Hollywood Genre Film

27 March 1995

Historical Narrative and Subjectivity in Eastwood's Unforgiven In dime novels, the western tale becomes increasingly extravagant and fantastic, although it was fed by actual events. Actual people became the basis of heroes of dime novel sagas in a constant process of romanticizing actuality in the service of sentimental fiction and the adventure story. -Douglas Pye Did that really happen? I mean, the way they say it happened? -Schofield Kid in Unforgiven

In his film Unforgiven,

Clint Eastwood explores the subjectivity with which historians,

mythmakers, and anonymous cowboys approach the narrative reconstruction of the past. Throughout the film, he debunks the lingering notion of the Old West as being replete with heroic figures who could do no wrong and incorrigible villains who, over time, became mere caricatures of themselves. Rumor, bombast, invective, and dime novels all operate in the world of Unforgiven to create a past built more of words and imagined deeds than of real men and verifiable actions. Several characters erase the myths surrounding others, either supplanting them with new ones or creating some about themselves, and at least one character (Eastwood's William Munny), in an attempt to build a new identity, tries to dispel nearly all stories about himself. The film conveys a disbelief in the remembered past through certain figures whose faith in historical narrative is so strong as to be laughable and through others who are compelled to contribute a more subdued story. It also highlights the problem of subjectivity by formally engaging in the subjectivity it purports to condemn. For example, subtle yet deliberate point-of-view shots which provide the audience's perspective through a character work in conjunction with these characters' actions to indicate that what we see is an almost wholly subjective vision of what really occurs, just as historical events mutate in the minds of their initial participants and recorders. The formal aspects of the film give insight into the characters

-1-

who play in it, but they also build a meta-narrative which takes on the issue of narrative itself, and which informs other components, such as plot, dialogue, and character development. This is especially true in the film's treatment of William Munny, the near-decrepit gun-slinging protagonist who tries to build a new identity for himself free of the years of stories and legends that have enveloped him. The dialogue does much to reveal what Munny thinks of himself and what others think of him, but formal elements-in ing titles and the point-of-view shots-help particular the opening and clos-

compose the parallel themes of history and iden-

tity. The extreme long shot which opens the film shows a man, apparently somewhere on the frontier, digging a hole at sunset, just a few yards from his home. The titles, or foreword, reveal what has happened and who was involved, but as the movie progresses, both the titles and the /Shot seem increasingly removed to the plot. A woman's dying of small pox and the attitude of

C>:I~

her mother toward an outlaw ostensibly have little to do with bringing a slasher and a corrupt sheriff to justice. But taken in the context of a man struggling with two sides of his personality, two sides separated by 11 years, the foreword shedsligh~on a once vicious, now familial, man trying to escape his past. The first line of the foreword seems to describe the two women responsible for Munny's behavior, either over the last dozen years or in the time that we see him. "She was a comely young woman, and not without prospects" could be a phrase aimed at either Claudia, Munny's deceased wife, or Delilah, the slashed prostitute whom Munny seeks to

>~

avenge. The next line suggedeeply

tensional relationship between the woman's mother and

Munny, but it is a tension never realized in the course of the filIJiKnowledge of Mrs Feathers and nearly all knowledge of Claudia is restricted. Curio us more information about the Feathers women than .the rest of the film, which revolves around
(YIOVl

Munny, Little Bill Daggett, Ned Logan, and the srofield all of whom are iconic representations of the west.&e

Kid, all of whom are outlaws, and scroll reads, "It was heartbreaking to

~

her mother that she would enter into marriage with Will Munny, a known thief and a murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate diSPOSition:::}

-2-

J-/
/"

This is a fact unspoken by any character in ~stories Will's continual references to Claudia, we might infer that i~;disturbed

about Will, but through him. In

light of Will's repeated insistence that he "ain't like that any more," and his efforts to deny or erase stories about his violent past, the audience could conclude that this story-the Will and his relationship with his wife-is story of

what Will thinks of, or wants to think of, when

he imagines his own identity. Tales of his killing deputies, women, and children do not reflect
~~ "'-' suJ(-

who he considers himself to be: he is "just another fella, now." The final sentence, "That was 1878~dicates the separation so important to Will between past and present. The foreword,

then, can be understood as Will's own spin on the events of Unforgiven, a way of introducing the story without glorifying himself or the violence it contains. That the shot is Will burying his

