In American artist Matthew Barney’s cycle of Cremaster films, Cremaster 2 is a gothic Western that corresponds to the phase of fetal development during which sexual division begins. Director Matthew Barney plays the part of Gary Gilmore, the film's lead role. Gilmore (who had a Latter-day Saint and an abusive, alcoholic Catholic father) was executed for murdering two Latter-day Saint men in Utah.
Barney depicts Gilmore's murder of a Mormon gas-station attendant in both sculptural and dramatic forms. Inferring that Gilmore killed out of a longing for union with his girlfriend, Nicole Baker, he represents their relationship through two conjoined Mustangs that, coincidentally, they both owned. In the murder sequence, Gilmore shoots his victim in the back of the head. This act sets in motion the trial and verdict that will condemn him to death. Barney stages the judgment of Gilmore in the Mormon Tabernacle. Gilmore refuses to appeal his sentence and opts for execution by firing squad, in a literal interpretation of the Mormon belief that blood must be shed in order for a sinner to obtain salvation. His execution is staged as a prison rodeo in a cast-salt arena in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats. In Barney's interpretation of the execution, Gilmore was less interested in attaining Mormon redemption than in performing a chronological two-step that would return him to the space of his alleged grandfather, Houdini (played by Norman Mailer, Gilmore’s real-life biographer), with whom he identified the notion of freedom through self-transformation. Seeking escape from his fate, he chose death in an act of ultimate self-will. Gilmore's metaphoric transportation back to the turn of the century is rendered in a dance sequence featuring the Texas two-step.
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