Sunday, June 26, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Those who may think this groundbreaking film is simply a celebration of the 1960’s hippie culture as a newly found prescription for living should reconsider their position. As director Dennis Hopper said, he primarily saw this movie as a western, and that it was a road picture with John Ford’s vistas as the backdrop. In many ways this motion picture, despite its modern found music soundtrack, is about a nostalgia for America’s past, and a critique of its present.
If there is any doubt about the non-glorification of the story’s two main characters, just watch the beginning. They are, as producer, co-writer, and star Peter Fonda described it, “scoring junk in a junk yard,” in Mexico. They buy what appears to be a large quantity of cocaine from Mexicans and then sell it to a rich guy (played by music producer Phil Spector) who drives up in a Rolls Royce. In the background we hear the rock group Steppenwolf singing the indicting words, “God damn the pusher man.” So these guys are really capitalists making a huge profit in a transaction with another well-to-do businessman. There is no altruistic idealist activity going on here. They immediately do what most modern day Americans do when they come into money – they upgrade, in this case by buying two new motorcycles. One of them has a gas tank with the American flag painted on it. Their cash is rolled up, inserted into a tube, and shoved into the tank. This symbol of intercourse implies, as Fonda said, that they were “f…… America.” (Hopper said the title of the movie refers to a man who takes the earnings of a prostitute who loves him. Basically business people have pimped out America for profit. He also said by the time the movie was made that “The Summer of Love” was over, and that the dealing of hard drugs killed the counter-culture). So the above noted scene is emblematic of the degradation of what the United States once stood for. The tear drop shape of the tank may signify the sorrow felt for what the country has become.
But let’s not dismiss these two men as totally negative. Fonda’s character has two names. One is Captain America, referencing the hero of the comics who fought for all that is good about his country. He also has a jacket and a helmet depicting the nation’s flag. These items could be seen as ironic. But many in the counter-culture era in which the film was made mockingly wore clothing with the flag on it to demonstrate how the symbol had lost its meaning in a country that waged an unjustifiable war in Vietnam and allowed the violation of civil rights. The Captain America name may imply that Fonda’s character longs for a past where the country’s ideals were cherished. The character’s other name is Wyatt (we don’t hear this name until the end), which refers to Wyatt Earp. It fits the character’s personality. Earp was lawman, but he also was a gunfighter, arrested many times, and may have been involved in fixing a prize fight. In the film, Wyatt appears to be the more complex one. Despite his dope-dealing, he has more sympathy for others, admiring farmers, escorting girls at a commune, and, in a sense, freeing the prostitutes from the brothel toward the end of the movie. Hopper’s character is Billy. The director said that in a country that carries out unjust actions, the only alternative is to become outlaws. So, his name conjures up Billy the Kid. He also constantly wears what appears to be a buckskin outfit, a cowboy’s clothes. Both characters’ names conjure up that nostalgia for the Old West and the idealized individuality it represents.
The two men do symbolize the 1960’s desire to recapture the desire for individual freedom that was the primary goal of the Founding Fathers. At the beginning of the movie, Wyatt takes off his watch and throws it away, obviously signifying the desire to be free of time’s restraints which are inextricably tied to a life dominated by obligation and mortality. Fonda said he wore the unorthodox leather pants he dons in the movie while immersing himself in water, so that the material would cling to him, appearing like a second skin. In a way, it shows his very nature is one of rebellion against external restraints. At one point he says that he never wanted to be anybody else, which points to his strong sense of individuality, and his imperviousness to being subservient to the will of others to remake him into their image of what they think he should be. The scene where the cowboys replace the shoe on a horse as the men fix a flat on a bike shows the motorcycle as a mechanistic equine replacement. One can see the shot as nostalgia for the older form of transportation, but it also can indicate that we still yearn for that exhilaration we feel as we fly unrestricted through the nation’s expanse as its wind washes over us.