.'"Q

wife, and not Will burying Ned or shooting someowpoints Will's life and self-conception.

to the importance this event has in

One the foreword's other functions related to narrative is its similarity not only to the openings scrolls of much earlier Westerns, but to the dime novels that mytholigized certain figures of the West. The presence of W W Beauchamp, an author of such novels, evokes connotations associated with that genre of fact-turned-fiction. The film's suspicion of such genres turns back upon itself with the inclusion of a foreword, a sign that even this retelling of the way things were is not to be entirely believed. Implicit in the foreword is an admission that it engages the frontier with the same subjectivity of Beauchamp, and merely transmutes its tale into a different medium. Beauchamp's books and Eastwood's film both are artistic, and therefore subjective visions of a lost time. It is fair to view Unforgiven as a whole and its various embed-

ded narratives through the filter of Douglas Pye's assessment of the dime novel. Munny is the victim of precisely this process, whereby his identity is supplanted by storytellers and rumors t~ed in service of "fiction and the adventure story" (Grant, 148). As the scene with Will burying fades out, and Big Whiskey fades ji, the image and the subtitle suggest we are in a different time and in many ways, a different world. The reader/viewer jumps from "That was 1878" to "Big Whiskey Wyoming 1880," a label which inI"

-3-

dicates the separation between the old and the new, temperate Will. Later in the film, it is as though Will has moved back in time, from 1878 to the 1860s,when he participated in the kinds of conflicts which define his behavior in Big Whiskey. The title in some ways misleads the viewer, in that Big Whiskey makes Will regress into who he was a dozen years earlier, before Ghe
-'.

