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No TRUE Villain in “Unforgiven”?

I came across a video on YouTube of an interview with Clint Eastwood on the creation of Unforgiven (clip below). I was very intrigued when he mentions that when he initially read the script for the film, he could not decipher who the hero was. He explains that he initially thought Little Bill was the hero, which is plausible when you consider Little Bill’s “violence isn’t the answer” motto and persistent no-firearms-policy to keep peace in the town. However, it is difficult for the audience to maintain this level-headed, peacemaker image of Little Bill, when he continues to act in ways that contradict the persona he has created for himself (e.g. beating up unarmed men). At first, I deemed Little Bill an intentionally evil man who wears a fake front, but what Eastwood says next in the interview really got me thinking:

“…the characters all have a point of view. Even though he [Little Bill] was the villain of the piece, he had a point of view. He thought he was right, doing the right thing. And that goes with every character in it”

Perhaps Eastwood is alluding to the idea that while Little Bill fills the role of the villain in the film, he may not be intentionally permeating evil. It is apparent he has good intentions, but his perspective of what is necessary to fulfill his duty of protecting his town may differ from that of an outsider. Through an outsider’s eyes, Little Bill’s beating of unarmed men may seem like an act of self-fulfilling rage, but perhaps Little Bill thought it was in the town’s best interest to publicly use fear and pain to demonstrate the repercussions of threatening the town’s safety. Notice that Little Bill is more likely to inflict pain on others in a public demonstration more so than when not in public (e.g. When he decides whipping was not the proper punishment for the men who hurt Delilah, there were not enough people around for him to feel the need to use fear and violence as a warning tactic. Instead, he implements an alternate, more humane punishment). While at the surface his actions often come across as malevolent, this may be due to his unique perspective of what is “right.” If good intentions do lay underneath, does this make him a true villain?

As Eastwood mentions, this concept applies to the other characters in the film as well. Each has an idea of what is “right,” but due to circumstances beyond their control, different perspectives give the characters differing ideas of what is just. Will’s character is the obvious illustration of a man with good intentions, but whose point of view alters his actions. It is very clear that Will yearns to leave his corrupt history behind him, but his desperate need for money to support his family forces him to kill against his will. Later, as a means of respecting Ned and avenging Ned’s death, he feels the need to shoot Little Bill and anyone who may have been even loosely involved. To an outsider, these actions seem anti-heroic, but again, it really depends on perspective.

Even English Bob may not be considered a true villain. Indeed, we learn that he used to kill innocent Chinese workers, but maybe he is similar to Will in that he is trying to leave behind his troublesome past. Perhaps he truly wants to evolve into a noble man, and he views bounty hunting as a respectable, noble profession — even if the killing itself is not done in a manner that is typically deemed fair.

Ultimately, the question arises of what constitutes a true villain. Does a true villain need to have what are conventionally considered evil intentions and evil actions? Or can someone’s actions — actions that are generally considered evil — be justified by someone’s unique perspective on what he or she personally believes is “right?” This blurred distinction definitely separates Unforgiven’s characters from typical black and white western roles. Maybe “Deserve’s got nothin to do with” death because everyone has a different perspective on what truly makes someone evil enough to be killed.


When I first heard the term spaghetti western, I automatically thought wow delicious. This is going to be some sort of term to describe some new type of Western movie in collaboration with Italy. Then I had to reevaluate my thoughts and remind myself we’re talking about Clint Eastwood and that Italy is, in fact, not located in the west.

So what is a spaghetti western? This category of western films were made in the 1960’s by ITALIAN directors (there’s your spaghetti connection). These films see violence as a necessary characteristic of the west. Westerns before always treated violence as something that comes and disturbs a peaceful community. These films are commonly referred to as revisionist westerns. They are similar to classical western films; however they also follow very different views on things such as violence much like we see in A Fistful of Dollars.

One of the most important characters in Eastwood’s Unforgiven, in my opinion, is WW Beauchamp. He is portrayed in such an innocent way I think and he really doesn’t get into anyones way or in the way of the violence. By following English Bob and Little Bill around, we can see that he is seeking a person to attach to form an image of the west. This is where it gets tricky. We are unaware if this is an ‘act’ or if his quest for the “real west” is progressing. The way in which he tells the story of English Bob, The Duke of Death, leads the viewer to believe that money is really a driving force of the world. It’s ironic that this is an underlying message in the film and that the main characters name is, in fact, William Munny (get it? Money, Munny!)

