Thursday, June 30, 2011

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

The theme of Sergio Leone’s second western is that of justice and revenge. Being a society almost without law, or at least too wild and new for a strong law to be established, the bounty hunter is an important character of the west. Most westerns do not focus on the bounty hunter’s story however. Leone uses it to explore the difference between revenge: an individual seeking retribution for a wrong against them, and justice: society’s answer for people who infringe upon the laws that protect individuals from wrong.

At first you might disagree with that assessment. After all we do not get a justice system here with checks and balances and order. We might even have to say that the enforcers of law and order here are men just as bad as the criminals they hunt. They are just taking advantage of the system to engage in violence for gain. However, in a world requiring a legal system to protect people, any such legal system will involve a degree of answering evil with evil; an eye for an eye, if you will. The western justice is not just an example of law and order in the extreme of the frontier; it informs the way America still thinks of justice and its role in the world.

In the end of this story, justice is done and a woman is avenged. An evil man pays for his sins, and the wronged party walks away satisfied. The justice system also serves its purpose, the “hero” of the film rides off with a wagon full of bodies that he can turn into the nearest law office for a handsome reward… and he might just walk off with the stolen bank money too. Did they have insurance in the Old West?

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