Thursday, November 24, 2011

An old idea

There is something about the 1992 film Unforgiven that I keep coming back to it and yet I am unable to understand what it is in its entirety. It is not the sense of revenge that one might think inspires William Munny's actions towards the end of the film. I think revenge, justice, bravery are only superficial here - even if one is to look at it through the lens of the Western genre. It is something more primordial, something preceding cowboys, sheriffs or the nascent towns of the West. There is an absoluteness of an idea that the character Munny represents. It will be easy to dismiss the idea as simply stubbornness, or borderline madness, or even playing God or Satan or both (especially in the last scene when  he rides away from the town of Big Whiskey on the rainy night). But that simply would be a superficial attempt to understand that idea. Yes, there are aspects of each of those traits in the character and the film. However, to understand this idea one has to go back in human history when right or wrong and the sense of social justice and who carries out that justice (cops and judges and society) was only in its infancy. William Munny is an assassin. He doesn't like killing people (his past murders still haunt him) and he openly confesses that he needed to be heavily drunk to get in that state of being an assassin (he also thinks alcohol and cruelty are vice). Sure presumed injustice was one trigger to get in that state. However as he tells sheriff Little - "deserve has got nothing to do with it", he clearly doesn't do it only for a 'just' outcome. Presumably there are other ways to get justice. William Munny's view of the world is not that it is unjust or wicked or needs to be corrected. I think what he thinks is that the world is uncurable, and damned. And that makes it just like him. For ten years he tried living away from everyone, and yet the world found him and made him realize who he was. The analogy is clear here - the world of women and men will never be cured of what it is. And that is the idea.

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