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I think its also important to recognize the role that Sally Two Trees plays in the film. Essentially, she is the only ‘good guy’ in this film. She is a Native American with nothing but good intentions. Earlier in the film, we are presented with the group of prostitutes and Sally gives us a good image of women in this society. However, it also shows that she still really doesn’t have a voice. Morgan Freeman leaves his wife with no problem. Maybe this is an indicator for the way in which movies like this portray women: either as a part of the violence or powerless and they don’t have a voice in it.

It’s funny to think about, though, since later in the musical comedy Annie Get Your Gun, we are presented with Annie Oakley, a game changer for women in western films. She presented women with a sort of empowerment and proved that women can be independent and have a voice in society! Also, Helen Ramirez in the film High Noon gives a character who is a direct representation of freedom and independence in the west.

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I love western movies and never realized that different eras of time present us with different types of western movies that show different views of the west. With the views of violence and women’s roles in society being the most noticeable, I’m realizing now that its important to pay attention to the type of western we are dealing with since each is unique.

The Modern Epic Western

It’s no secret that Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad takes much of its inspiration from the Western genre, and specifically Clint Eastwood.  In an interview, Gilligan will readily tell you that Eastwood is his long-time industry hero. But Walter White, much like William Munny, is no classic hero of the west – he is a highly flawed character, a criminal who does not always draw the sympathies of the show’s audience.  In fact, Breaking Bad mirrors many of the traits of Unforgiven that make it a reimagining of the classic Western drama.

(Warning: mild Breaking Bad spoilers ahead!)

“I did it for the family.”


William Munny first rejects the Schofield Kid’s entreaty to kill, claiming that he has made a new life for himself as a farmer and a father.  But soon after, we see Munny wistfully itching for the dark glamour of his past.  Despite his spoken protests to the Kid, Munny is a failing hog farmer- his animals are dying and his home is dilapidated.  So he inevitably returns, haltingly at first, to his gun and his horse.

Walter White’s path to meth-making follows similar tropes.  Previously a brilliant chemist responsible for the rise of an incredibly successful company, he enters the series as a mediocre high school chemistry teacher mocked by his students.  He works two terrible jobs- he’s even forced to dry a student’s car while taking ridicule.  So ultimately, White’s rise as Heisenberg (a mythical identity similar to Munny’s) is not for the benefit of his family.  As he finally relates to his wife, Skylar: “I did it for me”.

“It don’t seem real…”

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The Schofield Kid and Jesse Pinkman: William Munny and Walter White’s respective boyish and naive partners-in-crime.  Both arrive boastfully to the drama, but when fronted with the moral crisis of taking a human life (or losing a loved one to the fray), both buckle.  After the Kid kills a man, he is reduced to tearfully drinking whiskey; when Munny discovers his best friend Ned has died, after having also endured the trauma of watching a man die, he is moved to action.  In Walter White, we also see some of the moral decrepitude alluded to in Munny’s past.  He is willing to let Jesse’s girlfriend die, and readily engineers multiple deaths without much open show of remorse.  By contrast, Jesse is often reduced to tears and spends much of his time drinking or doing drugs to rid himself of pain.

The final bloodbath


When viewing the final, gruesome scene of Unforgiven, I was immediately reminded of the final scene of Breaking Bad.  Both scenes mirror each other in their dark bloodiness, engineered brilliantly and vengefully by our anti-heroes.  Here one difference emerges: while William Munny rides off into the night after the damage has been done, Walter White stumbles bleeding into a chemistry lab.  He sees his reflection in the pristine, sterile equipment- a final self-reckoning- and he dies.


F for Fake

While watching Stories We Tell I thought a lot of its themes, ideas, and execution were pretty similar to Orson Welles’ famous documentary F for Fake. Sarah Polley even cited it as an influence in one of the interviews we watched.

Stories We Tell explored the idea of truth as it relates to memories and stories, while F for Fake explored truth as it relates to art. Orson Welles explores the story of a famous art forger to bring up the ideas of truth. With art forgery, you never know if the piece you are looking at was actually created by the artist you think. Elmyr, the art forger in the documentary, was apparently able to convince the best experts that his paintings were actually Picassos or other famous artists. F for Fake really makes you question whether most of the paintings you’ve seen are real or fake, and it makes you ask whether it even matters in the end. Stories We Tell makes you ask the same questions about memories and stories.

F for Fake is an especially interesting documentary because it makes you question the authorship of itself. Orson Welles edited the documentary, but he did not create most of the footage contained within it. He just took another documentary about Elmyr and recut it to explore the themes he wanted more deeply. He also added a few of his own segments. So Welles makes you further question authorship of art through the idea that new art is just inspired by old art and manipulates old art to be something new.