knew Claudia. The next~e

vJDf~>

&,.{(

~~~

see~iagetic,

and).t'roo~omewhat

cJ~

deceptive. A sign out-

J o
A

side Greeley's reads, "Billiards Upstairs." We learn ~om

English Bob's barber that

"Billiards" is a code word in the town for whoringyAnother instance of words not matching reality is the sign hung on Ned's corpse which reads falsely, "This is what happens to assassins around here" blasm<kchas Ned was not technically an assassin, and a similar fate does not befall Will)These clues prepare us for the notion that there is a disjunction in Big Whiskey be-

( \C\\ St \ "1.1'

vJ t

J

tween what people say and w~s.
"'=-

fl0~5

WofO

,(1': \\~D"

.Y7 J~e v.J~ f)j Ned, Little Bill, and Will all mask reality ~

J::.

~~ithin

Greeley's, and this creates problems for Will. The next shot of Will's farm is a daylit, reverse angle take of the film's opening. This
(eJc

(S,,/

suggests that Delilah's stabbing has indirectly affected Munny's stability in the sad yet peaceful first shot. The film's first close look at Will presents a family man, a far:mer. His appearance on screen is anticipated by his young daughter running to the pig corral to see him. It is an image of tenderness, of love between a child and her father. The next two shots graphically match each other as a pig in first shot overlays a knocked-over Will Munny in the second. Just as the spectator might be asking, Why would Mrs Feathers consider this man a vicious and intemperate murderer, we hear a voice off camera declaring, "You don't look like no rootin tootin

/\8

sonofabitch and col~ooded

assassin." The statement perfectly mirrors the image before the

audience. The appearance matches the words, and the Kid has accurately assessed Will's neW ~ identity. Unfortunately, the Kid still clings to the images of Will his uncle has inculcated in him, and he is reluctant to acknowledge that people change. Our first look at the Kid comes from Will's point of view, and we are in the mud looking up at an antagonist on a horse. When the Kid next addresses Will, we see the older man from the POV of the younger's gunbelt, an angle repeated later in the film which makes the object in view look like a vulnerable target, a

/l( J,.J(~(1~1'j \

-4-

weaker agent. Will, uncomfortable with the vocalization that he should look like a coldblooded assassin, lies to the Kid, but protects his identity, by replying, "You must have me confused with someone else." That someone else is not a pig-farming, mud-faced father, but a gunslinging, cold-as-snow sonofabitch. When Will's son interrupts his father with an off-camera plaint, the camera holds on the Kid from Will's perspective, emphasizing the tension between these two sides of Will's life and drawing a vague connection between the fatherly roles Munny must assume for both of these boys. The connection, perhaps noticed by the Kid, though not admitted, might be reflected in his reiteration of his earlier point, "You don't look like no meaner-than-hell, cold-blooded damn killer," meaning that Will is already beginning to look like a father figure. The Kid, who defines Will through his uncle's stories, wants to conceive of himself through the eyes of others. (It is there for appropriate that his own eyes are impotent.) Later, when the Kid tries to shoot Will and Ned from a distance, we never get a POV shot from his perspective. Instead, we see him in a long shot, struggling to see anything but empty space or tall ~ac~
c- 1,1(../9/"''''

The way the shot is edited (line of sight from Will and Ned), it ap-

pears as though the Kid is looking in entirely the wrong direction. When Ned and Will shoot Davey, the Kid sees nothing as relies on Will to tell him "What's happening? What's going

\f(

on?" His perception, based only on what people tell him about others and history, has filled him with empty conceptions of honor, bravery, and killing. Will recognizes this an~~{ls Ned, broadly speaking, "The Kid is full of shit." On a less physical level, he has not yet accomplished (i.e., killed) enough to merit stories about him, so we are left with the sense that the Kid thinks of himself from the perspective of the stories that would be told about him, were there any. Even his name is left to his imaginary biographers. "The Schofield Kid, that's what they call me," he boasts. The Kid spends nearly the entire film seeing Will through his uncle's eyes, and modeling himself after that image, until the moment just before the climactic gun battle, in which he realizes both his identity and Will's: "I ain't like you, Will."

,[ \~'J..
~~lli'''''

"

,I \\

The tension between Will's two roles continues through the end of the~cene, as the Kid rides into the horizon and becomes a small speck against the sky. The shot from Will's point of

v\.\J)

II

tn.A£l

,!\

I'Ll'

-5-