Wyatt and Billy give the Stranger on the Highway (Luke Askew) a ride and they go to the commune where he resides. The people there could also be considered outlaws from the modern materialistic society, wanting to, again, return to the past by having “simple food for simple tastes,” which they acquire by living off of the land. As the Stranger says, he is from the city, and wants to be “a long way from the city,” which represents modern corruption. This yearning for the frontier places this film squarely in the realm of literature that idealizes the unspoiled frontier as the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The Stranger offers Wyatt a wafer of supposedly the hallucinogen LSD to be shared with the right people at the right place. He says that this could be the right pace. He also says, ominously, to Wyatt, “The time’s running out.” This scene is a pivotal one in the story. Billy is all about time, wanting to rush Wyatt to the next place. Here, he wants to get to the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. He is sort of a dark force dragging them to their demise. Unfortunately, Wyatt says he has to go.
The two men join in a parade in a small town in the south with their bikes. They are arrested for parading without a permit. This action signifies that one has to comply with the rules of society, whether or not they are fair, to travel in the mainstream, to be part of the community. They go to jail not really because they do not have a permit, but because they have long hair and dress differently, rebelling against the established norms by refusing to blend in and accept standardized modes of appearance. Luckily, they befriend a local lawyer, George Hanson (Jack Nicholson, in an Oscar-nominated, star-making performance), who is, in his own way a rebel - a drunk, and representative for the ACLU - but who is from an influential family, and gets the two men off by greasing palms with cash. In a sense Wyatt and Billy liberate him, too, by allowing George to join them on the way to Mardi Gras, a life-long desire of the lawyer’s.
Along the way, they stop at a local restaurant where locals harass the three visitors. One of the town’s residents warn that they won’t make it to the county line. They leave without getting any service. They camp out, and George basically voices the desire for the way the country used to be, and how freedom in America is now at risk. He says, “this used to be a helluva good country.” Billy says that people seem to be scared of them. George says, “They’re scared of what you represent to ‘em.” He says they fear their freedom, which Billy questions, since freedom is “what it’s all about.” George replies, “Oh yeah, that’s right. That’s what it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free, ‘cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they’re gonna’ talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But, they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare em.’” And, that reminder that they have compromised their freedom for monetary gain, warns George, makes them dangerous.
George’s foreboding words come to pass. The three are ambushed while they sleep, and the attackers beat George to death. Hopper said that it would have been too straightforward if George was an African American, because it would have showed the murder as a limited act of bigotry. By killing not only a white person, but a Southerner, it showed that America was capable of killing any one of its citizens, even one of its own local residents. It showed that the killers were sending a message that a traitor of the accepted area’s culture received his just punishment. And, Wyatt and Billy can’t disclose the act of violence, since the sheriff was one of the harassers, and the two would probably be held as the prime suspects.
They do travel on to New Orleans, and Billy wants to go the bordello that George hoped to visit. There are a number of religious paintings and icons at this place, sort of reversing the usual association of sex with sin, and in keeping with the film’s desire to return to a Garden of Eden type of innocence. It is at this point that Wyatt has a premonition of his own death, his bike in flames on a road. The name of the prostitute who is paired with Wyatt is named Mary (Toni Basil), emphasizing the pre-apple eating lack of needing to distinguish good from evil. The other prostitute is played by Karen Black. The four share the psychedelic wafer Wyatt received at the commune, and which Fonda later compared to participating in a sort of hippie holy communion (the similarity between “commune” and “communion” was, I am sure, intended). They wind up, again ominously, in a cemetery. We hear The Lord’s Prayer recited, but the words are undercut with the sounds of a money-making oil drill in the background. We see Wyatt sitting in the lap of a statue featuring Liberty. The point, according to Fonda, was to question whether freedom was real in fact, or now just an illusion. Hopper said that the man reading a book and then wandering off brandishing an open umbrella was a reference to a symbol of death used by Cocteau, another bad omen.
