An American barroom pianist and his prostitute girlfriend go on a trip through the Mexican underworld to collect the bounty on the head of a dead gigolo.An American barroom pianist and his prostitute girlfriend go on a trip through the Mexican underworld to collect the bounty on the head of a dead gigolo.An American barroom pianist and his prostitute girlfriend go on a trip through the Mexican underworld to collect the bounty on the head of a dead gigolo.
It's not a good movie because it's easy to watch, or because we like the people in it, or because it carries some important message. If it even has a message, it's that nothing matters and everybody dies. It's a good movie because it is one of the most powerful expressions of disillusionment and nihilism ever produced. It's a good movie because it has no illusions about itself. It knows that it's about rotten people and wretched deeds, and refuses to shy away from the ugliness or make excuses for the things that happen. And it's a good movie because it's absolutely fascinating.
The reason that anyone wants Señor Garcia's head is that he had the poor judgment to impregnate the daughter of a wealthy crime boss, who now offers a million dollars to the man who will deliver his head. There are many who wish to claim the bounty, but no-one knows where he is. No-one except Benny, a poor bartender who learned from his girlfriend that Alfredo is already dead and buried after a fatal car accident. Now all he has to do to claim part of that reward is dig up his old friend and cut off his head. Or so he thinks.
At this point, the sheer futility and pointlessness of everything that will happen should be perfectly clear. A million dollars is being offered so that an evil old man can have his revenge, but what's the point if he's already dead? And it only becomes bitterer and more cynical from there. Benny never had anything against Alfredo. His girlfriend once loved the man. But if desecrating an old friend's grave will get him $10,000 then he'll do it. Because that head is his ticket out the slums. He's been stuck in a dead end existence without prospects, without hope, far too long to let anyone or anything stop him.
And there will be many who try. Lots of people want that head. Some are driven by the same greed as Benny. Others have more personal reasons. But none of them will back down, and none of them have anything resembling scruples, or the slightest bit of mercy. And so the bullets will fly, and the body count will rise. And the fighting and killing will continue long after there's any reason for it, past the point where money is on the line, until anger and killing have become ends unto themselves.
And that is what fascinates me. Most of the people who die in this movie didn't have to die. Benny didn't have to fight them. But he doesn't know how to stop fighting. He's lost too much, and his anger has consumed him utterly. When he started out he was already desperate, impatient, and unhappy, and as his journey becomes ever more miserable he's gotten closer to the edge, until killing is the only thing left to him.
There's a section in the middle where he's retrieved the head and is driving back alone in his battered car. And the head is sitting in the car next to him, wrapped in bloody cloth and surrounded by files. And he's talking to it, almost shouting at it, telling it how none of this was worth it and it's his fault that so many have died. It's like the Wilson scenes in Castaway, only a hundred times more demented. And it stands out because it so perfectly sums up the madness, desperation, and sense of decay that permeate the entire film. It's just hard to believe that there can be a world that is so devoid of happiness or meaning, where so few people have so few morals, where the 'hero' will shoot a dead man "Just because it feels so good." And that Peckinpah can make it so engaging, and achieve such purpose out of futility, is the most amazing thing of all.
- Dec 6, 2014