Category Archives: Unforgiven

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.

The Failings of Unforgiven and its Unforgiving Genre

Unforgiven has received critical praise for challenging the classic western genre by taking a realistic look at the consequences of violence. With this blog post, I fully commit to being a small voice of dissent: I strongly disliked the movie and believe that it failed to question the greater issues with the western genre as a whole.

Let me begin by saying that I wholeheartedly hate westerns. Growing up, the western was my dad’s favorite genre, and as the frequent remote-control holder, he made me sit through numerous movies hoping that this one would change my mind. It never worked. I was never drawn to their idea of an untamed frontier for the taking. I hated the stone-faced gunslingers, their cheesy one-liners, and the simplistic plots. I never understood why driving cattle always led to a shoot-out, and I never understood why the shoot-out was even considered a “noble” solution.

But above all, I hated the society that westerns promoted: macho, patriarchal, where violence reigned supreme and women were either prostitutes or love interests. Everything was black and white, and everyone had a moral duty to protect a misguided conception of “honor,” usually by killing someone. Where is there honor in murder? I had no characters to identify with, no strong female leads, no pacifists, no middle-of-the-road characters advocating for diplomacy over violence.

That being said, I was excited at the idea of the anti-Western. Listening to the pre-film lecture on Monday, I wanted Clint Eastwood to say no to the violence and show how stupid it was. I wanted him to expose the stupidity of the macho society, the truth that honor was really hubris. A small part of me was hoping that the female characters would help expose these problems.

The film failed to live up to my expectations on multiple fronts. The society remained firmly in the hands of men. And while some might argue historical accuracy, what’s interesting is that women were placed in the pivotal role of starting the revenge cycle. Of course, the second men stepped in to complete the cycle, the women slinked away. And did I mention that they were prostitutes?

So let’s think about the kind of message that sends about the “inferior sex” in this world: women are just as guilty as men of instigating and promoting violence, only they are dependent on men to act out their violence for them. The final shootout wasn’t between the prostitutes and their aggressors, it was between the sheriff and the hired hand. The women watch behind the men, mute and petrified.

Meanwhile, Eastwood still gets a dramatic ending full of Hollywood flair. He whips out the one-liners, shoots to kill, and leaves no man standing. Though he leaves the very violence his character detests in his wake, Eastwood is still glorified and the audience finds themselves rooting for him. All of the discomfort at the deaths of the original aggressors is wiped away by the glee of seeing him do what he does best. And because Little Bill has been set up as the antagonist, we are happy to see him die for his crimes. Let me say that again: we are HAPPY to watch a character die.

Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the movie? If Eastwood really wanted to criticize this sort of ending, he should have turned the revenge cycle on its head. Maybe the prostitutes could have shot Munny (what’s a more tragic consequence of death than orphaned children?). Or maybe Little Bill could have killed Munny, highlighting the unlawfulness of the law enforcers in the west. Or really anything but what we were expecting and what Eastwood ultimately gave us. Eastwood’s ending was a cop-out, and in my opinion, the movie overall was a huge disappointment.



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.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood

On the surface, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood seem unlikely friends, especially because of their strong, opposing political affiliations. In actuality, the silver screen legends have done three films together during their careers, Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Invictus (2009). Moreover, the actors have vocally praised each other during interviews and have maintained a strong friendship and admiration throughout their careers. Freeman is especially fond of Eastwood’s directing, describing Eastwood’s sets as “comfortable” and stating this about his direction style: “He is so enabling. He is so out of your way as an actor and he likes to watch actors play. He expects you to know what you are doing and he’s going to take two giant steps back and let you do it.” Eastwood has shown his admiration for Freeman in a more subtle way, not speaking about their friendship in public, but through casting him in his films.

In truth, Eastwood and Freeman’s characters have very similar friendships in both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (unfortunately we can’t examine Invictus because Eastwood is solely behind the camera). Because we watched the film, we as a class should remember their relationship in Unforgiven: two retired gunfighters who have remained close friends long after their violent partnership in the Wild Wild West had ended. In a way, Ned Logan (Freeman) humanizes the myth that is William Munny (Eastwood), confirming the Schofield kid’s tales about Munny because he was an eye-witness, but stipulating that it was actually worst than stories say. Logan and Munny have an unspoken pact between them because of their past, with Logan dropping his comfortable lifestyle to support Munny as he helps the Kid collect the bounties. However the extent of their friendship is truly seen when they try (and barely succeed) at killing the first cowboy, Davy Boy.

In this scene, the psychological damage of their gunfighter partnership is evident, with Logan being unable to even shoot the gun and Munny struggling through every bullet. However, Munny’s act of “finishing the job” reveals the depth of their friendship because it shows that he understands Logan’s struggles but at the same time, he can rise above his similar struggles with his past and complete the job. Munny’s strength and loyalty to his friend is also scene in the last moments of the film when he initiates his own revenge cycle because of Logan’s death. Though many would begin running for the hills at the mention of a partner getting beaten to death, Munny is able to rise above his struggles and finish the job, in the name of a friend.

As mentioned before, a similar character relationship between Eastwood and Freeman is seen in Million Dollar Baby, where Eastwood plays an elderly, retired boxing trainer and Freeman plays his assistant, who is also an elderly former boxer. Unlike Unforgiven, it is Freeman’s character that pulls Eastwood out of retirement, encouraging him to coach Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), even though she is “too old” to begin a boxing career. Throughout the film, the two actors have amazing friendship chemistry, having funny interactions like this:

And touching moments like this: (SPOILER ALERT)

All in all, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman truly have an amazing friendship that all began with a Western film.

