The Pessimistic Road Movie and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Ideally, a road movie consists of a literal journey for the main character as well as a figurative journey of self-discovery. Certain road movies ironically clash with this trope. One example of a film featuring ultimately fruitless travel is 1969’s Easy Rider, in which hippies grow increasingly disillusioned with the American dream. Another example is Sam Peckinpah’s 1974 cult classic Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia acts as a road movie with a pessimistic twist, where the traveler is doomed from the start and does not gain perspective or learn anything life-changing.
One of the important aspects of this film’s doomed trajectory is the fact that Bennie is more or less at the mercy of Sappensly and Quill. He is taking orders from others to retrieve Alfredo Garcia’s head. Granted, Bennie is motivated by his jealousy of Alfredo’s liaisons with Elita, but the real vendetta is coming from El Jefe, the active catalyst for the action of the film. Also, Bennie’s reward money is a mere fraction of El Jefe’s original one million dollar reward. The takeaway from all this is that Bennie has no real control over his existence. His road trip is orchestrated by others, and his reward is determined by other people.
On the subject of rewards, what is Bennie’s real reward for obtaining Alfredo’s head? Effectively, there is no real reward in Bennie’s mind other than money or revenge. On the contrary, Bennie is punished in his efforts by the unfortunate loss of Elita and his own demise at the end of the film. This directly contrasts with the idea that the traveler character in a road movie gains some sort of personal growth following their adventures. Ironically, the opposite is true here because Bennie is worse off.
Why, then, does Bennie continue on his quest if things look futile and there is no inner conflict that will be resolved? Bennie continues on the road and protects Alfredo’s head because it serves as a visual representation of his spiritual death. Bennie is trapped in Mexico, and, especially after the death of Elita, he has nothing important in his life. Bennie seems to sense that he will die eventually after his travels end, which is a pessimistic take on the promising endings of most travels in films. Additionally, in further contrast with the genre, Bennie is compelled more by his aimless nature rather than the promise of anything good.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is the anti-road movie due to more than its negative outcome, however. Like Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde, this film depicts characters who journey without much purpose. Unlike those films, of course, the journey here is orchestrated by others, implying that wanderers, in spite of how free they might seem, can often ironically lack free will and choice.
Hopper, Dennis. Easy Rider. Columbia, 1969. Film.
Malick, Terrence. Badlands. Warner Brothers, 1973. Film.
Peckinpah, Sam. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. MGM, 1974. Film.
Penn, Arthur. Bonnie and Clyde. Warner Brothers, 1967. Film.
(Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/may/17/1)