After Wyatt and Billy head out on the road again, we then see the two camped out. Billy says, “We did it, we did it. We’re rich man. We’re retirin’ in Florida now, mister.” To which Wyatt responds, “You know Billy, we blew it.” The idea of making your fortune and then retiring to Florida is the clichéd goal of modern American materialism. Fonda said that he hated the idea of retirement, when there was so much work to be done to fix what’s wrong with the country. Wyatt realizes that the road on which they have been traveling is the wrong one after all. They missed the opportunity to do something that was unselfish and beneficial to others.
The dangerous prediction of George and the other forebodings become realized when two rednecks in a pick-up shoot Billy on a road after he flips them the finger after their abusive comments. Wyatt goes to him and significantly covers him with his flag-designed jacket, a sort of bestowal of a countercultural shroud. He rides off for help, but the two in the truck shoot at him, too, and we see his bike fly into the air as it disintegrates, like his freedom, and bursts into flames. We then get an aerial shot. Fonda said the camera shows the audience the man-made road with man-made violence, and then pans to show a river next to it, which is God’s road. We have the contrasting beauty of that natural, unspoiled path made long ago from which the country has strayed.
The next film is Citizen Kane.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Director Sidney Lumet added power to this motion picture’s theme by choosing a story based on a true incident, and by giving it a gritty, almost documentary feel, especially in the street scenes. This realistic approach heightens the contrast with the almost surreal, circus-like events that transpire. The film opens with a collage of the diversity of, and the disparity between, the many segments of the New York City population. There are poor people living among trash heaps in the streets, construction and toll booth workers, businessmen in suits, children swimming in a pool and older people at the beach (letting us know it is summer), and the dead resting in their eternal residences in a cemetery. We even have a quick shot of a woman and her children, who turn out to be the wife and kids of Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino). From the general, we move to the specific, which, in turn, comments on the world at large.
Three men are about to rob a bank in Brooklyn. The fact that Sonny and his military veteran pal, Sal (John Cazale) are wearing suits implies a comment that the people who do the robbing are not just the stereotypical seedy types; businessmen may be stealing our money, we just don’t suspect them because they appear respectable. And, these fellows, along with their partner, Stevie (Gary Springer), are not what you would expect thieves to be since they are more like the Marx Brothers than criminal sociopaths. Sonny looks almost as frightened by the prospect of the heist as do the bank workers. He rapidly, and clumsily, pulls out his rifle from the flower box (an ironic, benevolent container for a deadly device) he uses to disguise it. (This appears to be a comical version of a scene in another Pacino film, The Godfather, where Clemenza also carries a rifle in a flower box). Stevie panics and leaves because he can’t go through with the robbery. There is very little cash in the vault because Sonny’s source mixed up the money delivery and pick-up times. Sal is not a mental giant, thinking that Wyoming is a country. Even though Sonny worked in a bank and knows about how employees trip alarms and keep marked bills in their registers, he still blunders by drawing suspicion when smoke drifts from the bank after he burns a register for travelers checks. They seem surprised when an employee tells them they can’t herd the workers in an airtight vault. They become flustered when the female clerks have to go to the bathroom and the guard gets an asthma attack.
The phone rings and Detective Moretti (Charles Durning) informs Sonny that the bank is surrounded by over 200 cops. This exaggerated response of force, along with the comical aspects of the would-be crooks, help sway the audience to the side of the robbers (alternate title- “Underdog Day Afternoon?”), who just wanted to score some cash and leave quickly without hurting anyone. We begin to see how these men have become marginalized, and, in the case of Sal, how his situation could push him towards dangerous action. After Sonny hatches an escape plan using the employees as hostage leverage, Sal’s isolation is emphasized when he says he has no one in his life to tell that he is leaving the country. Both he and Sonny have been in prison before, and Sal says he can’t go back to a life behind bars. He reminds Sonny that they had a suicide pact if the bank job wasn’t successful. Maybe it is because their already desperate situation has now been amplified by the many police guns trained on them that Sal is ready to turn Sonny’s bluff about killing hostages into a reality.
