In this world of constant information sharing, it can be difficult to remain truly anonymous. Everyone has a background, everyone has a past, and everyone has a name. This is why movies that feature protagonists with no name hold an element of mystery to them. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why does no one know their name? Aside from the obvious solution of asking the person for their name, the “no name” trope allows for a connection to the audience as an “everyman” to whom they can relate, thus inputting their own names into the blank space of the main character. Of course, the characters with no names often are given nicknames to help identify them. Usually based on their appearance or occupation, these nicknames generalize the unnamed characters into stereotypes. This week’s two films examine two different unnamed main characters.
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours
When committing crimes, names are something you never bring with you. The less everyone knows about everyone else, the better chances are that if anyone gets caught by the authorities, they won’t be able to incriminate any of their partners. Usually, the higher-up members of a criminal organization will have no names so that the underlings who often get caught won’t be able to name their bosses. Sometimes codenames are even given to ease the “no name” conundrum. The most famous examples of this were the “color men” of Reservoir Dogs (1992).Oftentimes, your role becomes your name if you’re participating in a crime. The brains, the muscle, the driver. However, every once in a while an expert is called in to perform a job. These experts have no names other than that of their well-developed skill.
The unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) will give his clients five minutes to commit a crime, at which time he will drive them away from the scene, whether they are ready or not. His skill at driving comes not only from his experience at driving getaway vehicles, but also from his day job as a movie stunt-driver. While the Driver tries to maintain his anonymity, he still has to live in Los Angeles. Feeling sympathy for his neighbors, the Driver takes on a job to help them out of a debt of $40,000. Unfortunately, the job goes south and soon he finds himself with the money and his partners shot down by the mafia. As he figures out the repercussions of the money he stole, the Driver turns the tables on the mafia, bringing the fight to them: a faceless terror out for vengeance. This is all done so he can protect the few people in his life he cares about.
A Fistful of Dollars
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours
If there was one time period where names were rarely used, it would be in the Old West. Usually, the people who lived in these harsh conditions were doing so because they didn’t want to be found. They were running from something or someone and figured that the Old West was where nobody ever asked any questions. In fact, much of the economy of the time functioned on actions and consequences. If you brought in a bounty, you were given money. If a man was shot in the town square, most figured that he deserved it. Nobody wanted to get into anyone else’s business, so names were definitely not high on people’s lists when they started asking questions. If anyone had to give a name, they’d probably choose the equally as anonymous “Mr. Smith” just to maintain their nameless status.
Perhaps the most famous unnamed main character, the “Man with No Name” (Clint Eastwood) rides into a small town to discover a family feud between the Rojo Brothers and the Baxters. While John Baxter is the sheriff, both families want to control the town. However, the unnamed Stranger sees a financial opportunity and sets about to pit the two sides against each other. Soon afterward, hostages start being held by both sides, men are being gunned down, and the Stranger finds himself further into the situation than he had originally planned. Now he has to choose a side. Of course, with the Rojos thinking that the Stranger is working for the Baxters, his side is chosen for him. In a final shootout, the Stranger has a strategy that relies on some chest protection and his expedient skill with his trusty six-shooter pistol.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 anonymous action heroes