Hi, may I please have some essay feedback please?

2021 Paper, Q7 - The power of a persuasive text comes from the skilful combination of elements.

Violence is not entertainment, but rather very real and consequential. Clint Eastwood’s revisionist western ‘Unforgiven’ is a text which explores this idea, and implores its audience to reflect on themselves and their viewing habits. With a box office of $159.2 million USD, Eastwood took his audience on a journey of persuasion through a combination of skillfully placed elements ie character, camera shots and dialogue, to push the message that violence has severe consequences on society.

Eastwood has been heavily involved with the western genre since the beginning of his career. ‘Unforgiven’ is set in 1880s Wyoming at the end of the ‘Old West’ era. ‘Unforgiven’ avoids polarisation as its characters are ambiguous. There are no true ‘good’ guys or true ‘bad’ guys. This makes the characters much more reflective of modern society, there is something indicative of everyone. It is also important to note that the film was set around the American Day of Independence. This is ironic as it insinuates that America was founded upon violence, particularly gun violence. A violence that has followed though, despite the test of time, into the modern day.

The Schofield Kid is one of the ambiguous characters created by Eastwood. He is often described as being the audience personified. He grew up on stories of gunslingers of the Old West which glorified violence, nicknames himself after his gun and claims he has killed five men. This is all a persona. Signified by his short-sightedness. The Schofield Kid’s shortsightedness is incredibly important as it highlights his inability to see, (understand), the true consequences of violence. This is exemplified when he first meets William Munny, (protagonist) and Ned Logan, (William’s old Partner). The Scholfield Kid feels as though he has to prove himself to the two men. He shoots aimlessly into the sky with the hopes of hitting some nonexistent bird. There is a close-up shot of the Kid’s squinting eyes as he looks at Ned and Munny. This reflects that he is blind to the consequences of violence. He was unable to see that his own actions might have severe consequences for all three of them.

Initially, the Schofield Kid follows the illusion; that is to say that as long as it was not him committing the act of violence, he could turn a blind eye. However, this quickly changes during his first-hand murder of Quick Mike. Cross-cutting is used to emphasise the terror on the victim, Quick Mike’s face, and the hesitation that the Kid feels now that he is forced to confront what he is about to do. A close-up shot on the Kid’s face after he has shot Quick Mike is used to highlight the Schofield Kid’s shock at what he has just done. He is suddenly forced to confront the reality of violence and sees a close-up view of the consequences of violence. Eastwood uses these techniques largely to make the audience uncomfortable. Yes, Quick Mike is guilty but does he truly deserve to be murdered in cold blood? And should it be a kid of around 19-20yrs carrying the act out? The audience is faced with the reality of where these violent acts lead and the consequences that result for both the victim and the assailant.

Reality comes crashing down on the Schofield Kid after pulling the trigger during a conversation with William Munny. ‘It don’t seem real…how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever, how he’s dead. And all on account of pulling the trigger.’ This dialogue is key to highlighting the Schofield Kid’s complete disbelief over the actions that he has just taken. A man is dead, never to breathe again, and for what? He didn’t actually do anything to the Kid who killed him. The cost of violence is emphasised-ultimately the damage cannot be reversed. With just the pull of a trigger, life can be sucked out of a person. Eastwood uses this dialogue to persuade his audience to look at themselves and how they view violence. Are they the Schofield Kid? One is encouraged to look at both the victim and the perpetrator. Violence has very real trauma involved that affects all. Should this trauma really be used as a means of family entertainment? Eastwood argues no.

A close-up of the Schofield Kid in half high-key, half low-key lighting with tears streaming down his face in remote is important to his realisation. This shot reflects that the Kid has awoken from his blindness to the consequences of violence. The low-key lighting is reflective of his internal conflict over the choices that he’s made, and ultimately the savagery that he is capable of. Whereas the high-key lighting reflects that good has prevailed, and the realisation that he has made around violence. Once full of bravado, he has been humbled by the trauma that he has experienced. When Munny asks him, ‘What about the spectacles and the fancy clothes?’ the Schofield Kid replies, ‘I guess I would rather be blind and ragged than dead.’ This highlights the growth that the Kid has had throughout the film. He now realises that the money that would come at the cost of his humanity is not worth it. He would rather have nothing than have to take the life of another human being. Ultimately he would rather be poor than be spiritually dead, like William Munny.

All of these elements used by Eastwood are used to persuade the audience to think differently about violence. In today’s society violence has become a major selling point for a lot of films, games, novels etc. That is to say that it has been glorified in such a way that it is allowing for the desensitisation of people. Through the Schofield Kid’s killing of Quick Mike and then his reaction, Eastwood attempts to challenge this normalisation.

Another briefly noteworthy character during this scene is that of William Munny. He is one who completely contrasts the Schofield Kid character. That is to say that he is the anti-hero, who is almost sociopathic in his addiction to murder. Killing is the only thing that he knows how to do, and he is totally emotionally desensitised to violence. Munny is filmed with a long shot with his back to the sun. This results in him being filmed in low-key lighting which highlights the evil that is in his heart. His words of wisdom to the Schofield Kid, ‘you shot the hell outa that fella today.’ Words that are considered harsh to the average person. Munny’s heart has been hardened, deadened to violence. He is distanced from morality and the idea that violence is morally wrong. His desensitisation is an important idea that Eastwood chooses to portray. It is symbolic of the nature of many viewers today. As William Munny is a deeply violent character at heart, the audience feels uncomfortable with this comparison. They no longer feel that violence should be a form of enjoyment.

Overall, I strongly agree with this statement, ‘the power of persuasive texts comes from the skilful combination of elements.’ This is because it is through the elements of film techniques, characters, themes etc that Clint Eastwood is able to portray an overriding idea around the consequences of violence and persuade the audience to think the same. Through these elements, Eastwood is able to make the audience feel uncomfortable in a more extreme way about certain beliefs so that they would take these lessons into their lives. Will people continue to see violence as entertainment? The answer is probably, however they may start to see the consequences of such in modern society.

Hi Bmack - nice to see you back!

Nice opening. You clearly have a good understanding of the text and are using some lovely essay vocabulary and a strong conclusion.

To strengthen this - I would suggest linking it more tightly to your chosen statement throughout - it takes you a good few paragraphs to come back to the 'persuasive" element , and you need to unpick a bit more why the “power” of this is from the elements themselves. Try to weave this discussion in a little more with your discussion of the elements and the film rather than having it out on its own in its own para - you want to develop how each part draws the audience in, and helps take them on that “journey of persuasion” you mentioned in your intro.

Hope that helps!

Thank you for your reply. I’ll be sure to take on your advice ahead of my mock exam :smile: