Saturday, May 17, 2008

Call It, Friendo

The Good, the Bad, and the Outmatched.

Sergio Leone's Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966/1967) and the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men (2007) are set over a century apart (1862 vs. 1980) but in the same area, the contested borderlands that bring together Mexico, New Mexico and Texas. They have the same primal feel, rich with possibility.

In Leone's film, the three main characters, opportunists all, seek stolen gold. They exploit the backdrop of two rival forces (USA vs. CSA) vying for power and legitimacy in a land also claimed by Mexico and area Indian tribes. In No Country, the three main characters roughly approximate the Good (Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff Ed Tom Bell), the Bad (Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh), and the Ugly (Josh Brolin's Llewelyn Moss).

But unlike Clint Eastwood's Blondie, Sheriff Bell, attempting to work within the letter if not always the spirit of established law, admits he is "outmatched." Blondie is actually the most mysterious of Leone's characters, like the other side of the coin to the Coen's (and Cormac McCarthy's) evil Chigurh. Both men are self-reliant, relentless, and driven by something beyond greed, something more mysterious, even ineffable. Eli Wallach's Tuco and No Country's Moss are understandable desperadoes with family issues. Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes is sadistic and greedy but seems as grounded in history and geography -- and is as ultimately defeated -- as Sheriff Bell in No Country.

If there's a lesson, it may be that high plains drifters have an edge over settled men. In this existential equation, being evil or good is secondary.

Our Lady of the Lake on fire, San Antonio, Texas, earlier this month. But Mary is still there . . . . .

Today's Rune: Movement.


the walking man said...

"If there's a lesson, it may be that high plains drifters have an edge over settled men. In this existential equation, being evil or good is secondary."

In the current state of affairs then who is the high plains drifter?


Charles Gramlich said...

Excellent, I never would have made this connection, even though Leone's film is a favorite of mine and I just watched "no country."

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Mark/WM: Good question. Depends on what people want or hope for. In my family's history, people migrated to find work when the local status quo collapsed. Eg., a group left the strip coal mines of IL and IN to go back East during the Great Depression; others stayed. Way back, Vikings raided places easily, but then often mingled with the local inhabitants and built trading posts. American Indian tribes -- better off free or on reservations? I guess there's no universal answer escept that if you see the Mongols coming from afar, better to run to safety than to hesitate and become part of the next skull pile!