There is also a segment in F for Fake where Welles begins telling a completely made up story that sounds plausibly true and then reveals it was fake. This is similar to the way Polley made fake footage of her mother and family members when they were younger. It turns out none of it was real, but aren’t the ideas behind them still important?

So Polley’s ideas aren’t new, but as F for Fake asks us, are any ideas really new and does it matter in the end?

Dear Zachary

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While watching Stories We Tell I began to notice similarities in the film to another documentary that I had previously seen, Dear Zachary.  Similar to Stories We Tell, Dear Zachary focuses on someone close to the subject of the film making a movie about that person’s life.  It utilizes a similar setup in which the director allows the friends and family members of the subject of the film to talk about their experiences and memories of the subject.  This allows for the different perspectives of the subject to come through, in the case of Dear Zachary the film focuses on Andrew Bagby.


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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father was made by Kurt Kuene, a childhood friend of Andrew Bagby.  It was made after Andrew was murdered in Latrobe, Pennsylvania with the apparent culprit being Shirley Turner, a woman that Andrew had previously been seeing.  It is best not to go into the film knowing a lot, but rather to go in blind and experience it fully.  However, be advised that the film is terribly sad and you will definitely walk away feeling sickened and sad.

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The similarities between the two films revolve around the way in which they were shot.  Both allow for the friends and family members to build up the subject of the film and to show the different view points that each person has of them.  I also thought it was interesting how in Stories We Tell it seemed that Sarah was using the film to discover who her mother was, and in Dear Zachary the film is used to tell Zachary who is father was.  Overall, I think both films are interesting insights into how we describe people and tell their stories, but the production and direction in Stories We Tell was definitely better than that in Dear Zachary.  I think some of the subtleness that was in Stories We Tell could have been utilized in Dear Zachary, but all in all I still highly recommend the film.


TBT To The Philadelphia Story

In The Philadelphia Story, one of the main causes for conflict is when Dext allows the journalists from Spy Magazine to involve themselves in Tracy’s life, the day before she is going to get married. The humor lies in the way Tracy acts when the reporters are there, she acts in such a way that she thinks that the reporters see her since she is a member of ‘high society’ and these people are seen in a different way than others (See Rich Girl- Hall & Oates).


Spy magazine was a tool used to cover exciting news topics; mainly celebrities with egos bigger than their heads, and rich social elites from high societal rankings (See Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous- Good Charlotte). Spy magazine quit producing in 1998; however the legacy lives on. With the upcoming presidential election and many Americans feeling particularly opinionated, Spy magazine has made a little comeback.

Trump is a popular figure in culture today and the presidential campaign. Lately, there has been much controversy surrounding Donald Trump. For example, when Marco Rubio was still in the race (forever in my heart) he commented on Donald Trump’s hands. Donald Trump had responded by saying that nobody ever said he has small hands (along with defending the size of other body parts)… SPY magazine took this as an opportunity to bring their magazine back. They made a magazine cover displaying a baby with tiny hands but the large head of Donald Trump.

Watch this, it’s one of my favorite SNL skits:

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So, I guess we, as voters, just need to be careful as to what we see as the truth. Are our favorite candidates just putting on a show for us to fit the part they think we see them in? Or, is it the corrupted media that we need to be cautious of? It’s hard to say; however, it is obvious that voters should try to stick to reliable sources, not SPY magazine. We see the deception throughout The Philadelphia Story and the same thing in media sources, today.

Sarah Polley: Someone Who Actually Really Matters

So I have always had this odd view of documentaries as “not mattering.” Well, that’s not true. What I mean is that they never mattered to me. They always seemed low-budget and low-impact. Feature-length movies always appealed to me more. So when going into this movie, I didn’t really expect anything. What a pleasant surprise to see that I really enjoyed it. But more than that, I found this weird rabbit hole of Sarah Polley’s importance to film and my own personal film enjoyment.

So first off, in the movie, when they’re talking about that point where she gets a phone call but she was dressed as a Neanderthal, they mentioned that it was part of the movie Mr. Nobody. At that point, I had one of those big “wait really?” moments. Mr. Nobody is one of my top 10 movies, but the only actor in it whose name I ever remembered was Jared Leto, but that’s just because he’s everywhere nowadays. Then I found out that she is one of the three girls in Nemo’s life, meaning she had a huge role. So kind of weird that I never knew about her.

That led me to her IMDB page, and for someone who has been in so many things I’ve seen, she definitely should be a name I at least sort of knew. She was in the more recent remake of Dawn of the Dead, which say what you will about it, was at least pretty cool. But she was a main character in that movie. Also, she was in that HBO John Adams series which I think everyone had to watch at some point in their junior high career. She was Nabby Adams, the daughter that died, which was kind of a major plot point.