view reflects Will's feeling that his gun-fighting days, as represented by the Kid, are moving farther away from him. His daughter's voice from off-camera underscores this feeling, and he turn to her and family matters. "Let's separate those hogs." When Will turns back to the horizon, the Kid is barely visible, left-of-center in the frame, as though a space were empty beside him. The following shot graphically matches the Kid to Will's daughter walking through the pig corral. The graphic match indicates with subtlety the same sense of loss and confusion revealed in the subsequent close-up of Will, staring into the horizon. The next scene with Will suggests his intention to abandon his family (for a short time) and return to killing. His putting down the photograph of his wife and reaching for his gun marks a pivotal moment, since the audience now knows that he has decided to catch up with the Kid and hunt the cowboys. The action cues the audience to consider Will a "damn killer," but the images that follow are inconsistent with this inclination. Will's target practice with the can is unsuccessful to begin with, but the POV shot from the can looking back at Will lends the can an almost sardonic perspective of its own, and makes Will look particularly inept. The formal components of the scene-the POV shot, the spacing between Will and the .can, etc.-

emphasize the frustration of the simple narrative element of Will shooting at a stationary object and missing. The films reminds the audience of this scene later when the Kid shoots holes through Ned's canteen, and Ned chides, "We ain't going to Wyoming to shoot canteens, Kid," suggesting that even if Will could hit the can, it would do him no good against moving, retaliating targets. As Will finishes firing at the can with his pistol, and moves inside to get his shotgun, we see him from the perspective of his bewildered children, who balance on the other side of Will's killer-versus-father scale. The shot portrays the direct conflict between the two

A\~

sides, and the audience is at once wrenched and amused by his daUgh~certainty

regarding

the hidden identity of her father. Through her eyes, we can reify her epiphany and Will's position. She asks her equally dismayed brother, "Did paw used to kill folks?" As Will looks through his window at his wife's grave, last seen in the film's opening, we see it this time from his perspective, an effect which wordlessly locates her and her death

-6-

as the center of his solitary thoughts. This and subsequent shots begin to establish a formal antagonism between two competing viewpoints of Will, that is between those who see him as a vicious killer and others who think of him as familial and benevolent. The shot in its placidity contrasts markedly with its predecessor, which

f~~

vlL-

~JA5

Will destroying the can with a

shotgun. The soundtrack also calls to mind the opening scene, as the score features the same music, formally hinting that Will looks at the grave is thinks backs to 1~8 when he buried her. This shot and the next several offer another look at Will as loving and kind, as though his shooting the can were a mere deviation on a general path of domesticity and good will. That possibility is most poignantly expressed in a POV shot of Will from the grave which frames him perhaps as his wife saw him-gentle and compassionate, once you get the gun out of his

hands and the liquor out of his body. The POV shot is important because it does not allow the audience to look at him from the cold removQtt"of unrestricted perspective. Instead, we see an him from the viewpoint of the woman who saw the beneficent side of Will more than anyone

Pt~"(.

V

else. The subjectivity of perspective, in this case, portrays Will without any of the connotations of "thief" and "murderer" present in the viewpoints of people like Sally Two Trees or Little Bill, who dress their vision of him in the trappings of death and mayhem. The narrative tension between Will's embattled identity, then, develops on a formal level as points-of-view from Claudia's grave and the children compete against the perspectives of gunmen, writers, and (one at least one occasion) Ned Logan. The closing part of the scene, in which Will leaves his children, cements this tension, as the children witness their father trying to resume the role of gunman. Will makes narrative reference to his past and the way it has caught up with him, telling his "little ones" that "This horse and those hogs ... are getting even with me for the cruelty I inflicted on them ... in my youth before I met your dear departed Ma." Formally, this sentiment is expressed when the camera looks up at him from his children's viewpoint until he crashes to the ground, their seeing his past colliding with his present. Uttering a few words of parting advice, he rides out past his outhouse, an object that will both the first and penultimate sign of his association with Big Whiskey.

-7-

If in the previous scene the conflict in perspective was between the Schofield Kid and

Will's children and deceased wife, the next scene involving Will presents the disparate outlooks of Ned Logan and his wife, Sally Two Trees. We see Sally look up in almost alarmed anticipation of Will even before we see him splashing through a stream on his way to the farm. The conflict is established as soon as we get a reaction shot from Ned who, unlike Sally, is surprised and happy to see his old friend. As Will and Ned mover1intothe house, the camera

