Fourth Way Perspectives

Film Review
Thinking By Form, Not Sequence
Manhood and The Unforgiven

Directed by Clint Eastwood

The surface veneer of popular culture can have deep reflections. Take Clint Eastwood's film, The Unforgiven. He of Dirty Harry fame is now William Mummey, a bounty hunter/killer reformed by a wife who has died and left him to raise the kids and hogs on a burnt, barren land. Living in poverty, Mummey hears of a large bounty put on a big burly cowpoke who cut up a prostitute after she told him he had "a little one." No longer under his wife's good influence, Mummey gives in to temptation, leaves the kids and rides out to kill the cowboy and collect his bounty. Now the film begins. But what if the film didn't move from Mummey's temptation but inspected in detail how the killer of old fought off his inner demon of making a living out of killing others? Mummey's pull between "yes" and "no," the interior battle between his two angels, wouldn't have enough box office action for Hollywood.

The Angel Of Death

Eastwood's portrayal of Mummey (mummy/money) emanates an unusual strength; the resolute strength that comes from the silence of purpose. A killer many times over, he is a man without ordinary illusion. Mummey's honesty, and the courage of that honesty, allow him to accept himself as his actions define him: a killer. In so doing he becomes something much greater than his "I," his William Mummey. He becomes the surrogate of the Angel of Death. It is this mythic quality that makes The Unforgiven unforgettable.

Deeper still, because unstated, is what impels all action. This is Director Eastwood's recognition of the characters' unrealized psychological structure; the elementary struggle for manhood in the wilderness.

Director Eastwood shows a deft hand here, playing this card throughout the film so subtly that only a viewer thinking not by sequence but by form will see what he is up to.

It is that after the opening knife scene, the sheriff, Little Billy (Gene Hackman) is called. He has the cowboy stripped to the waist and tied, and asks for a whip, but he lets the cowboy go with only a warning. As the film develops, there can be no doubt that Little Billy, a former bounty hunter himself, loves to humiliate other men: that is, he takes his power, not from himself, but others, as his actions show with the bounty hunter English Bob, a.k.a. Duke of Death (Richard Harris), who shows up in town because of the bounty, and is savagely beaten in front of the whole town. So the question is, why does a sado-masochist like Little Billy show compassion for the cowboy who cut up the whore?

» Fourth Way Perspectives
    » Essays
    » Interviews
    » Working in the World
    » Meetings
    » Film Reviews
    » Book Reviews

Recommend This Page: