Sam Peckinpah’s underappreciated 1974 classic Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is as ’70s as a movie gets. It’s dirty, grimy, sleazy, violent, and pessimistic, and almost everyone dies. Naturally, I love it.
One thing that stands out to me in the film is that the cars are treated as poorly as the people are. In a movie about a rich bastard seeking bloody revenge I expect lives to be disposable. But given the film’s setting – the baking hot and sparsely populated Mexican wilderness – one would expect the individuals crisscrossing this landscape pursuing or retreating from each other to take slightly better care of their thirsty chariots. One flat tire, one bad hole in the radiator, one blown hose, one knock to the oil pan, or one of a dozen other reasonably likely breaks and you’re suddenly stranded in the middle of a very hot and dangerous nowhere. Yet the characters (thankfully for us viewers) don’t seem to care. These mechanical beasts are pushed to their limits, and while a good part of that is because it looks cool and makes the movie more visually exciting, I think part of it to serve as an metaphor for the characters, especially Bennie (Warren Oates)
Bennie is a means to an end for the power players in Alfredo Garcia. A beatdown nobody who is coerced into killing a man for money, he is useful only in so far as he is able to do his job. If he stops doing that, he will be discarded like a broken down automobile. Most likely, he’ll be killed, picked clean of anything valuable. He knows this.
Bennie doesn’t have a much higher view of himself than his temporary employers do, but he has a hell of a survival instinct, and he has a woman he probably doesn’t deserve. He knows this too. Elita (Isela Vega) is a bit of a trope as the good-hearted prostitute, but she and Bennie are touchingly but realistically devoted to each other. They are on the run and might not live to see the end of each new day. They cling to each other, make plans that probably won’t come about, care for each other. Bennie is something of a rundown machine himself, a machine that’s been driven hard and poorly maintained.
Bennie has never bothered to care for his body, and he sure doesn’t give any special care to the automobile that is carrying him to his goal and away from his pursuers. Both will last exactly as long as they are going to without his intervention.
The film ends with Bennie dead, and perhaps to drive home the connection between the disposable nature of life and machinery, he crashes his car as he is shot to death. Man and auto both reach the end of the line on the side of a dusty road.