This brought me to Sarah Polley’s Wikipedia page, and she’s won so many awards. Her first real directorial debut, Away from Her, won her an award for achievement in direction and a nomination for an academy award for best adapted screenplay. Stories We Tell won the Toronto Film Critics Association award for best Canadian film of the year, which is a $100,000 prize.

So, I kind of give a little more cred to documentaries now, considering that they can have some big deals associated with them. Also, a lesson to you all. Searching IMDB pages of actors and actresses is another rabbit hole that will ruin an entire day’s worth of work.


This blog was written along to CarpetlandFluxCollective’s new EP. Give it a listen and support local music.

Historical Accuracy in Film

I personally do not care about historical accuracy in film. I can’t completely cast it off though because as Dr. Jordan pointed out, there are practical considerations with historical accuracy such as when filmmakers might make up facts in order to propel a dangerous message inconsistent with history. But I am talking more in terms of quality. Historical accuracy or inaccuracy never changes my view of a film. Whether a film is true or not should not affect its actual quality.

Now, I have probably lost some people already who think teaching history can be a valid purpose for a film. I, on the other hand, have the base assumption that film is art and should not be confused with nonfiction. If a movie’s purpose is to teach, then it should no longer be a film but a video essay. Film is a very inefficient medium with which to teach. I think everyone can agree that Lincoln is not a great movie to teach the history of Lincoln’s presidency during the passing of the 13th amendment. Even if it was entirely historically accurate, it is still a small part of the picture, all that can be fit in in two and a half hours. And of course all of the filmmaking techniques that make the movie a spectacle remove it from being in any way unbiased.

Why should we be more invested in a film just because it is “based on a true story”? If the film was entirely the same but those five words were taken out, would you like the movie less? The Coen Brothers played on this with Fargo, by putting those words at the beginning of the film, even though it was entirely fiction.

To me, it is irrelevant whether the events in a film actually happened or not. Film is an art, and it is most successful when instead of just articulating facts, it attempts to convey deeper, universal truths. These truths are independent of any specific events. They still exist even if the story that conveys them is made up. Werner Herzog has talked about these ideas before and employs them in his own films. He says that what is more important than facts is “ecstatic truth” and fabricating reality is okay if it contributes to an ecstatic truth. The result may not be true under a factual analysis, but it is true in a deeper way.

This discussion applies to documentaries too. Documentaries, like dramas, are not the best way to actually teach topics. For me, the best documentaries are good because they are just inherently good movies regardless of whether the events in them are wholly true or fabricated. I judge documentaries as if they are fictional movies. Why should they be held to lower standards just because their content is supposedly true?

The Graduate vs. Titanic

After viewing The Graduate, I knew that I had seen a movie with a very similar plot centered on coming of age, familial rebellion, and fulfilling parental expectations. After muling over a myriad of films for several weeks, it finally dawned on me – Titanic! When analyzing the films side-by-side, I found similarities in the overarching themes and character development. Though 30 years apart, the parallelism between these films is truly amazing.

Meeting Expectations

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When comparing Ben to Rose of Titanic, it is easy to identify the harrowing expectations each of their families impose on them. Ben’s parents groom him and present him in a way that highlights his accomplishments and depicts him as the ideal son to their friends. They expect him to marry Elaine, attend graduate school, and perpetuate the materialistic lifestyle that he was raised in. Similarly, Rose has been coached by her mother all of her life on what it means to be a proper young lady in society. She is arranged to marry for wealth, and she is expected to be present and pleasant at lavish dinners. Both Ben and Rose object this luxurious lifestyle, and have no interest in living the lives their parents are painting for them.

Loss of Control and Blank Stares

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Both Ben and Rose lack control of their lives; just as the airplane takes Ben on a journey he does not wish to embark on (back home to be subject to the expectations of his parents), Rose is trapped on a ship, pulling her to a life she does not wish to live. Both yearn for a deeper meaning to life, but are forced to go with the motions and listen to what Rose refers to as “mindless chatter” among their materialistic and vain families. Rose even states that she, “…saw [her] whole life as if [she’d] already lived it,” underscoring the notion that her fate is already determined by someone other than herself. The result – Ben and Rose feel empty, helpless, and discontent, as shown by the drawn out shots of the two blankly staring in their forced environments.


