Monday, April 5, 2010

Revisionism in The Unforgiven

The Unforgiven is a revisionist film based on Ned Logan's equal status as a black in the West, female retaliation, and Bill Munny's status as an alpha male. Typically, blacks and females in the western genre were considered "the other" in the plot while the white alpha-male cowboy was glorified, even for his negative traits, such as aggression and alcoholism. In The Unforgiven, the roles are reversed at most times.

The way Bill Munny talks about his past in the film makes it seem like he made only mistakes and violence in the current situation is not the best path. He is almost pathetic at times, because he is so weak without his wife. When he actually shoots one of the hunted cowboys, he immediately feels bad while Ned backs out altogether. Also, the boy who brags about how many men he is killed is shown in a negative light, which again degrades the alpha males status because violence is not the answer.

Ned Logan's status as an equal is one of the main elements that makes this film revisionist. Traditionally, blacks were not viewed as partners in any western before this one. Pompey for example, was just Tom Donophin's sidekick. Ned's character is almost a bigger man than Bill because he knows when to back down. He shows additional strength when he refuses to give Bill's whereabouts to the sheriff while being whipped. In the end, Bill avenges him, proving that blacks, even in the 19th century when this was set, were worth avenging.

The prostitutes in the film also take on an increased role that revises women's previous roles in Westerns. Women were traditionally the motive behind the alpha-male's actions, but never really took action until the 1970's (with some exceptions). In The Unforgiven, the women are the ones who want revenge on their peer, and take action in doing so. Granted, they need cowboys to actually kill the men, but they use their resources to accomplish the goal and are smart in hiring someone so they don't get blamed for murder.

All factors considered, this film constitutes revisionism in three ways. Even with women being abused and Bill Munny eventually shooting everyone, roles among the different sexes and races are significantly altered to glorify someone other than the white alpha male cowboy for once.

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