The film A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone can be analysed to be film that supports a patriarchal society that many argue still exists today. Clint Eastwood’s character is depicted as a mysterious macho man. Women are portrayed traditionally in a very narrow light, either as a mother or widow. These tropes reflect an ideal or mentality audience members wish to hold during the 1960’s.
The support for patriarchal ideals begins with the portrayal of Clint Eastwood and the archetypal mysterious macho man. This image of a man was held high in society and valued, more likely than any representation of a woman at the time. Eastwood is introduced at the beginning of the film, as an observer of the Mexican village, taking in the world around him and potentially plotting a complex plan to manipulate the village. Eastwood maintains a grimace the entire movie. Although this can be considered a “manly” image, this is also physically impossible for one would have to rest his or her face at some point. Maintaining this demeanour for the entire film emphasises his “invincibility” or “tough guy appearance” and diminishes any sign of weakness. Although in the film there is s point of vulnerability Eastwood’s character experiences. In the interrogation scene at the Rojo’s manor, Eastwood is tortured until left immobile and the audience is exposed to his weakest point in the film. Eastwood still prevails and in the process ends up killing more Rojos, both of which are highly unrealistic for an ordinary man to do. His vulnerability is quickly overpowered by his capability to escape the situation and this the archetype of the “macho man” is emphasised and glorified.
Other men portrayed in the film such as the individuals of the Rojo and Baxter clan are also portrayed as the glorified “macho man”. These two families are the only ones with power in the town and settle any dispute with violence. The association of violence with men develops the ideology of how issues need to be solved with guns and that there is always a power struggle that must be resolved between men. The portrayal of the male characters in A Fistful of Dollars as nothing but manly men, with an exception of the coffin-maker, shows the values of society at the time.
The portrayal of women in the film tends to be very traditional. There are numerous examples that show the underrepresentation of women in A Fistful of Dollars. The gender roles, as mentioned before, are implemented in the very beginning of the film, with all of the women indoors either closing the blinds or shutting the doors. This emphasises women’s roles within the house and how they are nothing more than housewives or widows. For example, the saloon owner, Silvanito, remarks that there is “no women, just widows” in the town. This statement is a very bold one, indicating how women are generally nothing without their husbands. There is talk of how there is no work in the village yet there are not any women working when they are clearly capable since they are able bodied. Yet the village values the men to accomplish all of the work therefore the female presence is diminished.
The two main women that are included in the film are Marisol and Consuela Baxter, both of whom fill the stereotypical gender role. Consuela Baxter is depicted as the stern motherly figure but despite filling this stereotype she still does not have much say or power within the Baxter clan since most of the conflict is driven by the men of the Baxter family. Her interactions within the family also emphasise her role as solely a wife, for example when she and her husband discuss matters in the parlour, she is dismissed by him while he remains down in the saloon as an authoritative figure. Other instances include when Consuela Baxter embraces her son during the Rojo and Baxter tradeoff in the square. This emphasises her motherly nature and role as a safe figure.
Marisol fills the other gender stereotype, the weak woman. Marisol is portrayed as a vulnerable prisoner that is needing to be saved, or in other words the damsel in distress. She is almost seen as a dummy for she cannot even speak for herself. She is seen as a mystery when first encountering Eastwood’s character at the Rojo manner. “That’s Marisol, you can forget about her” this feeds into the image of how she belongs solely to Ramone and is a mystery to any other man. The objectification of women comes into placs through this scene in addition to many others. Another scene that exemplifies the objectification of women and their bodies is the tradeoff scene between the Rojos and Baxters. Marisol is treated as a possession of Ramone and is bartered to settle a feud. Her past life and family as well as her own feelings do not seem to matter to anyone in this scene for she is seen as a prize to be given. Another instance of her ill-treatment is when a Rojo brother shoves Marisol to move within the tradeoff, almost as if she is cattle.
The overrepresentation of men and the underrepresentation of women feeds into the ideologies that hold up a patriarchal society, where masculinity is valued and femininity is a sign of weakness or lesser importance. Although the gender roles portrayed within A Fistful of Dollars entertain the audience, one must consider the societal values the film portrays. Film is a reflection of society and can also act as a guide to those unexposed to reality. Understanding this, it is important to be media literate and be able to recognise inaccurate portrayals of groups within films.
Bondanella, Peter E. A History of Italian Cinema. New York: Continuum International Pub. Group, 2009. Print.
Abbie Garcia is a Queer content creator with a knack for events and community engagement! Current projects include Spoon Live Streams, Thoughts On That Podcast, Lifestyle Themed Youtube Videos, and LGBTQ+ Events. In their spare time, they like to cycle, sing, hike, and empower others through the education of social justice issues.