A prostitute is disfigured by a cowboy after laughing at the size of his manhood. The local sheriff is perceived as being lenient on the assailant after he demands only that the local brothel-owner is reimbursed for his ‘lost investment.’ The prostitutes collate their capital and offer it as a reward to whoever murders the assailant and his cohort.
Will Munny is a retired assassin and windower living on a failing remote pig-farm with his two young children. He’s approached by a boastful young gunslinger which leads him to set off in search of the reward…
Unforgiven is a spectacular treatise on the American Western, capitalism, law, feminism, justice, youth, folly, growing old and the value of human life.
There are enormous moral questions raised throughout the film. The role of the prostitutes in events extends far beyond patriarchal ownership. It leads us to look at the nature of modern capitalism where the employee is reduced to a functioning asset of the employer with an effective shelf-life, with the state having a protective interest only as far as capital is concerned. Rather, the person is not protected by the state, capital and investment is.
The ultimate question in the fashion of Peckinpah’s love of world weary loners is to display the aging reformed gunslinger, who aspires to do the right thing in such a world of nihilism and brutality that we must question if there is such thing as decency, a moral life beyond an abstract ideal and whether such things are even possible? The tawdry implications of such questions are not limited to the periodic Western.
There are no easy answers.