.,e

fir«.

g~

lingers on Sally as she approaches Will's horse and sees th@lung

in the saddle. We see

what she sees, and sense her alarm that history is revisiting her family, just as it did Will's. The stress she expresses facially comes across in Ned's dialogue, as he advises his friend, "Will, we ain't bad men no more. We're farmers." In other words, they are not who they once were. They are not the villain-heroes of the Kid's story; they bear no responsibility to avenge misdeeds or participate in misdeeds themselves. Ned wants to think of himself as a farmer, to see himself as we first see him from Sally's point-of-view, working in his shed. Perhaps acknowledging that he is no longer who he was or is rumored to be, Will uses a story to convince Ned to take up his gun and horse again. He tells Ned about Delilah, exaggerating even the.hyperbolized story the Kid shared with him earlier. "They cut up a woman, cut her eyes out, her face, cut her fingers off, even her tits," he says, revealing the discontinuity between what we witnessed from the point-of-view of both the attacker and the attacked in the film's early moments. That his story unintentionally distorts reality speaks to the manner in which Will's own character and history have been distorted through the stories told about him. As Will tells Ned of slashing, his referent is, in part, a reality constructed of the Kid's words, not of the events the audience viewed previously. Although visibly moved, and later taken in, by Will's story, Ned reminds Will again of his new self. "If Claudia was alive, you wouldn't being doing this," meaning that post-Claudia Will has given up killing and adventure in favor of family and good will. When we see Ned through Will's eyes just before the latter is about to leave, we notice that Will still thinks of Ned as his gunfighting partner. Ned is framed with his rifle centered

-8-

above his head, and the camera looks up slightly at Ned, although still apparently from Will's position. This indicates Will's lasting admiration of and trust in his partner's abilities. When Will looks at Ned, he sees Ned and his gun. "I see you still got that Spencer rifle," he says. The power of that association, which we gather from both the formal elements of the shot and Will's dialogue, bolster Ned and he commits to the job. His response to Will's statement at last gives the audience a glimpse of what the pair used to be capable of. Perhaps as a complement to Will's brash and frustrated use of the shotgun to take out the tin can, Ned replies elegantly and confidently, "I can still knock the eye off a bird flying, too." The camera's

7' framing together of Ned and his rifle prepares the audience to believe Jp!fuat

kind of claim.

The moment shares something with the Kid's boast of "That's what they call me," in that Ned's statement seems to be borrowed from the mouth of a storyteller describing him, and yet it seems more credible than the Kid's self-description, perhaps because when the Kid speaks, the camera either looks down or across at him, whereas Ned, at this moment, is captured approximately from Will's chest level. (Ned, by contrast, is reluctant to give up his adaptive view of Will as a farmer. This is most evident when the pair first enter Greeh~ld recognizing that his partner is out of his element and ill)~s,
~

Ned, obviously.
C~

Will," ~You

.-

look like

shit.") As Will and Ned prepare to leave, we again see Will struggling to mount his horse, this time not

fc/Z~

his children's perspective, but from Sally's, who looks on disapprovingly, wor-

ried that her husband is traveling backwards in time, back to his meaner and deadlier self. When the two ride off, we see their backs from Sally's point-of-view, and can make the assumption that she feels Ned has literally and figuratively turned his back on her, just as Will had with his own family. The shot is stationary and somehow removed, hardly appearing like t;I\J~ta POV shot, but it conv~ us her mood through her eyes. The camera tracks in on Sally, and

we move from seeing through the coldness of her eyes to looking directly at her icy expression. After a montage of riding shots and almost pastoral music that serves to distance both the two gunmen/farmers and the audience from Hodgeman County, we hear from Will the importance of subjective viewpoint, how it has affected his notion of identity. Will discusses

-9-

"ti

(~':6 the audience already gleaned from two silent shots,~~~ and one objective, which is, wnat one POV
