“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another,” said William Munny explaining who he was.
Clint Eastwood dedicated his final Western film as a director and an actor, Unforgiven, to the sub-genre that has made great name out of him. More, he specifically dedicated it to people whom he’ll be forever in debt with, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. And, who knows that a devoted tribute would end up being a milestone to the modern-day Western film. And, who knows that this tribute would be Eastwood’s legacy.
Unforgiven feels like an old age contemplation of Eastwood’s younger characters from his tenure with Leone and Siegel, possibly the lots like Man with No Name or else; only the character has name and his name is William Munny. Young Munny was an outlaw – or possibly an anti-hero, we never know – who had killed U.S. marshals, innocent people, including women and children. And yet, his love to a woman has changed him, transcended him into a human being he’s never been – a loving family man, even when his wife passed away. Fueled by his newly-found compassion and love towards his children, Munny struggled by himself raising the two children and looking after a failing farm. But, it was until destiny comes toward him for one final encounter.
Destiny – appearing to challenge Munny’s new belief about living peacefully – and justice – offering him one more chance for retribution – come in the form of a young, cocky boy with a premise of a bounty if he’s willing to kill demeaning cowboys who have mutilated a whore due to a genital business. Bringing along his long time comrade, Ned (Morgan Freeman), the trio advance to the city where a corrupted, respect-thirsty sheriff (Gene Hackman) resides.
I recently watched Logan and found out that both films have similarity, in terms of old age concerns. Time changes people, but destiny can still be ironic in the end. Eastwood’s wise-struck character keeps repeating his disinterest in killing, denying his old self. Age has ground his might and harrowing experiences have shaped his thought towards bad things. Same thing happened towards Ned. The two old champs have no more desire to kill, even hold a gun, let alone ride through wilderness. It isn’t their world anymore; but, destiny and justice are mightier feat than the old cowboys.
People might change, but virtue isn’t and same goes wickedness. Unforgiven’s finale denies what we are shaped to believe by the narrative. The film gives us exactly the character Eastwood always played in his golden age, not as a celebration or nostalgia, but as a reminder that there’s no such thing as black and white in the wild wild West. Conscience isn’t really a thing in such era and Eastwood has shown it to us.
For a project hold for decades (due to Eastwood’s persistence on portraying an older, wiser figure in a real time), it’s a delight. Unforgiven reflects virtues that has been growing up and passing its time on-screen and in Eastwood’s long career.