Article by Ross Allen
Hell of a thing killing a Man...
The Clint Eastwood film “Unforgiven” is to me, not only one of the greatest films ever made (it won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Picture) but unquestionably one of the most longstanding Westerns ever put to film. The reason for its legacy doesn’t lie so much in the phenomenal editing or cinematography (beautiful and poignant as they both are) nor even the acting, dare I say. The legacy of this great silver screen accomplishment lies in the disassembling of Legend; that man is, however grand in accomplishment or atrocity, in the end - simply human.
Not giving away the film, “Unforgiven” (Starring and Directed by cowboy legend Clint Eastwood, in his last Western film) tells the tale of aging Gunslingers finding their place in a new world that has left them behind. The new world of industry is bringing the way of the Outlaw to an end; simply put, why live a lifestyle of desperation and depravity, when everything is becoming increasingly more easily attainable?
Enter the main character William Munny, played by Clint Eastwood. Munny is an aging former outlaw who, with the help of his now deceased wife, reformed himself of his wicked ways. Only out of necessity to feed his children does he agree to aid a young, wannabe bounty hunter in bringing in two bandits who mutilated a defenseless prostitute.
The film unfolds from there. Munny travels with the young-gun to a nearby farm to acquire help from his equally reluctant friend and once “brother in arms” Ned (played by an always amazing Morgan Freeman). They eventually travel to a town that where the local Sherriff (masterfully acted by Gene Hackman) is a former outlaw himself.
It is in this second act where I feel the film transcends to become allegorical not only to the decimation of old legends, but to the deconstruction of what makes something legend in the first place.
The most memorable scene to me is in the middle of the film. Sherriff Bill Daggett (Hackman) holds another former outlaw for concealing a pistol, whilst in his town. The man is “English Bob” (played by the late Richard Harris), who is brutally beaten and humiliating in the middle of the town, before being arrested. Tagging along with English Bob is a writer, who is penning the memoir of English Bob’s cowboy days.
Overnight, English Bob spend the night in Jail, where Sherriff Daggett begins to verbally deconstruct everything about Bob’s accomplishments, accreditation, and myth. He does this through none other than the writer, who’s ideal of English Bob and the way of the Gun is not only deflated, but reinforced in the reality of Bill Daggett; there are no longer such things as Cowboys and Outlaws – only survivors.
In the boiling point of the scene, Daggett even allows an opportunity for English Bob to reach for a loaded pistol in a man-to-man stand off; an opportunity that he meekly declines. It wasn’t fear of death that made English Bob’s hand reach back inside the cell: back in his outlaw days, where the only code was kill or be killed, he very well might have taken the duel. It was the dismembering of who he once was and still claimed to be, in this new world; the realization that he was a pale shadow of his former self, and ever worse – a coward.
Of course, the film has its fair share of violence, shootouts, and all around Eastwood “badassery” but its symbolism drives much deeper than that. The characters in the film come to the realization that their lives carried no heroic code amongst gunslingers. The men who survived were able to do so because they were killers, and were either lucky or better at killing than everyone else. The changing of the times brought the death of any honor, heroism, or legacy that they fought, lied, and killed for to carry on.
The more and more I think on this film, the more relevant I feel a story like this is in today’s generation. The time that I grew up in as a kid is very different, compared to now (and I’m only talking about the 90s/early 2000s…pre text message and facebook). New resources and advancements not only created waves of innovation, it deconstructed past ideals, industrial obligations, and even moralistic codes.
The way of the gun is long gone and the outlaws of today are the Mark Zukerbergs and Elon Musks, who are now changing the landscape of an aging world, instead of trying to survive in it. The myths of old are slowly fading and new ones are emerging.. Hell of thing killing a man… and a hell of a time to be alive!
If you want to take a further glimpse into how the world is changing right infront of your eyes, watch this video
* Enjoy this pivotal scene from "Unforgiven" below. The footage (for copyright purposes) is courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures, and I obviously own no rights to it. I embedded this footage from a youtuber called "BigDaddyKingSnake" so...thanks playa!