Features and Columns · Movies

‘Unforgiven’: The Nail in the Coffin of the Classic Western

*melancholic yeehaw*
Unforgiven Gun
By  · Published on August 14th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores what Unforgiven can teach us about the modern legacy and evolution of the Western.

Very few film genres have done more of an about-face than the Western. I’m sure there are probably other contenders. For instance, meta-horror films like Scream or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil have done enviable work calling out their respective genre’s tropes for both laughs and genuine introspection. But some occasional lamp-shading didn’t prompt an identity crisis in horror as a whole. Which is precisely what happened with Westerns.

Of all the highly formulaic film genres that took shape in the early days of Hollywood, the Western enjoyed one of the boldest and least ambiguous thematic stances. Namely: an idealized and mythic vision of American expansionism, individuality, and machismo. That lack of flexibility was a problem. Because once any part of the Traditional Western’s structure became suspect, the whole thing could come crashing down.

Does vigilante eye-for-an-eye justice feel heroic after a World War? After Vietnam? When you recognize the personhood and sovereignty of indigenous peoples, can you still villainize them? If you make room for masculinity that is sorrowful, imperfect, and sensitive, where does that leave the trigger happy white-hats?

So-called Revisionist Westerns didn’t start with UnforgivenIndeed, they’ve been around since at least the early 1950s, if not earlier. But Clint Eastwood‘s Oscar-winning film is inarguably one of the most popular and stark examples of how far the Western has come, in large part thanks to the presence of Mr. Eastwood himself.  For more on what makes Unforgiven a stand-out example of a Revisionist Western, albeit a modern one, check out the video essay below.

Watch “Unforgiven’s Legacy and the Evolution of the Western”

Who made this?

This video essay on the legacy of Unforgiven and its commentary on the Western genre is by The Take (formerly ScreenPrism), a channel dedicated to analyzing film, television, and pop culture. They specialize in the “ending explained” genre of video essays. They also have a sizeable library of character studies, director profiles, and symbol breakdowns. You can check out their YouTube account here. You can also follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.