Well… This is my final post. Our last class was on Monday, Dec. 9th. But it’s not over yet. Your Final Exam is due on Dec. 16th.
Fourteen weeks together. I hope you’ve learned something. I know I did.
On Monday we saw Unforgiven, written by David Webb Peoples. I’m attaching an excellent essay — Unforgiven: Anatomy of a Murderer — written by William Beard. which discusses the complex themes and narrative structure of Unforgiven. I strongly recommend that you read it.
Unforgiven is an upside-down morality tale and a take on the theory of justice in a form of a revisionist Western. Before we talk about the dramatic structure of the film, here are a few elements to consider when you ponder the overall theme of the film (not an easy thing to do, which is what makes this film so great.)
1. Money and revenge. How are they connected?
2. The myth of the old west. Truth or fiction?
3. The importance of the subplot with English Bob and W.W. Beauchamp (the writer)
4. The “leaky” house Little Bill is building. A metaphor for our society?
The film doesn’t offer any easy answers. More important, it tries to conceal, disrupt and subvert any traditional approach to our understanding of that the theme of the film might be.
Let’s look at the dramatic architecture of the film using the Hero’s Journey model (see the image at the bottom of the page):
1. Ordinary World. 2. Call to Adventure. 3. Refusal of the call.
All three stages are introduced within the first 12 minutes of the film. We see the saloon in Big Whiskey, WY where the prostitute gets cut up and where the final battle will take place. We meet Little Bill, the main antagonist. And then we introduce William Munny, our main character and his world. Schofield Kid is the Herald. But Munny refuses the call because he is no longer the man he used to be.
4. Crossing the First Threshold. The end of Act 1. William Munny decides to take the opportunity to make money, so he can take care of his children and his farm. Even if it requires going back to his old ways. He decides to catch up with the Schofield Kid. But first, he needs an ally, someone he can talk to. Enter Ned Logan, who also serves as Munny’s mentor. When Ned decides to join Munny on his journey, that’s Crossing the Threshold (End of Act 1). Would William Munny go alone? Probably not.
Our main character is now leaving his ordinary world behind and entering the special, “magical world”.
5. Tests, Allies, Enemies.
The elements (storm, rain) and the Schofield Kid provide some of the opposition for Ned Logan and William Munny on the way to Big Whiskey. Munny gets sick.
6. Subplot. English Bob. He’s brutally beaten by the Sheriff, Little Bill, and expelled from Big Whiskey. We now know what kind of person Little Bill is and what’s waiting for William Munny.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave.
Vogler says that at this stage the hero often experiences setbacks while approaching the cave. He or she is torn apart by challenges. She needs to get into the minds of those who stand in the way. She discovers s that if she can understand or empathize with them, the job of getting past them will be easier.
As a train carriage with the beaten and humiliated English Bob is leaving the town of Big Whiskey, our hero and his allies — Ned Logan and the Schofield Kid — are entering the town. Thunder and rain. We’re approaching the next step — the Ordeal.
8. The Ordeal (Midpoint).
“The hero stands in the deepest chamber of the inmost cave and faces a direct confrontation with his greatest fear,” says Vogler. No matter what the hero came for, it’s Death that now stares back at her. She is brought to the brink of death in a battle with a hostile force. The hero of every story is an initiate being introduced to the mysteries of life and death. She must appear to die so she can be reborn, transformed.”
First, Munny Little Bill beats Munny so hard that he nearly kills him. As he’s recovering, Munny confesses to Ned that he’s scared of dying. But recovery has also brought a new wisdom with which Munny is ready to confront his enemies and get his reward.
Munny is even more determined now to collect the bounty. He and his allies kill one of the cowboys. But when Ned goes back home after the first killing, Munny and the Kid continue on their journey. After the second cowboy is killed, one of the prostitutes brings them the reward money. She tells him that Little Bill killed Ned. And we see Munny slowly going back to his old self — a murderous, whiskey-drinking outlaw. How else could he face Little Bill? Munny is now hellbent on revenge. The end of of Act II.
10. The Road Back.
The hero wants to go back home with the elixir despite the trials that remain. But he realizes that the old ways are not effective anymore. “He gathers up what he has learned, stolen, or been granted and sets a new goal.” Which leads to to…
11. Resurrection (The Final Showdown).
The shootout with Little Bill in the saloon, during which Munny executes Little Bill in cold blood.
12. Return with the Elixir.
The elixir is almost always metaphorical. William Munny had to embrace his dark self in order to live a normal life? Perhaps. It is whatever you think it is. But note that Munny doesn’t simply return to the life he had before his journey. His new life has to encompass all of the things he learned about himself on his journey.