in Will's words, "She doesn't like it, you riding off with me. She gave me the evil eye." Will suggests that the "evil eye," or personal subjectivity, obfuscates a person's true and dynamic identity. "She knew what a no good sonofabitch I was, but she don't realize I ain't like that no more... .! ain't the same as I was." As Will and Ned discuss this point, we see them both from a third-person viewpoint, scarcely lit by the campfire, with little or no fill light. Will reveals that what he has seen, how he plays back the events of his life, have had a deep enough impact on his life and character, that he does not need other people to tell him how bad he was to know how bad he was. "'Member that drover I shot through the mouth? Teeth came out

through the back of his head? He didn't do anything to deserve getting shot, 'least no~ anyw'"

/....

~r
\..

thing I could see after I sobered up." These words tell how recurring images have ~ill,

c.1..."'1<!"

and they also relate to the wayan obscured viewpoint can have drastic, irrational effects on a

man's life, the way that man is perceived by others. When the Kid starts crying after killing one of the cowboys, he cannot deal with the vision (which we witnessed from his POV) of shooting the man, and Will advises him to "take a drink, Kid" to wear down the memory, suggesting that the reason all these gunmen were drunks is because they could not cope with the memories of killing each other. Alcohol interfered with Will's ability to determine what the drover was innocent or guilty of, and caused him to act on that misperception. Similarly, Sally Two Trees' conception of Will does not match his recent behavior.! Will's final attack on subjectivity comes with his assessment of his old partner Quincy, who "used to just watch all the time, scared." In that sense, Quincy is not unlike the character of Beauchamp who, like a parasite, feeds off aging figures of the Old West, like English Bob, Little Bill, and Will Munny.

1Drunkenness emerges as a sort of sub-theme when three of the major characters-English Bob, Will, and Little Bill insult each other with charges of constant intoxication, or lack of perceptive ability. "I heard you fell off your horse and broke your neck, drunk of course," English Bob says to Little Bill. When telling Beauchamp the story of Two-Gun Corcoran and English Bob, Little Bill describe Bob as "drunk, as usual." Will, by contrast, curses himself for being drunk, equating it with all the evils of his older days. "My wife, she cured me of wickedness and drink." When Little Bill first contacts Will in Greeley's, Will's immediate response is, "I ain't drunk." Furthermore, the name of the town, "Big Whiskey" might suggest the manner in which its inhabitants' perspectives are twisted and obscured.

-10-

Beauchamp seems emboldened when in the presence of a character sympathetic to him like English Bob,but cowers and flees under stress. Will seems to prefer informed action to hasty decisions motivated by hearsay, or cowardice mixed with voyeurism, and does not want to think of himself as an object worthy of voyeurism. "I'm just a fella now. I ain't no different from anyone else." Ned concurs with his wife that Will was "one crazy sonofabitch," but also with his friend that "you ain't like that no more." When Ned and Will catch up with the Kid, and immediate conflict arises between Ned and the young gunman over the Kid's inability to see with the same clarity of vision as

\J\.;r~5'Ned. It speaks to the Kid's character that when he confronts Ned over the l~eizing of the rifle, the shot of Ned is from the point-of-view of the Kid's gunbelt. We have already seen him as trigger-happy and too ready to shoot irresponsibly, and this shot leads us to believe that his actions originate not in his head, but from his holster. The POV from the Kid's belt focuses first on Ned's midlevel, than pans up to his face and eyes. Where Will framed Ned with a gun over his head, the Kid frames everything relative to his gun. If he cannot shoot it, he doesn't see it. "I can shoot well enough to kill this sonofabitch in front of me," a telling response to Will's introducing Ned as someone who "can hit a bird in the eye aflying." Minutes later, when Ned makes up the story of the hawk flying overhead, both the Kid and Will look up to spot the alleged hawk, but we see only Will's point-of-view, indicating that the Kid's sight for such a distance is not reliable enough to share with the audience, or perhaps it is not accurate-real-enough to stand in for the camera. Will's POV is legitimized, and the Kid's

mocked, when Ned reveals, "You can't see for shit. There ain't no hawk." The Kid's vision, like that of Beauchamp and Quincy, is mocked for its inadequacies. Will's, on the other hand, is held up as the truth. He is the standard by which we judge whether there is a hawk. He looks, sees none, therefore (for the audience) there is none. Eventually, during the first assassination scene on the hill, the Kid accepts Will's vision as his own. When Little Bill asks for Will's name in Greeley's, Will replies, "William Hendershot," an amalgamation of his name and Eagle Hendershot's, a dead partner to whom he refers ear-

-11-

lier and saw in an fevered hallucination.

In the hallucination, Will claimed Hendershot's

