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

*melancholic yeehaw*
Unforgiven Gun

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.

More videos like this

  • For another sample of The Take, check out a video on the “angry young man” trope. They describe the archetype and ask: who are the angry young men we listen to? And who are the angry young men we challenge?
  • And here’s The Take looking into the “fridged woman” trope, which is about women who are killed off to motivate a male character’s story.
  • Entertain the Elk has an incisive look at Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns and how he perfected the use of the close-up shot.
Meg Shields: Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.