Unforgiven is my favorite Western movie and my second favorite movie of all time, which is really saying something, considering the number of movies I’ve been watching on Netflix since schools closed in mid-March. Most Westerns focus on stories about killing bandits for money or robbing banks, however Unforgiven focuses on the emotions of brotherhood, hatred, anger and grief which most Westerns tend to ignore. It shows us the effects violence (and the inability to turn away from killing) have on who we are–deep inside.
Unforgiven tells the story of an old man named William Munny, who used to be a cruel, blood-thirsty gunslinger. But when the movie begins, we learn that his wife has died, which has made him rethink his whole profession. So now he is just a plain, old farmer trying to raise his two young kids. However, when he learns that there is a high bounty ($1000!) on a group of outlaws for physically assaulting a local woman, he decides he has no choice but to pick up that gun again. Along the way, he is joined by his friend, Ned Logan, and the Schofield Kid.
Like I said before, Unforgiven is not like other Westerns. Most Westerns have gunslingers kill people on sight, and they’re mostly just fun adventures with twists and turns. For example, The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly is a classic Western movie with interesting characters and an exciting plot line, however, it doesn’t really make you feel any emotion towards all the deaths throughout the film and the pain of the Civil War (the Wild West era began at the end of the Civil War, 1865, and lasted till around 1895). The movie pretends that killing is normal and that it is so easy to do it. Unforgiven, however, takes you deeper into the characters’ actions and the pain. Whenever someone kills another person during the movie, you feel his/her real pain and suffering. The person doesn’t just walk away after wielding the fatal blow, but instead, shakes and shivers in fear and sadness.
The movie also presents and develops characters that are perfectly suited for the story. One such character is a gunslinger named English Bob, who travels with a journalist interested in writing a book about Bob and all his “heroic” adventures. The relationship between these characters is perfect because (and I won’t spoil it) English Bob is somewhat of a liar and traitor. The journalist never thinks for a moment that this brilliant gunslinger may actually be a liar, who is just exaggerating about his wild exploits. Such irony!
Another great thing about Unforgiven and what makes it so awesome is that characters often have a weakness or tragic flaw that is exposed near the end of the movie, and which fundamentally changes how we perceive them. For most of the movie, Munny’s two sidekicks, Ned Logan and the Schofield kid, claim they can kill a whole group of bandits, but when faced with real killers, they turn into helpless individuals who are scared of killing and scared of what having a reputation as a killer might do to their lives. In most Westerns, such themes are usually ignored. William Munny sums up it well when he says: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he’s got, and everything’s he’s ever gonna have.”
The actors of course are all top-notch – they include Clint Eastwood (or the Man with No Name), Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman. Their performances are so convincing that they made me think about the real Wild West and how people might have looked, talked and lived during those times.
After watching Unforgiven, I kept on thinking about one of the greatest video games I’ve ever played, Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s about a gang of outlaws in 1899 who grow increasingly desperate for money. But as the gang starts to fall apart, the main protagonist, Arthur Morgan, changes his perspective about himself and of his gang. Now instead of continuing to be the bloody killer he used to be, he becomes a loving man and is scared to continue his spree of killing with his remaining gang members. It is one of the only video games that made me cry at the end.
Unforgiven is a sweet, but also a sour movie. The premise sounds simple, but as you look deeper into the film, you’ll see it’s extremely powerful. It’s one of those movies that has stood and will continue to stand the test of time.
Important note from the Stone Soup Editors: Readers should talk to and obtain permission from their parents or other responsible adult before watching this movie, which is rated R in the USA. More information that may be helpful is available at Kids-in-Mind, which scored it 3.6.5.
Unforgiven (1992), directed by Clint Eastwood.
Winner of 4 Academy Awards, 3 Golden Globes, 1 BAFTA.