"head was broke open. You could see inside it," perhaps meaning that his head was open in the same manner characters' heads are open when the camera positions itself within it, and we, the audience, can see from inside it. That Hendershot's nickname is "Eagle" and not something like "Kid" or "Blind Willie" suggests that the maturity and accuracy of his vision was superior, a vision that Will adopts for himself when dealing with Little Bill. For other characters, such perspective is unattainable. Beauchamp, who (maybe) should be recording history as it occurs, rather than "taking certain liberties" as he says, wears glasses and is scoffed at by Little Bill when Beauchamp reveals that though his books feature "events taken from accounts of eyewitnesses," the eyewitnesses are usually drunken participants like English Bob, who tell stories to glorify themselves and their roles. Little Bill further assails Beauchamp and Bob's idea of the latter by insistently referring to the man Beauchamp calls "The Duke of Death," the "Duck of Death," alluding to a bird far less perceptive than the eagle. The Kid and his uncle are similarly put into perceptual disrepute, although the effect is to increase the conception of Will's gunfighting prowess, when Ned .remembers that Will "put the drop on" three deputies, "not two" as the Kid suggested. Little Bill's refutation of other's perceptions of themselves and the past and his ability to tell a story while still establishing historical veracity perhaps enters him into conflict with the other man of keen vision who tries to erase faulty notions of history, Will Munny. The film's narrative establishes them as antagonist and protagonist, but much of their conflict is played out on the formal level with POV shots instead of gunshots.

~:r f'"

The fundamental difference between the two iSfwhile Little Bill tries to correct the

Al..t'

past by supplanting old myths with new ones, Will merely wants to erase it. Whenever he is asked about the past, he responds, "I don't recollect," or "I don't remember, I was too drunk," or "I'm not like that anymore." Though we hear much about Will from other characters' stories, we never see the past through his eyes. There are no flashbacks in the film (except possibly

the opening shot of Will burying his wife), nor does the narrative enter mental subjectivity

-12-

when Will tells Ned of his hallucinatory visions. After Little Bill and sickness nearly overcome Will and he thinks he might die, he asks Ned to cover up the story of his past, and wishes to be remembered for his familial self. "Don't tell nobody ... don't tell my kids none of the things I've done." The battle of perspectives between Little Bill and Will begins explicitly the first time Will enters Greeley's. The first POV shot of Will in the scene comes from Ned's perspective when he tells Will how bad he looks. (The situation repeats after the fight, when we see Will, nearly comatose, from Ned's viewpoint.) The next one shows Will from the pointof-view of the whiskey bottle in front of him, a shot which calls to mind the scene in which Will shot at the can on the stump. In both cases, an inanimate object seems to augment a mood of despair and frustration. Will's dejectedness would not be so evident in this shot were it not for the bottle, which he finally takes back after being dry for twelve years. Little Bill's strength relative to the fatigued Will is underscored by a POV shot of Will from the sheriff's perspective, in which the camera looks down on a shriveled and shivering Will. A POV shot from Will's vantage point, looking up at Little Bill, matches this shot, reflecting Will's acknowledgment that he is no condition to fight his antagonist. When Little Bill asks for his name, and Will replies "Hendershot," referring to Eagle, we might interpret ~this~nother

f!::)

fA'>

form of the Kid's "Schofield Kid, that's what they call me." As the Kid identi-

fied himself by his weapon, Will conceives of himself with acute perception, despite his being ill and (perhaps) mildly drunk. Will, however, can do little more than watch and listen, and Little Bill picks up on this ability, mocking him for the same weakness Will found disgusting in Quincy, and later finds in Beauchamp. At the same time, he signifies the importance of words in damaging a person's self-conception: he attacks Will using terms from Will's past. "What if I was to say you were a no good sonofabitch and a liar, and you would shit in your pants because of a cowardly soul. Would you shoot me dead?" Once Little Bill takes the pistol from Will, we

08 realize from the po~ew of several armed deputies that Will is surrounded and, at this " moment, defeated. As the sheriff knocks Will to the ground, the camera takes the point-of"-

view of Will, staring almost straight up at Little Bill, the victorious figure in this fight. The

-13-

