Monday, January 17, 2011

For a Few Dollars More (Per Qualche Dollaro in Più) -- partnership and the preciousness of life


Director: Sergio Leone, 1965. (R)

The success of A Fistful of Dollars begged for a few dollars more from another film. Leone directed this "sequel" with another producer, and legend has it the bitter falling out produced this ironic title. This film, though, is the best of the "man with no name" trilogy. More complex than Fistful, it brings two protagonists into a more developed plot.

Clint Eastwood reprises his mythical cowboy role. Here, strangely enough, the man with no name gets a moniker: Manco, although that may be more an allusion to his habit of keeping one hand on his gun and only using the other for fighting (the Spanish word "manco", or "monco" in Italian, means "one-armed"). But Manco is not the same person as Fistful's Joe, as the Italian courts decided. Rather, he is a persona, the archetypal Leone cowboy, in his pancho and hat.      

This film is about bounty killers and that appears in the opening title card: "Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared." And the opening act introduces two bounty killers: Manco and Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef). Mortimer first appears behind the covers of big Bible riding a train to nowhere. A righteous killer, this opening scene makes it clear there is more to him and his mission than meets the eye. And a subplot will emerge that explains his drive. Manco, on the other hand, is motivated by money, as in the first film. Both are experts in their "trade."

Like Fistful, Leone crafts a stylized and violent (for its time) western. Once more he uses Ennio Morricone to score the movie, giving it his distinctive tone. And here Van Cleef gets as much screen time as Eastwood. Together, they take the spaghetti western to a new level.

When they both set out after the bounty on El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte, who appeared as the villain Ramon Rojo in the first film), their paths collide. After a terrific night time gunfight scene, where the two take turns shooting at each, neither blinking though their lives are a hair's breadth away from being taken by a bullet, Mortimer points out: "When two hunters go after the same prey, they usually end up shooting each other in the back. And we don't want to shoot each other in the back." Here is the reason for their partnership: preservation rather than profit.

This points to a Biblical principle on partnership. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, penned:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4:9-12)
Life was never meant to be lived alone, apart from others. When we are joined in partnership we can help one another, just as Manco and Mortimer do eventually. More than this, though, life was meant to be lived in communion with our creator (Gen. 3:8). He is the third strand that will provide the ultimate strength to our relationships.

As the two bounty hunters forge their alliance they are forced into various subterfuges to find Indio and win his trust. Along the way, but especially at the end, bullets fly and the bounty hunters become bounty killers. At one point, the "boy" asks the "old man", " Tell me, Colonel . . . Were you ever young?" Mortimer philosophically replies, "Yep. And just as reckless as you. Then one day, something happened. It made life very precious to me." Setting up a subplot, this statement also sets up the theme.

The title card declared that life had no value, but life is indeed precious. We may take it for granted, and live recklessly in our youth thinking our lives stretch endlessly to the horizon. "Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty," (Psa. 90:10) but we don't appreciate them until they are almost gone. We need to face our mortality by living each day as though it were our last, the day when we will come face to face with our God. Then we will see afresh, enjoying the little details of our lives. And we can only truly appreciate this life if we have experienced true life in Jesus Christ, who came to give us life (Jn. 10:10).

The title card may have gotten the value of life wrong, but it is spot on regarding death. Death reigns over all of us, a consequence of sin (Rom. 5:21). Indeed, the apostle Paul pointed out that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). We cannot avoid physical death. It will come to us all, a thought many find morbid but one that is realistic. The second half of this verse gives us hope: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." We can decide if we will receive the gift or live under the curse of our payment.    

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

No comments:

Post a Comment