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It is interesting to note that while Ben finds solace floating above water — above the expectations and the life his parents have planned for him — Rose looks to escape the confines of the floating ship and her meaningless lifestyle by taking her life and jumping under the water’s surface. Nevertheless, both Ben and Rose are quite literally drowning in their parents’ expectations. Ben’s parents disapprove when he shows hesitation to attend graduate school, just as Rose’s mother disapproves when Rose shows an interest in Jack over her arranged fiance or straying from the pristine image she is forced to uphold.The ship can also serve as a metaphor for the pressure Rose is facing, as the weight of it sinking pulls her down and nearly drowns her. Neither seem to have a voice among their families in both films. Ben is unable to speak in the scuba suit that his father insisted he wear, and Rose nearly takes her life because dead or alive, no one seems to hear her. The lack of fulfillment and meaning in their lives leaves both of them nearly lifeless.


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While it is ambiguous if the relationships between Ben and Elaine and Jack and Rose are based on love, rebellion, or a mix of the two, both couplings emit a sense of betrayal against their families. Elaine’s parents would of course never support the marriage of Ben and Elaine after news of the affair surfaced, just as Rose’s mother would never approve of Rose marrying a third-class freelancer. Furthermore, Ben’s relationship with Mrs. Robinson was founded on rebellion as well, as any form of love is completely absent between them. The stringent expectations outlined for both Ben and Rose encourage them to break free and literally run from the confines of their parents’ wishes.

The Significance of Cars

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One last detail that I almost overlooked was the symbolism of cars in both movies. Ben has his first meaningful conversation in the car with Elaine, as they are both far from the suburbs, and Ben is finally behind the wheel of his own life. Similarly, Jack and Rose make love and confirm their relationship in the automobile on the ship, representing that together they have the control to steer their lives in the directions they wish.

The parallelism between the two films remains even at their conclusions – in both cases, rebellion does not lead to eternal happiness. Ben and Elaine are on a bus bound for the life they can’t seem to leave behind, and Jack dies from hypothermia, leaving Rose alone and heartbroken. Both films do not tell us how one can successfully paint his/her own life.


The Graduate is drowning in water symbolism and this water is a very important aspect in understanding the film as a whole. Ben’s parents have a set viewpoint that he is their ‘trophy’ to show off to everyone. In a suburban setting much like that of this film, people like Ben, who try to get out and seek something more than this world they’re living in, often have trouble doing so since they are surrounded by people consumed by suburbia and the plastic lifestyle.

Ben is on a journey seeking freedom from this lifestyle. The water presented throughout The Graduate shows the audience a simple symbol of the inescapability of modern day suburbia and falling victim to the plastic lifestyle. It is a recurring visual presented throughout the film to emphasize Ben’s problem, oftentimes demonstrating this through the representation of ‘drowning’ and submersion. He lives day to day just going through the motions of a mundane lifestyle and the water in The Graduate really shows this in a unique way.

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In this scene, We are presented with the image of Ben as if he is in the fish tank. It is important to note that Ben’s head is positioned in a manner such that it appears as if he is, in fact, underwater. In addition, we see a scuba diver in the fish tank. This is a visual aid demonstrating the oppressiveness that he is facing from his parents. The viewer must remember this particular prop later in the film, since it will be important in the recurrence of themes.

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Water was shown in a particularly interesting manner in this scene. It appears that at this point in the plot, Ben is caught in the trap that Mrs. Robinson has presented him with and is, in a sense, being sucked into suburbia. It could be interpreted as if Ben is just drifting along through this suburbia. This is interesting as the entire movie, he is trying to choose his own destiny and escape this exact lifestyle. Is this a representation of Ben falling victim to the plastics and just going with the flow of what is surrounding him, or is this showing us that he is exactly where he wants to be, above water, above the oppression and suffocation that has been coming from his parents? I guess it’s up to whoever is interpreting it!

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The H2O in this scene is important! It starts off from his view of the outside world from within the mask gives us the image of Ben’s constant feeling of entrapment. Even when he is trying to come up from underwater, his father pushes him back under and ‘buries him’ in the suburbia. Ben is being forced to ‘drown’ in a world of his parents creation and he now serves as a token of their accomplishments. The way the image of a scuba diver is presented twice is curious. Being presented a second time, this image really made me think of a trophy. The way the camera zooms out at the end of this scene shows how small Ben is compared to the water. I love that he is standing in a stance that just makes me picture a trophy. He is under so much pressure from them, again represented by the heavy weight and vastness of the water suffocating him, that he is made unable to find a passion or something truly amazing and unique in his life even if his parents can still use him as a focal point for conversation.

In my professional opinion as a lifeguard put on this world to save lives of distressed swimmers, I can tell you that the message presented with the different ways that the audience is presented with water in this film is crucial to the overall understanding of The Graduate.

Sum 41 had views similar to Ben… “I don’t want to waste my time become another casualty of society. I’ll never fall in line become another victim of your conformity.”