Question: Successful texts must challenge the audience to think differently.
Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, ‘Unforgiven’, challenges his audience to question their views on violence. With a box office of $159 million, this successful text has left its audience with a message - violence has severe consequences on society. The director uses a range of film techniques such as lighting, close up and long shots to emphasise the consequences of violence.
Eastwood is heavily associated with Western films due to his appearance in so many of them. Eastwood’s film ‘Unforgiven’ is set in 1880 Wyoming - a place where cowboys were rampant. The film is Clint Eastwood’s final (revisionist) Western film. It’s plot is a reversal of the typical Western genre.
‘Unforgiven’ avoids polarisation. It’s characters are not divided into the two opposing categories of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Instead, the director creates complex characters with flaws that people in modern society can relate to. Eastwood uses a powerful ending in which the villainous character triumphs over the better side, reversing the traditional Western plot.
The director creates a character in this film called the ‘Schofield Kid’. This young man is short sighted - symbolic of his inability to understand (see) the consequences of violence. The Schofield Kid goes on a journey in this film. He starts off as being a dramatic person, full of bravado who looks up to gunslingers like the protagonist - William Munny, and his shooting partner - Ned Logan. When he meets Ned and William he shoots aimlessly around in the air. The director uses a close up shot of the Kid’s eyes squinting at Munny and Ned - signifying his shortsightedness and his inability to see the severe consequences that may have unfolded if he had shot one of them through his trigger-happy stupidity. Initially, the Schofield Kid follows an illusion - believing violence to be glorious. However, this quickly changes when he has the first-hand experience of murdering a cowboy called Quick Mike. Cross cutting is used between Quick Mike’s terrified face and the Schofield Kid’s momentary hesitancy before he pulls the trigger. A close up shot is used to highlight that the Schofield Kid is suddenly confronted with the reality of violence - he is experiencing a close up view of the consequences of violence.
The reality of pulling a trigger came crashing down on the Schofield Kid afterwards. He says to William Munny, who is with him at the time, “It don’t seem real. How he’s dead. How he ain’t gonna breathe again ever. And all on the account of pulling a trigger.” This dialogue is used to emphasise the finality of violence - the damage cannot be reversed. With one simple move, life can be sucked out of a person. Eastwood uses this quote to challenge the audience about how they view violence. One is encouraged to look at the perspective of the victim of violence and reflect on what they allow to be used as entertainment in their homes.
A close up shot captures tears of remorse streaming down the Schofield Kid’s face as he reflects on what he did. In the film his character journey ends with him becoming awakened from his blindness to the reality of violence. It no longer appeals to him discovering he is spiritually scarred from the irreversible damage he created. Facing the sunlight he says to Munny, “I ain’t like you, Will”. The sunlight signifies that goodness has prevailed within him. He no longer sees violence as a glorious thing. Once full of bravado, he has now been humbled through his discovery. When Munny asks him “What about the spectacles and the fancy clothes?” he replies “I guess I’d rather be blind and ragged than dead”. The Schofield Kid would rather be short sighted than spiritually dead. This powerful quote challenges the audience to think differently about violence. In today’s society, violence has become mainstream in movies, video games and various other entertainment tools. Many people are exposed to cartoonish violence through these tools. Like the Schofield Kid’s glorification of violence, many people today see violence as being glorious through the things they absorb in their minds. Through the unpleasant death of Quick Mike, and the Schofield Kid’s reaction, Eastwood restores the modern audience’s mindset, bringing the viewer away from the normalisation of violence.
Munny, the protagonist and anti hero of the film, is infamous for killing innocent women and children back in 1870 - ten years before ‘Unforgiven’ is set. His, almost addiction, to murdering people has rotted his character making him emotionally desensitised to violence. The director films Munny with a long shot, capturing him looking into the distance as he tells the Schofield Kid; “Well, you shot the hell outta that fella today”. This dialogue highlights to the audience that Munny’s heart is hard and he is deadened to violence. The director deliberately films Munny gazing mindlessly into the distance, symbolising his distance to the moral idea that violence is wrong. He is also filmed with his back to the sunlight, his face darkened in low key lighting, symbolic of his evil at heart. Munny’s desensitisation to violence is used as a reflection of society today. The audience can see themselves in his character. Since he is a dark person at heart, the audience are made to feel uncomfortable and no longer feel violence should be used for enjoyment.
Clint Eastwood created this film after realising that his previous Western films glorified violence with his audience cheering on when the ‘bad guys’ were killed. In ‘Unforgiven’, he makes his characters more complicated, reflecting the natures of people in real world society, so that his audience feel uncomfortable cheering on when one of them dies. Like many innocent victims of violence today, none of the characters really deserve to die. The audience are challenged to think about the things they view as entertaining. Many viewers discover that cartoonish violence in films such as ‘Avengers’ should not be normalised as something for people to enjoy for entertainment. This is because normalised entertainment violence may influence people in decision-making, leading to dangerous events such as domestic violence. As of late domestic violence has been growing. Filling one’s mind with evil impacts a person’s actions.
In conclusion I strongly agree with the statement “successful texts must challenge the audience to think differently”. This is because the audience is more engaged when a film reflects something in the world in which they live. ‘Unforgiven’ has challenged its audience to think differently, contributing towards its success. Eastwood’s clever use of film techniques have helped to highlight one of this key messages - that violence has irreversible consequences. People are encouraged to consider the impacts entertainment has on modern society.