to offer. In addition to setting things up, the Impresario must take care of Harrison, such as feeding him, dressing him, and carrying him around. The Impresario even takes Harrison to a brothel where he is faced in the opposite direction as the Impresario engages with a prostitute.
The two hold a show that turns in no profits whatsoever. The Impresario then catches an act in which a man shows off a chicken that appears to know how to perform math skills. He then buys the chicken after the show.
The Impresario brings the chicken along with Harrison. They stop by a bridge over a river where Harrison watches as the Impresario drops a large rock off the bridge to see how deep it sinks. He then walks over to Harrison with a small smile on his face, though Harrison appears to know what is about to happen. The scene then cuts to the Impresario continuing on his trip, but with only the chicken in the back, leaving the implication that he threw Harrison off the bridge.
All Gold Canyon:
A Prospector (Tom Waits) comes to a valley with his horse in search of gold. He goes by the river where he starts to dig holes around the area and then sifts his pan of dirt through the water to find little gold specks, turning up less and less with each dig that he makes. The Prospector doesn't give up as he is convinced there is a pocket of gold around there, and he will not stop until he finds it.
The Prospector sets up camp for the night. In the morning, he spots the nest of an owl and attempts to get her eggs for breakfast. However, now facing the owl and sensing her gaze upon him, he decides to only take one egg and eat it.
Continuing his work, the Prospector still ends up with little results, until he gets to a hole where he finds bigger gold nuggets. He advances further down the hole until he finally finds a large stone with a gold vein inside. Just as he makes this discovery, the Prospector sees a shadow from up above. A young man (Sam Dillon) who had been following him shoots the Prospector in the back with the intention of taking what the man has found. Not long after the young man hops in the hole, the Prospector gets up, having been playing dead, and he fights the young man until he gets his gun and shoots him dead. With that, the Prospector gets out of the hole, leaves the other man's body inside, and departs the valley with his the gold he has mined.
The Gal Who Got Rattled:
Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is having dinner with the other patrons in her house when she announces that she will possibly be married to her brother Gilbert's (Jefferson Mays) associate. The two later head toward Oregon with a wagon train and Alice's dog President Pierce, whose constant barking is irritating the other travelers. On the road, Gilbert falls terribly ill with cholera before ultimately succumbing to the disease overnight. The train's leaders, Billy Knapp (Bill Heck) and Mr. Arthur (Grainger Hines), bury Gilbert while Alice decides to carry on with the trip.
While sitting around a campfire the next night, Alice tells Billy and Mr. Arthur that her hired hand Matt was promised $400 by Gilbert, and he wants half of the money now before they reach Fort Laramie. Alice tells the men how much of a bad businessmen Gilbert was. Alice has no money on her and thinks it was buried with Gilbert. Billy offers to find a way to help Alice.
Billy suggests to Alice that he find a way to scare off President Pierce so that he can't bother the others. He also tells Alice that he tried to talk to Matt, but the boy wouldn't budge. Billy takes President Pierce away, and Alice hears multiple gunshots. Billy comes back and says President Pierce ran away before he could get a good shot at him.
Alice then approaches Billy that evening as she grows more concerned over her money issue with Matt. Billy then decides to make a proposal to Alice to marry when they reach Fort Laramie so that she can help pay Matt off, and that he can help start a family with her on land that he can purchase through the Homestead Act. After a while of deliberating, Alice decides to accept the proposal, as she has grown as fond of Billy as he has of her. Billy tells Mr. Arthur that this will be their last ride together.
The next day, Mr. Arthur finds that Alice has gone missing. After hearing from someone else that President Pierce's barking was heard, Mr. Arthur goes to find Alice, who is watching President Pierce bark at some prairie dogs. As he goes to get Alice, an Indian tribe approaches. Mr. Arthur gives Alice a pistol to shoot herself with to avoid capture in case he dies. He goes off to fight the Indians and kills most of them, but Alice sees that he appears to get killed too. When Mr. Arthur turns out to be alive, he kills the last Indian and goes to find that Alice has shot herself in the head. Mr. Arthur looks upon her sadly and returns to the camp, unsure of what to tell Billy.
The Mortal Remains:
A stagecoach is riding to Fort Morgan. Inside are an Englishman named Thigpen (Jonjo O'Neill), a Frenchman named Rene (Saul Rubinek), an Irishman named Clarence (Brendan Gleeson), a woman named Mrs. Betjeman (Tyne Daly), and a Trapper (Chelcie Ross). During their conversation, it is noted that there is a corpse on the roof of the stagecoach.
The Trapper starts talking about a Native woman he once knew, and his experience with her led him to feel that all people are the same in the things they want or need. Mrs. Betjeman disagrees, as she is a Christian and feels that there are two types of people - upright and sinning. She also mentions that she is going to see her husband, a former lecturer that she has been separated from for three years. Rene joins the conversation to counter Mrs. Betjeman's beliefs by mentioning a story about a friend of his whom he had to sit in for during a poker game, with the point being that people are unique and can't ever really know one another, while also suggesting that maybe Mr. Betjeman had been unfaithful should be not reciprocate Mrs. Betjeman's love. She then starts to suffer some kind of stroke and asks for the coachman to slow down, but he does not, as it is pointed out by Thigpen that the coachman's policy is to not slow down.
Clarence then starts to sing a folk song before stating that he and Thigpen are bounty hunters. Thigpen states that he distracts his targets with stories while Clarence kills them. The other three become mortified as they anticipate something grim may await them.
The coach makes it to a hotel. Clarence and Thigpen take their body inside while the other three watch with weariness. They slowly make their way out of the coach before heading inside. Before Rene enters, he watches as the coachman departs into the night. He then enters the hotel and closes the door behind him, ready to accept whatever awaits him.
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The film is an anthology of stories in the old west, and the fates that befall the people involved in them.
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Buster Scruggs is an outlaw and a wicked sharpshooter. After killing another outlaw and his brother, he is challenged by a younger outlaw who quickly shoots Buster dead. His spirit ascends to Heaven as he sings a duet with his killer.
2. Near Algodones - A cowboy attempts to rob a bank and is subsequently caught and sentenced to a hanging. The lawmen that hang him are killed by Comanches before a cattle rustler finds the cowboy and frees him. However, they are both caught and ultimately hung in town.
3. Meal Ticket - An impresario and his limbless performer travel around the country to audiences that watch the artist recite classic written works. The impresario grows displeased with what little profit they turn in until he finds a chicken that is apparently good at math. He buys the chicken and is implied to throw the artist off a bridge as he now has a new means of profit.
4. All Gold Canyon - A prospector comes across a valley in search of gold. When he finally does find some, a young man attempts to kill him and take his discovery, but the prospector fights the man and kills him before making off with his earnings.
5. The Gal Who Got Rattled - A young woman named Alice is on a journey to Oregon with her brother on a wagon train until he dies of cholera. The two leaders of the train, Billy Knapp and Mr. Arthur, try to help Alice as she is indebted to her hired hand when her brother promised him money. Billy offers to marry her to pay off the debt. Mr. Arthur later finds Alice away from the train before they are found by Indians. He gives her a gun to shoot herself with to avoid capture in case he is killed. It appears that Mr. Arthur is killed, leading Alice to shoot herself, but he turns out to be alive and dismayed when he finds her dead.
6. The Mortal Remains - A stagecoach is carrying five people (an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Irishman, a lady, and a trapper) who have discussions about human nature. The Irishman and Englishman reveal themselves as bounty hunters, and once they reach their destination at Fort Morgan, the other three realize they may be in for a grim fate.