The film “Unforgiven”, by the legendary Clint Eastwood, is a story of an aged outlaw who, with the help of his old partner and a young gunslinger, aim to kill and collect the bounty on two cowboys who attacked a prostitute in the small town of Big Whiskey. Eastwood, who plays the leading role (Will Munny) in the film, reluctantly joins the party aiming to kill the cowboys due to the fact that his departed wife would have been opposed. Once the trio of killers arrive in Big Whiskey, they are abruptly run out by the town’s heavy handed Sheriff, Little Bill. Thereafter they accomplish their mission, but with this comes tragedy. Munny’s partner, and close friend, Ned Logan, is captured by the law of Big Whiskey and killed for his crimes. Munny, upon finding this out, returns to Big Whiskey and exacts revenge on Little Bill and anyone who stands in his way.
This film treats the ideas of liberty in some interesting ways. At the start of the film, as Little Bill’s character is introduced, he is charged with punishing the men who attacked the prostitute in town. In this moment he executes a sort of legal autonomy where he acts as judge, jury, and for lack of a better term, executioner, dealing out justice by his own accord. To this end, Little Bill levies a fine rather than corporal or capital punishment for their brutal attack; his judgment decided in the name of contract/ “property” rights – foregoing the protection of the individual attacked. Needless to say, this leads to a quagmire of liberty questions. Beyond this, Little Bill continues to act as a heavy handed legal authority throughout the film, turning him into, at least in my opinion, the villain of the movie. The film also has a lot to say about violence, or the lack thereof, and in turn, enforces the non-aggression principle. This is seen time and time again with moral discussions about killing and the implications of such. One other major liberty point in the film regards guns. The town of Big Whiskey has an ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms within town limits. On several occasions, characters are forcibly disarmed and are then attacked by the town’s only visible government presence, Sheriff Little Bill. It is remarked by the character English Bob, when disarmed, that doing so will leave him at the mercy of his enemies.
I think this film can be a good tool in teaching the audience the dangers of entrusting complete security to the state. Though the men Little Bill disarms do have nefarious intentions, once relieved of their weapons, the Sheriff brutally attacks them. Furthermore, this film is an interesting look at the non-aggression principle (as stated before). Unlike many other westerns or action flicks, this movie doesn’t glorify gun violence. To that end it doesn’t demonize guns either. Instead, it demonizes violence itself.
Questions on free society aspects of the film:
1) Do you think it’s more important for Little Bill to protect contract/property rights as he does in the film, or the life of the woman attacked?
2) Even though English Bob and Will Munny had “evil” reasons to be carrying a gun in town, was it right that they were disarmed?
3) Even though “justice” was laid down, was it right that the women of the brothel pooled their money and laid a bounty on the criminal’s heads?