Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Best Served Cold: Unforgiven 

Unforgiven starts with a crime. In the grand scheme of things it’s a small crime: A whore is cut up by a drunken cowboy. She will live, albeit with a few scars on her face. The sheriff, Little Bill, levies a fine: the cowboys will turn seven ponies over to the man who runs the brothel. The madam Alice, made bitter by years of rough treatment at the hands of cowboys, doesn’t find this repayment adequate. She and the other prostitutes gather up their cash to set a bounty. To the law, the prostitute is property, and worth a clear and quantifiable sum. To Alice, she’s a person whose defacement is worth death. The cut prostitute herself has no desire to see anyone hurt further — but that hardly matters anymore. The wheels are now turning, and somewhere in the intersection of commerce and vengeance Unforgiven unfolds.

Elsewhere, there is a widower and his two children. The man is old, now. He faces obscurity and steady decline as well as he can, shoulders squared, feeling that this is what he must be now. In removing youthful pride he has gone too far, and stripped himself of dignity. He works the land, now, drawn to physical labor for its purity of purpose. It suits him. Complex work requires decisions and judgement, and he no longer trusts himself with those. The man holds on to the humble trappings of his new life with a desperate grip. Ending his life runs too contrary to his nature to contemplate, and allowing himself to be himself is — well, he can’t ever let that happen again. And so he has reached his diminished stalemate.

So is this simple, unobtrusive life penance or just proper living? Is it both?


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