There are some interesting ironic disparities as to what is considered objectionable to the characters, given the circumstances. There is a heated situation going on, where there are numerous men with loaded guns which can result in the deaths of many persons. But, when Sonny uses profanity in front of the female tellers, the supervisor chastises him for his language. Sonny is also cut off by a reporter for his four-letter-word choice. When talking to Moretti, Sonny, trying to get the multitude of cops to lower their weapons pointed at him, refers to the detective as a “pig,” which offends Moretti. Sal objects to the chief teller, Sylvia (Penelope Allen), who is understandably stressed out, smoking, because of the threat of cancer (ironic for Cazale, who died at a young age of the disease), saying that “the body is the temple of the Lord.” Yet, he is ready to start throwing bodies out of the door if they can’t escape. The movie seems to be implying that people may not be able to properly identify their priorities under certain conditions.
The film appears to be prescient about the importance of fame to the American public, especially as to the role of the media in this infatuation. The three-ring-circus effect of the press and crowds of people in the streets near the bank present an opportunity for some to be in the spotlight, garnering them the attention they have never experienced. The guy delivering pizza to the robbers and hostages raises his hands into the air like a prize-fighter champion, declaring himself a “star” for the few seconds the cameras are focused on him. Sonny realizes the power of the media to influence the public to get them on his side. He shouts out “Attica,” referencing the disastrous police actions at the New York prison. He pays for the pizza, showing he is not trying to deprive a working man of his compensation. He throws money to the masses, looking like a modern day Robin Hood. He realizes what power he can exert, and it goes to his head a bit when he says he can get anyone on the telephone line, including the Pope. It is ironic that he gains empowerment, temporarily, as an outsider who does not play by society’s rules. When Sylvia chooses to remain a hostage with her “girls” in the bank, it lets the viewing audience know that the robbers are not such bad guys. The pervasiveness of the media is seen in her getting interviewed (which she enjoys) in the midst of a tension-filled episode between the police and Sonny. However, how news exposure can quickly turn the public against one is also shown when it becomes known that Sonny is a homosexual and is married to another man. While the gay community mostly comes out in support of him, the story takes place in 1972, and he is taunted by the crowds when Sonny frisks males entering the bank. The way in which the press distorts the truth is also shown when a TV commentator assumes Sal is also gay. He is upset by this error, and wants Sonny to fix the misinformation.
The film brings up for discussion the question as to who are the dangerous members of society here. The employees do not appear to consider the robbers a threat. After their initial fear, they are bored, waiting for the situation to be over. They watch TV soap operas. Sonny allows them to handle his firearm, and shows them how to display various rifle positions. He makes sure asthmatic Howard (John Marriott) is the first hostage to be released. He is concerned about the bank manager’s health. In the radio interview, Sonny’s specific problems are representative of many persons’ struggles. He says to get a decent job, one has to belong to a union, and non-union jobs, like bank tellers, make very little. He, like others, has a wife and a couple of kids to support. When he dictates his will, he wants his insurance money left to the people he loved: his husband, Leon (Chris Sarandon), for a sex change operation; and his wife, who, by the way, doesn’t let Sonny get a word in as she just bemoans her lot in life. Leon, who now would be understood by many as a man trapped in a woman’s body, is a subject for ridicule because of the narrow-minded attitudes of the time. One of the hostages, Maria (Amy Levitt), a Catholic, has kind words for Sal when she says she will pray for him. Sonny says, “I’m a Catholic, I don’t want to hurt anybody.” And the two don’t. Instead, Sonny gets a call in the bank from someone urging him to kill all the hostages. Sonny is shocked by this incident. The scary person here is not the one the cops are after. In the end, it is the FBI that does the shooting, killing Sal. At one point, the FBI agent, Sheldon (James Broderick), tells Sonny that he doesn’t want to kill him, but he will if he has to. Sonny responds by saying, “It’s your job, right? The guy who kills me, I hope he does it because he hates my guts, not because it’s his job.” His statement shows the chilling nature of an arm of the government that can execute someone without any emotional concern. Sonny eventually was sentenced to twenty years in jail. Could it be that Sonny’s real crime was, as he put it, being an “outcast?”
