Big Hollywood recently asked readers to share their favorite Clint Eastwood films in essay form, and you responded with a number of smart, thought-provoking commentaries which remind us why Eastwood reigns as an ageless movie icon.
Here are the two winners of Big Hollywood’s “Unforgiven” Blu-ray contest.
So there I stood in my Fundamentals of Marksmanship class at the Marine Corps Security Forces Training Battalion in 1997. I was the instructor for that class, aimed at Marines who were training to be guards stationed at various weapons depots and Naval vessels. In my introduction to the class I wanted to stress that the most important thing that a Marine could posses in order to emerge victorious from an armed confrontation was the proper mental attitude. At this point in the class I’d dim the lights and press “play” on the pre-queued VCR and up on the pull down screen would appear Little Bill addressing a room full of overly confident compatriots.
“Now each of you that posse’d today has got one drink comin’ off the county budget …” And on he would continue until one at a time they began to notice the solitary man standing in the front of the saloon with the shotgun. And what was the very first impression one received from that man? It was of his mental attitude.
He was there to kick some ass.
And so it was with many of Eastwood’s movies, and Westerns in particular; you knew he was a gun-toting bad ass that was going to get justice done one way or the other. So what made “Unforgiven” different, and the best? Well, many critics and admirers of the film would talk about how real William Munny was or how he was the “spiritual” culmination of all of Eastwood’s previous protagonists. They’d mention the great cast and their award winning performances or the fantastic script. And they’re all right. But for me, and many men of my generation, “Unforgiven” was the best Western ever because William Munny was us, or at least how we imagined ourselves to be.
We grew up in the ’70s and ’80s hell bent for leather, living on a steady diet of “Dirty Harry” and “High Plains Drifter.” We imagined ourselves reckless, wild and confrontational. We didn’t wear helmets when we rode our bikes! If a cop pulled you over you gave him attitude! We told jokes that today would get you fired or sued! We were William Munny in his younger years, or at least that’s how we remembered it …
But then, of course, we found that great woman, we got married, had kids and became pig farmers. We stopped getting drunk, swearing and telling crude jokes in mixed company. Deep down inside, though, we still think we’re William Munny. We believe that should our families be threatened or should some injustice need correcting that we, too, would stand in the midst of our enemies and say, “That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawls at one time or another; and I’m here to kill you Little Bill for what you did to Ned.”
And to me that’s what makes “Unforgiven” Eastwood’s best Western.
I am William Munny.
Daniel D. Seibel
Who was more damaged by the “toll violence takes on a man” in Clint Eastwood’s western masterpiece “Unforgiven”? Was it the ex-outlaw William Munny played by Eastwood who is initially drawn into the killing for hire scheme as a way to give his two young children a new start, or is it the respected sheriff “Little Bill Daggett” played with a vengeance by Gene Hackman? Who is really “Unforgiven”? Can someone possibly be “Forgiven” for their violent past even if, to them, that past remains “Unforgotten?”
For me, the complexity of Eastwood’s characters in this film is what makes it such an enthralling experience. You have Munny the ex-outlaw who gave up his brutal past out of love for his wife and young family versus Little Bill who thrives on violence while maintaining an aura of respectability in society. Is it just me, or did anyone else notice that Munny never seems to enjoy the violence and the odds in his fights are either even or he is greatly outgunned, while Little Bill always brings a small army to back him up as he appears to thoroughly enjoy brutally beating his victims while lecturing them on “honor” and “character?” Subtle? Yes. A reach? Maybe. But that is the beauty of this film – nothing is obvious.
Eastwood’s complex plot doesn’t punch you in the forehead with who he says is right and who he says is wrong – that is up to the viewer and the life experience they bring with them to the movie. In the end, I believe the more intimate examination of this movie is not how much of a “toll violence takes on a man” as it is a question of redemption. The past takes a great toll on all of us. Any proof you need for that is looking back at you in the mirror every morning while you try to figure out how gray hairs grow so much faster than other colors. The question should be whether or not we can find forgiveness. We all have skeletons in the closet, we all have baggage, we all have made mistakes, but does that mean we are scarred and burdened for life?
I personally believe the answer is “no.” Even if we cannot necessarily forget out past, we can all be forgiven for our past. I like to think that William Munny evenly split the money with “The Schofield Kid” and Ned Logan’s widow because – despite his obvious flaws – he was a man with a spark of honor in him who was able to leave the past behind as he started a new life for his children. I like to think of William Munny growing old with the joy of grandchildren while ever so slowly, the past is replaced with brighter memories and he is finally able to find himself “Forgiven.” Little Bill? Well, his clock ran out before he got the chance. Don’t let your clock run out.