POV shots recall those from the scene in which Little Bill assaulted English Bob, and the camera assumed Bob's perspective from the ground, and intercut it with shots of a bloodied, cringing Bob. Crawling through the bar to reach the door, we see Little Bill, a deputy, and a voyeuristic Beauchamp, from Will's floor-level perspective, indicating his loss and weakness, and the superiority (real or imagined) of these other men. While Ned is being flogged, he attempts to resuscitate Will's image as a vengeful murderer, partly out of an (unsuccessful) effort to save himself from Little Bill's torture, and partly to let Little Bill know what awaits him. According to the whore who brings Will the money for killing the cowboys, Ned used his last breaths to tell Little Bill stories about Will. But the stories "didn't scare Little Bill," since the Sheriff had his own sheaf of stories, cared for by Beauchamp and Big Whiskey's deputies. ("Little Bill worked in Texas and Kansas. He

worked in tough towns, boys.") As Will rides into town for the final confrontation with Little Bill, he discards the bottle of whiskey, as a sign that his perception must be at its most acute, that he wants to dispense with everything about him that the bottle represents, namely decadence, wickedness, and unjust actions. On the cut to Greeley's we hear Little Bill promising drinks to everyone, and then see, from Will's point-of-view, a shotgun fall into place, aiming directly at the unaware sheriff, who eventually turns and sees the gun, looking almost through the camera and realizing he has been caught. The soundtrack of cracking lighting and thunder emphasize the gravity of the moment. After Will kills Skinny, Little Bill tries the same

tactic of verbal assault he used on their first encounter. "You are a cowardly sonofabitch," he accuses. "You are a killer of women and children." He sees Will as Ned and others have

described him, the vicious murderer of "just about anything that walks or crawls." Little Bill instructs his deputies to shoot down Will "like the mangy scoundrel he is," implying that Little Bill conceives of his opponent as the same William Munny who murdered everyone a decade ago, and who, like a mangy animal, crawled out of the bar beneath his eyes a short time earlier. But this William Munny, whom Little Bill now faces, is one with a vengeance, with an advantageous perspective (i.e., from behind the barrels of a shotgun), and with the sum total of

-14-

his history behind him.

Will accepts Little Bill's accusation, and turns it into a strength.

"That's right, and now I'm here to kill you for what you did to Ned." After a flurry of gunfire, and gunshots and camera shots that seem to originate from everywhere, with POVs

intermingled with objective shots until the two become almost indistinguishable, of the armed men, only Will is left standing. Everyone scatters, and Will immediately serves himself a

drink, already hoping to obscure in his mind the images of what he just did. In a similar effort, he threatens to kill a note-taking, agape Beauchamp, as though killing him would obliterate all record of the event, and the stories about Will and the carnage for which he is responsible, would cease. The final exchange between Will and Little Bill is shot entirely through POVs in which Little Bill must look up at a towering and vicious Will, just as Will had looked at Little

CD

Bill when he first arrived in tow:0ust

as the cowboy looked, terror-stricken, into the Kid's

(!)

eyes before he pulled the trigge@nd just as Delilah looked into that same cowboy's eyes as he slashed her. The conflict ends as a POV close-up of Will stares into Little Bill's eyes and kills him with a bullet to the head: Will's perspective is the only one that remains. Our last image of Will in Big Whiskey comes from the eyes of Delilah and Beauchamp as they watch Little Bill turn his back on them and ride out of town, returning to Hodgeman County. The afterword, a scene that matches almost perfectly the film's opening shot, depicts Will chopping wood next to a full clothesline, an image of cleansing and beginning, not of death and burial. The closing titles return us to the story of Mrs Feathers, who searches for the reasons why her only daughter chose to marry "a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition." If this second scroll refers to the violence Will performed in Big Whiskey, it indicates the subjective viewpoint of those who would continue to cast William Munny as a villain; if it refers only to decades-old violence, it comments on the inability of people to adapt their visions of people to new information, to change. In this latter case, it would seem that despite his recent reconstruction of identity, Will remains unforgiven. The stories of William Munny, now, however focus not on his devastation, his viciousness or intemperance, but on his career in San Francisco, "where it was rumored he prospered in dry goods." If

-15-

Mrs Feathers seeks an explanation, perhaps it is contained in the story that the foreword and

\0 fl'.t

~\
l

afterword fr~

\OJ.~c-1,(et

and perhaps Will himself offers the story as a reason, as proof that he was

worthy of Mrs Feather's daughter. It is a story to overcome the uninformed, unchanging subjectivity of a woman, and a populace, incapable of acknowledging the i~ ter.

I=>r~

charac1.(.~{,··D ,-

6524 words

-16-