My 100 favourite films. Entry #40: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
directed by Sergio Leone
starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach
country: Italy
genre: Western

Writing: 6
Everyday watchability: 7

Reality in film (as in all art forms) is an illusion. Everything you see was created, and as such films can only be so real. Since film is literally the most true-to-life method with which to depict life, many people assume that when it does depict events from life, that they are meant to depict reality. In truth, however, they are only meant to depict their own reality.

Within each film is a world. That world may look very similar to ours (dramas, comedies) or that world may look very different (science fiction, fantasy). When films seem to depict that world that is similar to our own, we have expectations as to how that world will work. Things that happen outside of this cause us to label the film as unrealistic lose our willing suspension of disbelief. Even in fantasy films, there is a certain level of belief in how the system works and limits to what can and can't be done. In the Lord of the Rings films, for example, if an elf were to suddenly teleport, I wouldn't "believe it," despite the fact that I'm seeing many fantastical things. That would fall outside the scope of reasonable occurrences even in that world.

You may wonder what exactly this has to do with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but this film takes filmic reality to such an extreme that you almost don't even realize how "unrealistic" it is. The film revels in this. A main plot point is that Clint Eastwood's character can shoot a hangman's rope clean-through from hundreds of feet away. In another scene, a character digs up a grave, then looks up to see a noose hanging in front of him, despite the fact that there's no way he could have missed someone taking the time to set up a noose not ten feet away. The reality created the film is so enveloping and complete that, as you watch, you believe that a man could cut a wooden in target in half with a single bullet. And it's great. It's freeing. With "realism" thrown to the window, the movie is free for amazing setpieces, beautiful shots, and brilliant edits, where our knowledge of the film's world is changed with a simple cut.


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