Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Does The Reference Fit?

I keep seeing this scene from Christopher Priest's Deathstroke series online. A group of grieving mothers, their children killed by gun violence, have hired Deathstroke to kill the people responsible, which he is doing. The cop is frustrated by the fact nothing seems to get done to curb gun violence, and the reporter questions the wisdom of hiring a killer to kill killers. Both of which are fair points, but being me, the thing that grabbed my attention was neither of those things.

The reporter, and that's Jack Ryder, aka the Creeper, is getting his movie reference wrong. A Fistful of Dollars isn't about a town hiring a gunfighter. It's about a gunfighter entering a town of his own accord, and trying to play the gangs vying for control against each other for his financial benefit. The townspeople, such as they are, don't hire Joe. Silvanito, the innkeeper, tries to get him the hell out of town, figuring nothing good will come of his presence for anyone.

But ultimately Joe's actions weaken the Baxters and provoke the Rojos into destroying them. And then Joe kills the Rojos (for revenge for the ass-whupping they gave him or to protect Silvanito, take your pick). Granting a decent portion of the town burns down or is blown up, the few townsfolk we'd seen up to then are alive and free. Marisol is reunited with her family. I confess I don't know what those people will do for a living, but the Rojos' gun-running and the Baxters' liquor didn't seem to be creating many jobs, despite what I'm sure were very friendly tax rates (as in non-existent). Maybe more people needed to get in on the lucrative coffin-building industry. Still, I wouldn't say things worked out badly for the townspeople (excluding the crooks selling guns and booze), especially since they didn't waste any of their non-existent money hiring Joe to do this. Unless Ryder is counting the Rojos and Baxters as the townsfolk. I guess technically they would count, but the analogy definitely wouldn't fit in that scenario.

My best guess is Ryder is thinking of High Plains Drifter, where the cowardly, backstabbing townspeople hire the guy who killed three people and raped a woman his first half-hour in town to protect them. And he proceeds to take all their shit, let them humiliate and degrade themselves bending over backwards for him, and gets them to essentially help destroy their town. Although equating a bunch of moms who are angry and griefstricken over the loss of their children with a bunch of people who hired gunmen to kill a marshal to hide one crime, then framed the gunmen for theft to have them locked away, then hired more gunmen to protect them for when the first group of gunmen were released from prison, then hired the guy who killed the second group of gunmen for the same job, is a bit of a stretch.

The thing is, Christopher Priest seems like a pretty thoughtful guy, so I'm wondering if he got the reference wrong deliberately as some kind of point about Ryder, or he's just approaching it from a different perspective. Obviously the idea that hiring someone to kill people who killed others isn't going to solve the underlying problem of why those people took a life in the first place, or how they were able to have guns to do so. That there could be retaliation, escalation if the friends of the people Deathstroke kills figure out who pointed him in their direction and decide for some payback. Relying on killing to solve the problem of people killing people is not a sound strategy.

But going off either of those two films, what were the options? In High Plains Drifter, the townspeople could have opted not to mine on land they weren't supposed to, or accepted the punishment for doing so, or not framed Stacey Bridges for robbery. But having done those things, what were the options left if not to hire gunfighters? They did, at the drifter's urging, trying fighting for themselves, and failed miserably. They could have abandoned the town, scattered to the winds. Or they could have stayed and accepted whatever vengeance Bridges brought upon them. Fight, flee, suffer through it. None of those seem like viable options for the grieving mothers in the comic.

With A Fistful of Dollars, again, what's the option? None of the townsfolk have a prayer of confronting either of the gangs directly. The militaries of both the U.S. and Mexico use the town as a convenient meeting point for clandestine sales of weapons and booze. Neither of them is likely to step in and help. The sheriff is the head of the Baxter clan (and an incompetent boob to boot), so law enforcement is useless. I have no idea what political body they could appeal to, if any. It almost seems as though their best hope was to keep their heads down and hope that once one side won the struggle, things would get easier. But assuming that happens, and assuming it doesn't get them killed or their homes destroyed in the process, they're still living in fear of the remaining gang, which can now act with impunity because there's no risk of being attacked on an exposed flank if they overreach.

Maybe it shows that Ryder is well-aware of the limitations of the approach of using violence to eliminate violence, but has no viable solutions. Like me, he's good at picking out the flaws, but struggles to correct them. And hey, it's easy to criticize (fun, too). Or that he ignores the emotional element in this, the pain and frustration that would drive these mothers to this decision.All he sees is some vague way it could go wrong, not recognizing that from their perspective, it's already gone as wrong as it can.


SallyP said...

Talk about a no-win situation. I live High Plains Drifter, but boy howdy with the exception of the inn keepers wife, the townspeople are just awful. Of course most everyone in the Sergio Leone movies is awful too.

But seriously... hiring a killer to shoot more killers never seems to end well.

CalvinPitt said...

Yeah, and the few nice people in Leone's films typically don't fare well. The drunk Captain in the good, the bad, and the ugly. Or the one losing his leg to gangrene. Or that gun dealer Tuco robs.

SallyP said...

But the music is nice!