2019 Paper, Question 3 - A skilful director or creator carefully creates discomfort in the audience
Violence is not entertainment, rather it is very real and consequential. Director Clint Eastwood’s revisionist western, ‘Unforgiven’ is a film that by its very design creates discomfort in the audience. Eastwood’s intent for the film was to challenge his audience’s views on violence by making them uncomfortable. Thus proving that it is not entertainment, despite Hollywood’s insistence, but rather something that has a great impact on a great many people in reality. Eastwood does this very skillfully through the use of camera angles, dialogue, and lighting.
Clint Eastwood has been heavily involved in the Western genre since the very beginning of his career. ‘Unforgiven’ is set during 1880s Wyoming at the end of the ‘Old West’ era. ‘Unforgiven’ avoids polarisation due to how its characters are ambiguous. There are no true ‘good’ characters, or true ‘bad’ characters, thus it is much more reflective of modern society. 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 on a culture of violence, (with the American War of Independence 1776 - 1783), one with gun violence at its centre. Such culture has continued to follow it through the generations, well into modern society.
The Schofield Kid is one of the ambiguous characters created by Eastwood. He is often described as the audience as personified as, like many of the modern generation, he grew up on tales of violence where good typically prevailed. He nicknames himself after his gun and claims to have killed five men. This is all part of his persona, which is further exemplified by his short-sightedness. This can be seen when he first meets William Munny (protagonist), and Ned Logan (Munny’s partner). The Schofield Kid feels as though he has to prove himself, he begins shooting to the sky in hopes that he will hit some nonexistent bird. There is a close-up of the Kid’s eyes as he squints at Munny and Ned. This reflects his blindness to the consequences that could have resulted from his random outburst of violence. He is unable to see that his actions may have caused serious harm for all 3 of them. Director Eastwood does this deliberately and with skill to create a feeling of discomfort and unease in his audience around the randomness of violence.
Initially, the Schofield Kid follows an illusion; as long as it was not him committing the act of violence then it was okay. However, this changes with the shooting of Quick Mike, (the cowboy who brutally attacked a prostitute). When the Schofield Kid kills Quick Mike it is not glorious - Mike is in an outhouse toilet, and there is hesitation, it is not a quick death. This is can be shown through cross-cutting between Quick Mike and the Schofield Kid. This technique used by Eastwood emphasises Mike’s terror and the Schofield Kid’s hesitation. It also shows that the actual murder was not quick, it was drawn out and painful. There was no real sense of satisfaction or ‘vengeance’ for the prostitute. A close-up shot of 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 that violence has very real consequences.
As a director, Eastwood skillfully uses both of these techniques to make the audience uncomfortable. He forces them to question their own thoughts about violence. They are made uncomfortable by the drawn-out killing of Quick Mike - there was no honour or glory in his death. Yes, he was guilty but did he deserve to be murdered in cold blood? The audience is also made uncomfortable by the age of the Schofield Kid - should someone around 19-20yrs old be committing murder? This is all deliberately done by Eastwood so that his audience might see the reality behind the Hollywood illusion. Violence is horrific, indiscriminate and should make one deeply uncomfortable.
Reality comes to the Schofield Kid during a conversation that he has with William Munny where he says in dialogue, ‘It don’t seem real, how he’s dead, never to breathe again and all on account of pulling the trigger.’ This dialogue is key to highlighting the Schofield Kid’s complete disbelief around the events that have just taken place. A man is dead, never to breathe again, and for what? He never actually did anything to the Kid who killed him. Thus emphasising the cost of violence - it is damage that cannot be undone. Eastwood skillfully uses this dialogue to persuade his audience to look at themselves and how they view violence as individuals. The dialogue causes discomfort, the question asked causes greater discomfort. Eastwood asks if they are the Schofield Kid. He encourages one to look at both the victim and the perpetrator - violence is traumatic for both. Should this trauma be celebrated as family entertainment? Eastwood argues no.
A key close-up of the Schofield Kid’s face depicts him in half high key, half low key lighting, crying. This is an important camera angle that is used with great skill by director Clint Eastwood to highlight the growth in the character of the Schofield Kid. The low-key lighting is symbolic of the conflict in his heart and the savagery that he is capable of. Whereas the high-key lighting reflects his lightened path, rejection of violence and ultimately that good has prevailed. The shot reflects that the Kid has awoken from his blindness to the true, very real consequences of violence. Once full of bravado he has been humbled by the trauma that he has experienced.
When Munny asks him, (in dialogue), ‘What about the spectacles and the fancy clothes?’ The Schofield Kid simply replies with, ‘I guess I’d rather be blind and ragged than dead.’ This highlights that the Schofield Kid realises that violence comes at the cost of his morality and his humanity. He would rather be blind and poor than have to take another human life. Eastwood skillfully uses this to show that the Schofield Kid realises the true consequences of violence. He no longer sees it as entertainment but rather for what it really is. This scene encourages the audience, through moments of discomfort, to see the journey of violence and the power that comes from choosing a non-violent path. While simultaneously exploring the impact of violence on the individuals involved.
Overall, I strongly agree with the statement that a skilful director carefully creates discomfort in the audience. This is because through the skilful use of camera angles, dialogue, and lighting Eastwood is able to portray the overriding idea of the consequences of violence. Through the skilful use of elements, Eastwood is able to create a sense of discomfort in a more extreme way about certain beliefs around violence. Will people continue to see violence as entertainment? Probably, but they may be more aware of the consequences in modern society.