But, this movie is not one-sided. Sal could have been dangerous. Leon relates how threatening Sonny was toward him. Sonny and Sal did attempt armed robbery and held people against their wills, and threatened their lives, at least to the police. The film doesn’t seem to be saying that criminals should not be punished for breaking the law. It does seem to be suggest that we should try to understand the reasons that turn people into outlaws, make attempts at preventing this conversion, and reassessing who we are classifying as “misfits.”
The next film is Easy Rider.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
When one thinks of “revisionist” westerns, this 1992 Oscar winner for best picture is the first film that usually comes to mind. Here, we do not have your John Wayne clearly defined good-guy-vs.-bad guy motion picture where the righteous are rewarded and the evil punished. There is plenty of suffering and blame to go around in this film for most of its characters.
William Munny, (Clint Eastwood, also the director, who came to fame acting in this genre), is trying hard to make a go at being a reformed outlaw, one who was a mean drunkard that, as he later says, “killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or the other,” including women and children. His wife, now dead from smallpox, reformed him, sobered him up. But, as the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) says, his walking the straight and narrow hasn’t been too prosperous for him. When we first see Will, he is sliding in the mud, trying to separate his healthy pigs from those that have “the fever,” and there are few healthy ones left. This man is obviously not your typical hero of the mythical, (which, by definition, means fictional) Old West. Perhaps he is a Job-like figure, who must be tested by God, or maybe he must experience suffering, including the loss of his beloved wife, to pay for the sins he has committed.
He is trying to take care of his young son and younger daughter when the Kid comes with an invitation to join him in order to collect a reward for killing a couple of cowboys. The reward is offered by the prostitutes of the town of Big Whiskey (the name hints at the moral decay of this world) in Nebraska because one of their members, Delilah (Anna Levine), had her face cut by a cowboy after the woman giggled at the sight of his tiny penis. In the Bible, Delilah is a femme fatale, a woman who takes away Samson’s strength by cutting his hair. In this film, men are satirized for being so preoccupied with their maleness that they commit horrible acts to defend their sexuality. Here, it is the man doing the cutting, but Delilah’s disfigurement is not a reflection of her ugliness, but that of her attacker. The women, although relegated to the profession of prostitution, assert themselves. Alice (Frances Fisher), is their leader. She says that “Even though we let them smelly fools ride us like horses don’t mean we gotta let ‘em brand us like horses. Maybe we ain’t nothing but whores but we, by god, ain’t horses!”
They want justice. But, that attribute is hard to come by in this world. The owner of the bordello, Skinny (Anthony James) is only worried about the loss of income he will sustain since he feels nobody will want to pay for sex with a scarred woman. Unfortunately, Alice gets no satisfaction from Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), who goes along with Skinny, reducing the argument to a matter of property. Since Delilah is “damaged goods,” Little Bill orders that the cowboys pay back Skinny with horses, basically equating, despite Alice’s protestation, the women with horses. Little Bill invokes a double gender standard, saying these men are not bad, because they don’t continuously do wrong things, which, as Alice points out, means they are not like “whores.” The implication is that women providing sex to consenting men is worse than the occasional violence of men done to women. So, the prostitutes pool their money and get the word out that they will pay to have the cowboys killed. In some Clint Eastwood films, (for example, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Absolute Power), the government is not an admirable institution, with those in power abusing the laws that are meant to protect the citizens, causing people to become outlaws (those outside of the law) to fix the damage.
Little Bill represents the “real” West as opposed to the romanticized version of literature and movies. It is probably no coincidence that his name, the “Little” making it sound ironically cute, and Will’s derive from the same proper name. Little Bill is really as bad as an outlaw while pretending to be an upholder of the legal order. Yes, he does try to stop violent crime in his town by not allowing firearms. But, only so he can retain all the power. The ways he treats prisoners is sadistic. One may say he is trying to prevent the killing of the cowboys, but if he had enforced the law fairly, the prostitutes wouldn’t have offered the reward in the first place. It is significant that the house that he is building, as one of the deputies says, “doesn’t have a straight angle in that whole god-damned porch, or the whole house for that matter.” He is as crooked as his home.
Little Bill’s encounter with English Bob (Richard Harris) and the latter’s biographer, W. W. Beauchamps (Saul Rubinek), further demonstrates the debunking of the idealized Old West. English Bob has a superior British attitude toward the United States. After a newspaper tells us that President Garfield was assassinated, he says that a country needs a king or queen, because he says, “the sight of royalty would cause you to dismiss all thoughts of bloodshed and you would stand, how should I put it? In awe. Now a president, I mean, why not shoot a president?” Later, as Little Bill throws him out of the town, he lectures the residents by saying that they have emigrated away from morals, laws, and honor. His elevated condescending speech supposedly upholding a sense of morality is ironic in the face of the reality that he just uses his attitude to justify his willingness to be an assassin, just like the one who killed the president, to collect the prostitutes’ reward.
This ironic contrast is mirrored in Beauchamps’ book title, The Duke of Death, making an outlaw appear to be royalty. Little Bill deflates the author’s version, calling English Bob “The Duck of Death,” and then reveals the accurate, sleazy events of one of Bob’s kills. In the incident, a man named “Two-Gun Corcoran” was so nicknamed not because he carried two weapons, but because the length of his penis was longer than the Colt he used. Again, just as in the attack on Delilah, we have man’s preoccupation with his sexual organ, and, as in Dr. Strangelove, there is a connection between man’s desire for sexual power leading to violence. And English Bob was not defending a lady’s honor, but was just jealous that Corcoran had sex with a woman he lusted after. There was no dramatic face-off between two skilled gunmen. Bob wanted to shoot his adversary before he had a chance to draw, but missed because he was too drunk. Corcoran rushed his draw after Bob’s miss and shot off his toe. Then one of his hands was blown off because his gun exploded. Bob killed an unarmed Corcoran. Little Bill says a real killer doesn’t have to be fast, just cool-headed. After English Bob leaves, Beauchamps remains with Little Bill, now recording the sheriff’s realistic version of history.
Will decides to join up with the Kid for the money. Even his own horse proves uncooperative, causing his rider to fall to the ground. Will, perhaps rightly, says he is being punished for having treated animals so cruelly in the past. The two join up with Will’s old partner in crime, Ned (Morgan Freeman), who has also become a farmer and doubts their ability to do the job. Ned is married to a Native American woman, Sally Two Trees (Cherrilene Cardinal). Notice how her name contrasts with Corcoran’s nickname, Two-Guns. She is another example of the female gender being the one that aspires to a higher standard of life. Her stern look when she eyes Will’s rifle stowed in his saddle illustrates her disapproval of her husband descending into his old ways.
Will tries to convince Ned that their job is just to get a fresh start. He says that they did their type of work for money before. Ned punctures Will’s rationalization by saying “Yeah we thought we did,” implying that they really did their nasty deeds because, underneath, they enjoyed it. But, Ned also tries to buy into Will’s declaration that he’s not the kind of man he used to be. Will says, “I ain’t like that no more … I ain’t no different than anyone else.” But, he keeps having memories and dreams of past actions that haunt him and remind him that he is different. He tries to stay reformed, and refuses whiskey to keep him warm in a rain storm. He again seems to be punished despite his temperance, becoming ghastly ill. His guilty memories increase as he tells Ned that he has seen “the angel of death.” In the saloon, Little Bill continues Will’s penance by savagely beating him for not turning over his gun. He crawls out of the place, and is rescued by Ned and the Kid. Alice accuses Little Bill of “kicking the shit out of an innocent man.” Bill’s response is interesting; he says, “Innocent of what?” Instead of the usual perception that innocence is the norm and guilt the exception, in the topsy-turvy world of this story, guilt is assumed, and innocence is rare.
