"You'd be William Munny out of Missouri, killer of women and children". -- Little Bill Daggett -- Unforgiven
"That's right, I've killed women and children, I've killed just about everything that walked or crawled at one time or another, and I'm here to kill you Little Bill, for what you did to Ned" -- Willam Munny -- Unforgiven
Funny thing, killin' a man. You take away everything he's got and everything he's gonna have. -- William Munny -- Unforgiven
Clint Eastwood's final western was one of the darkest, most violent, vicious westerns ever made. Much of the film takes place in darkness. The tone of the film is depressing, with a drained wintery look reminiscent of High Plains Drifter. The script had been written in 1976 during our last Awakening, but Eastwood held off making the movie until 1991 when he was old enough to play the lead role. Age, stages of life, and mood are key elements in the movie, as they are in the plot playing out in the world today. Unforgiven is a story of atonement, justice and retribution. The cold forbidding atmosphere reflects a Fourth Turning mood. We've entered our hibernal Crisis, with its violent struggles and compulsory sacrifices in an era of maximum danger and ultimately a fight for survival. This decisive test of human strength and fortitude was as predictable as the change in seasons. Strauss and Howe understood the generational dynamics of the country would align to create the mood change which would usher in the third Fourth Turning in American history:
"The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II." -- Strauss & Howe -- The Fourth Turning
Unforgiven follows the journey of William Munny, a cold blooded vicious bandit in his youth, turned peaceful farmer in his old age. As a widower with two kids and a failing farm, he agrees to kill two cowboys who had disfigured a prostitute in the town of Big Whiskey, in return for a reward of $1,000. In his youth he drank heavily and murdered for fun, now he was killing for money. The town is run with an iron fist by an aging gunfighter, turned sheriff, named Little Bill Daggett, who doesn't allow guns in his town. Munny and his two companions arrive amidst a driving rain storm in the middle of the night. They proceed to execute the two cowboys, but both of Munny's companions reveal they don't have a stomach for killing anymore. After collecting the reward, Munny finds out that his friend Ned was captured, tortured, and murdered by Little Bill Daggett. He takes a drink of whiskey and the tale turns into a story of retribution and atonement. He arrives back in town in the pitch black of night and enters the saloon where Little Bill and his men are gathered. He guns down six men, including Little Bill. As he lies on the floor wounded, Bill laments that he doesn't deserve to die this way. Munny declares:
"deserves got nothin' to do with it."
Bill tells Munny he will "see him in hell", a sentiment which Munny agrees with. Munny then kills him. There is no rousing ending. No cheers from the audience. The ugliness of violence is portrayed realistically and myths of the Old West are demolished. You are left to meditate about the concepts of age, repute, courage, heroism and the fine line between good and evil.
The themes, atmosphere, violence, brutality and finale of this eulogy to the western genre are a perfect representation of our current dire circumstances. The town of Big Whiskey represents the United States. The sheriff rules with an iron fist over the population, but his cronies can get away with murder. Hypocrisy abounds across the U.S. as politicians use the rule of law to keep the masses controlled while rewarding their corporate and banker cronies with government handouts, tax breaks, and free money. I see Munny, his companions and the prostitutes as symbols of the flawed citizens of the United States. They've made mistakes, committed crimes, made poor life choices, but they ultimately tried to make an honest living as upstanding citizens. When the authorities pushed them to the brink with their overbearing regulations, brazen criminal actions and blatant institutional corruption, each constituent reacted differently. Some responded with defiance, most rolled over, some ran away, and Munny responded with viciousness and retribution.
This is how it will play out over the next ten to fifteen years. Cynicism about solutions put forth by corrupt politicians, distrust of government bureaucrats and crooked bankers, and a society wide demoralization, as widespread unemployment and declining living standards for middle class Americans has darkened the landscape like an approaching winter storm. The disillusionment of average Americans is reflected in poll after poll, with only 20% of the population satisfied with the direction of the country versus 70% just prior to 9/11. The mood change in the country since 2005 is palpable. The gap between the Haves and the Have Nots has never been greater and continues to widen. The middle class has floundered for decades, while bankers, politicians and corporate titans have reaped vast riches through peddling debt and gaming a system rigged in their favor.
Recent data from the Pew Foundation finds that Americans are sick of being the world's policeman. Even conservative Republicans are becoming more isolationist in their views. This was also the case during the 1930's in the last Fourth Turning. The vast majority of Americans want to keep our noses out of other countries' affairs because they realize the trillions spent are bankrupting the country.
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