The Harder They Fall: Why Rufus Carves A Cross Into Nat’s Forehead

The Harder They Fall’s opening scene shows Rufus carving a cross into young Nat’s forehead, with separate reasons for the scarring and actual symbol. The Harder They Fall’s main characters comprise two rival gangs in the Old West, the Nat Love gang and the Rufus Buck gang. The film follows Nat Love recruiting his gang to finally exact his revenge on Rufus Buck, who murdered his mother and father when he was a child and left him alive with a cross carved into his forehead.

The reasoning behind Rufus Buck murdering Nat’s father, seemingly a devoted priest and family man, was mysterious until The Harder They Fall’s ending twist. When Rufus and Nat have their final standoff, Rufus is prepared to die, but not before telling Nat that the man he killed all those years ago was actually his own father as well, making Nat a Buck before a Love. Their father was an alcoholic who abused Rufus and his mother when he was a child, only to abandon them, change his identity, take up life in the church, and start a new family. At the start of his criminal career, Rufus spent his time tracking down his father, finally finding him and murdering him and Nat’s mother while leaving his younger brother alive.

Related: The Harder They Fall: Every Real-Life Historical Figure

The villainous character in The Harder They Fall reveals that carving a cross into Nat’s forehead and letting him live was his true revenge on their father, driving their father’s good son into the same outlaw lifestyle that he was trying to run away from. While Rufus could have just let Nat live and go into the outlaw life due to his anger and resentment, the gang leader scarred him to always remember his face when he came back for his inevitable revenge. Most of the movie makes it seem like Rufus carving the cross into Nat was a calling card that would always mark Nat as one of his would-be victims, such as how Aldo Raine carves Swastikas into the Nazis he lets live in Inglourious Basterds, but discovering it was based on their familial connection gives it more significant symbolic meanings.

The cross, specifically, was a symbol of how Idris Elba's movie character looked at Nat, thinking of him as a product of their father’s hypocritical new identity. If Nat represented their father as a saint, Rufus embodied their father when he was closest to the devil. Throughout The Harder They Fall, Nat and Rufus represent different sides of good and evil, and this dichotomy is fully realized once it’s revealed that they’re brothers. Nat and Rufus’s moral comparison is also highlighted by the words Mary utters to Nat right after he’s killed Rufus, “Is the devil dead?” Nat responds that he doesn’t know, indicating that Rufus really wasn’t the devil at all, realizing he was absorbed with the same anger at their father that Nat had for Rufus.

When Rufus would see Nat again, the cross would remind him of his anger for their father; dually feeling jealous over Nat experiencing him as a good parent and rage at his father for abusing and abandoning him. For The Harder They Fall's historical characters, the cross could have also been a test to see whether their father as a saintly man would mean his new son would follow suit - if Nat was raised by their father positively, why should he turn into a criminal like Rufus? By watching Nat become a notorious outlaw - though, with the vigilante morals of only stealing from other outlaws - Rufus would be falsely proving to himself that their father had never really changed and that becoming a criminal wasn’t his own doing. The Harder They Fall giving Nat his scar purposefully nudged the protagonist into his outlaw lifestyle, with Rufus waiting for Nat to finally take the same revenge he had.

Next: Is The Harder They Fall Based On A True Story? History Explained

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