I finally had the pleasure of watching "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" and it did not disappoint. This movie, the third in the series is directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, is a true classic in the genre of Western films. So much so, that even the title of the film has become a common phrase in everyday language, used to describe a situation where there are three opposing forces.
The story centers around three cowboys. The enigmatic and nameless gunslinger, the career criminal, and the bounty hunter try to outwit each other after they learn about a hidden treasure of gold stolen during the Civil War.
The three characters engage in a series of showdowns, alliances, and betrayals as they all race to find the treasure. Each one of them have unique abilities and pieces of the information required to find the location of the gold.
Along the way, they encounter a variety of colorful characters, including soldiers, gamblers and smugglers which themselves become pawns in the three cowboys' quest.
The movie gives us a unique window in the cultural differences of the Italian and American approach to film making.
American westerns follow the idealistic approach set forth by John Wayne. The main character is the good person we should all strive to be: trustworthy, unwavering, with a clear and well defined moral compass.
The characters in Italian "Spaghetti Westerns" are complex and have many layers to their personalities. The layers sometimes oppose each other, creating characters with unpredictable behaviors and realistic responses to challenges. They are normal people trying to survive an imperfect world where everybody bend the rules.
The "Good" guy is not all mighty and powerful and falls for the tricks of the criminal, finding himself a the bottom of the totem pole more than once having to climb his way back as the top character. He is not ultra clean and clear cut, and is not besides himself to use other people to get what he wants, but strives to never harm others when doing so. Alone he is mostly a normal person, he is only the good guy when viewed in relation to the realities of the world he lives in.
The "Ugly" criminal is witty, cunning, emotional, and very charming. He is a survivalist and his approach to problem solving is pragmatic, opting for simple and immediate solutions foregoing future consequences. Although primarily selfish, he does have moments of personal introspection where he gets out of his way to do good deeds for others.
The bounty hunter is the closest to the "Bad" guy of the movie. Although this is not made obvious at the start of the movie, we are lead slowly to this realization when shown the questionable and sometimes seemly unnecessary ruthless methods he uses to accomplish his goals. Sleek, suave, collected, and sophisticated, the hunter is the cleanest and best dressed character of the bunch. This physical appearance is in stark contrasts to his corrupt and dark personality.
One interesting aspect of the way the movie if directed, it that as an Italian movie, not all actor spoke fluent English. The director encouraged actors to speak in their natural language to allow them to express themselves in a fluent manner right down to body language. The film was shot silently and all voices were then dubbed in post production. This gives the film an uncanny feeling between being relatable and foreign at the same time.
The movie is an exploration of the concepts of morale and ethics. These provide the primary guidance for decision making through life. They are easy to define a vacuum but only validated when applied.
The movies shows us the realistic application of morale and ethics in an imperfect, dirty, and isolated world where good deeds, personal gains, and survival are in opposition to each other. The typical quagmire: three goals, you can only get two.
To accomplish this the movie masterfully uses the three characters to shows us three angles to a moral life that are neither aligned nor counter to each other.
The good guy has a relaxed approach to living a moral life, does not seek to be the hero, but when forced, always uses his superior gun fighting ability and cunning to do good for others. Without forgetting about doing good for himself too. He embodies the "Dangerous good man" persona as explained by Dr. Jordan Peterson. He is a man with the potential to be dangerous, but has the necessary self control to use his power for good. Humans have an inescapable ability to be dangerous, the good cowboy does not deny this fact about himself. Instead his awareness of his dangerous potential grant him a peaceful demeanor where he avoids conflict so as to not be forced to use his potential. This shows mastery over the self and is the best kind of good we can achieve in an imperfect world.
The ugly cowboy embodies the concept of the "Natural Truth". His moral compass is guided by the hardwired principles of biological justice. That which promotes life is good, that which causes harm (personal or external) is bad. He relies on the tangible nature of cause and effect instead of waiting of the future effects of idealistic justice. His actions are driven by objective rather than philosophical or subjective ideals which will not realize any gains in his life span. He is aware of the fundamental decision making principles and values ingrained in human biological nature which are essential for human well-being and survival. The ugly cowboy enjoys pleasures and the good things in life but is not nihilistic, his goal is survival, the most basic and empirical goal of living creatures.
The bad cowboy embodies the concept of "Might is Right". This concepts suggest that those who are strongest (the mighty) have a natural and supernatural right to govern over the weak. This approach posits that power is not be squandered but applied and that if power is bad, then why is it granted to humans. The strong prey on the weak without question or even being aware of this order as it has been preordained by evolution or by divine design. Not doing so would have the weak as the controlling element in every level of group interaction (natural, social, political, economical). This would cause the entire system to collapse as the weak to not have the energy, the drive, and the ambition to do what is necessary to ensure the prolonged survival of the individual and by extension of the group.
It is hard to encompass the legacy of this movie in a single paragraph. The film has left an enduring and lasting impact in many aspects of film making as well as culture, philosophy, psychology, and politics.
From the visuals, musical score, musical ambiance, complex characters, photography, character development, plot progression, this movie breaks all existing paradigms and provides a new approach to story telling. An approach that is unorthodox but also very human and relatable.
It blends violence, moral ambiguity, and humor in such a way that it created a new genre of Western movies and influenced many other genres too. Many of its characters, imagery, and dialogue have becoming ingrained in popular culture.
The musical score is immediately recognizable by most even those who have never watched or know about the movie. Many director and writer cite the movie as an inspiration and even motivation itself to became part of the industry.
It is considered one of the greatest western movies ever made and it is a definite required watch for its entertainment, artistic, and philosophical value.