The Art of Storytelling: Video Games as a New Outlet

After watching Unforgiven last week and discussing older forms of Westerns, it had me thinking about how I was initially exposed to the genre of Westerns. As far as I can remember, my first true experience with the Western genre wasn’t through a movie, a television series or any of the typical media outlets, but rather through a video game. When I was in 8th grade, I bought a video game called Red Dead Redemption, opening my eyes to what the Western genre was. It sparked my curiosity immensely, leading to me watching various famous Westerns such as Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. The weirdest part out of all of that for me? Out of every Western that I’ve seen thus far in my life, the story of Red Dead Redemption is just as good, if not better, than all of them.


Red Dead Redemption tells the story of John Marston, one of the most infamous outlaws of the West. Rather than play as this daring outlaw in his prime, the game starts in 1911, when the American Frontier is slowly dying out to commercialism and Marston is in the twilight of his career. The game opens with Marston being taken from his family by the Bureau of Investigation (now FBI), telling him that the only way he can see his family again and avoid a life behind bars is if he works with them to capture his former partners. It is a gripping tale, filled with many unique characters and events that have the player fully invested from the beginning. Marston is the perfect antihero that fits the Western story from the beginning. He is a very similar character to William Munny, in the sense that he is a guy that you love to hate, but over time your feelings for him become ambiguous as you learn more about his life. To show an example of his character, here is a quote pulled directly from Marston himself during the game:


Thinking about this game made me realize the newer abilities of video games to tell these compelling stories. In the early days, video games were simply about collecting points and breaking high scores. There was no story, no character development, no cinematic experience. You would have never heard dialogue in a game, let alone a quote as powerful as the one above. But as graphics systems grew and games were able to hold more memory, characters became a little more fleshed out, worlds became bigger, and the stories became grander. For example, here are side-by-side images of the game Doom, released in 1993, and Red Dead Redemption, released 17 years following.


As you can see, by 2010 the ability to recreate natural life was almost completely perfected. As video games became more realistic, their ability to tell stories of the same nature grew. Games like Red Dead, Bioshock, and Fallout all tell stories that rival some of the best tales Hollywood has ever created. This opinion really makes me a product of my generation, as even 10 years ago such an idea would have been completely absurd. However, using myself as an example, I played this game originally just for the entertainment value but left having experienced one of the most gripping stories of all time (not to spoil anything, but the ending would have made Clint Eastwood himself proud), and a new appreciation for the Western genre. Video games today provide an opportunity to become more invested than ever in a story, as you are quite literally the main character of the game. The art of storytelling has found a new medium in video games, and I hope to it will continue in that trend as games become even more realistic than they are now; allowing kids like myself to become more cultured to the world and gain more exposure to newer experiences. If not for this game, Unforgiven may very well have been my first Western ever.

The Reality of the West

I would not call myself a big fan of Westerns, but there is a certain air to them that I find very interesting. Westerns force us to think about certain aspects of “Americanism” as no other genre can. The idealism of expansion and rugged individualism making it out in the wilderness seems quite romantic, but it also conflicts with the ugly realities of the unjust treatment of non-white people, rampant alcoholism, violence, prostitution, and so on. I really liked that Unforgiven addressed some of these issues and put a more realistic spin on the Western.

The effect of violence on those that commit it is probably the most thoroughly explored issue in the film. I found William Munny to be a very interesting character because he is clearly scarred by his violent past and tries to move past it. Similarly, Ned is so troubled by the thought of violence that he can’t bring himself to shoot Davy Boy and the Schofield Kid is so traumatized by his first killing that he swears off of it forever. This makes all of these men much more relatable and realistic than a classic Western hero who shows up, says some dramatic lines, shoots some people, and then rides into the sunset.

But it’s not just the men who are more nuanced; I also appreciated the portrayal of the female characters in the film. The prostitutes were not depicted as simple whores or eye candy; they took care of each other, they stood up for themselves, and they clearly had minds of their own. On the other hand, they were also not perfect women who just fell on hard times; their obsession with revenge starts a vicious cycle that hurts many people who didn’t deserve it. In this way they are, like the men, depicted in a more nuanced way that breaks down their archetypal characters.

Finally, the last group I want to talk about is non-white people. The film didn’t address racial issues too explicitly, but I felt there were still some aspects worth mentioning. As far as non-white characters go, there is Ned and there is his wife Sally. Ned isn’t faced with any explicit racism that I can remember, but I definitey got some vibes from the Schofield Kid’s first interaction with him. And of course, the scene where Ned is whipped by Little Bill was very reminiscent of slavery and highlighted the power inbalance between the two. Ned’s wife Sally doesn’t get as much screentime and the movie doesn’t really address Native American issues that came about as a result of Western expansion. Similar to this is the case of the Chinese. Several characters say that English Bob is known for shooting Chinamen and I think I saw one Asian guy in the background somewhere, but mostly there isn’t much representation for us in this film. It’s a shame because many Chinese people came to the US and ended up being treated horribly while working in the mines and on the railroads (so much for “Gold Mountain”). I know that the film wasn’t really trying to make a big statement on race inequality, but since it was taking a more realistic look at the Western I think it was an opportunity missed to not expand on this more.