Will is near death after his illness and beating, and what we have in the following scenes is a sort of dark version of Christ and the resurrection. Like Jesus, Will comes back to life after three days. The first person he sees is the prostitute, Delilah, who Will says looks like “an Angel.” Could she also be considered a version of Mary Magdalene? He now has facial scars, like the woman’s. But, he says to her, “you ain’t ugly, like me, it’s just that we both have got scars.” It could be argued, somewhat like Christ, Will is taking on the sins committed by men like himself. But, this is not a holy environment, and self-sacrifice is not the way to make things right. He is a vengeful spirit.
Will, along with the other two, go off to kill the cowboys. Again, because this film is revisionist, we don’t have dramatic shooting contests at high noon between the opposing combatants, with a quick dispensing of righteous justice. Instead, the movie shows how difficult and agonizing it is to kill someone. Ned shoots the horse their target is riding, and the animal falls, breaking the man’s leg. Since Ned no longer has the stomach for dealing out death, he hands his rifle over to Will, who shoots the crawling man, who dies an agonizing death. The Kid then kills the other man, unarmed, caught literally with his pants down, in an outhouse, reflecting the foul nature of their mission. Because of his male youthfulness, The Kid (aptly named showing his lack of experience, but also named after a type of pistol), first admires Will’s history, the excitement of it, the danger, having been taught that being a man means showing that one is the better shooter. He boasts about killing five men (a lie) because that is what he feels is expected of him. He is surprised that the other two men don’t want to talk about their kills, not understanding how they don’t want to think about the horror they have perpetuated. Perhaps the Kid’s literal nearsightedness symbolizes his inability to see the outcome of the path he is on. After he kills the cowboy, the Kid is shaken. Will sums up how there is no nobility in taking a life: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Taking away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna’ have.”
There are a number of times in the film that people state someone else “had it coming.” When Ned hears an exaggerated version of the cowboy’s cutting of Delilah, he says, “I guess they got it comin.’” After townspeople learn that one of the cowboys is dead, a rock is thrown through the bordello’s window. In response, Alice says, “He had it coming! They all have it coming!” In an attempt to clear his conscience and direct guilt outward, too, the Kid says of the men they killed, “Yeah, well I guess they had it coming.” But again, Will presents the big picture by pointing out that everyone must pay for all human crimes when he says, “We all got it coming, kid.”
Ned left the other two to return home but is caught, and Little Bill brutally whips him, looking for information about Will and the Kid, and eventually kills him. His body is grotesquely displayed in a coffin outside the saloon as a warning against “assassins.” When will hears about Ned, he becomes the Angel of Death he dreamed about. The Kid leaves, finally realizing that he wants no part of Will’s life, saying he’s not like the man he first admired. Will goes to the town and kills everyone in the saloon, proving the effectiveness of Little Bill’s statement that the most lethal man is the cool one, or in this case, the person who is ice cold. He spares Beauchamps. Will he write a book about Will, and will it be true or commercially romanticized?
Earlier, while talking to Ned, Will remembered killing a man who he recalls, “didn’t do anything to deserve to get shot.” Just before he finishes off Little Bill, the sheriff says, “I don’t deserve this, to die like this.” Will now understands that when it comes to individual lives, “Deserve’s got nothin’to do with it.” He tells the townspeople to bury Ned in a proper manner and leave the prostitutes alone, or else he will kill every man in town. His deadly skills have been used in a murky way by the universe to perform a demonic correction to the way of things. He may return to his children, move, and prosper “in dry goods,” but he knows he hasn’t stopped paying for his sins. When Little Bill said to him, “I’ll see you in hell, William Munny,” his response was, “Yeah.”
We’ll be skipping a week and then the next film is Dog Day Afternoon.