“It don't seem real. How he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever. How he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.”
“It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”
“Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.”
“We all got it coming, kid.”
A couple months ago, the ever compelling director Scott Derrickson tweeted the following:
Why is it that we are so obsessed with the revenge story? Or, perhaps more important is the question: Why do we justify revenge so enthusiastically?I believe that in future history, the revenge ethic will be seen as the great cinematic signature of American mental & spiritual sickness.— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) February 5, 2016
In Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture winner, Eastwood plays Bill Munny, an ex-killer, thief and drunk who gave all of that up for the love of a good woman. He lost her to small pox, though, and he can’t really farm at all. So, when he gets wind that some prostitutes have put a bounty out on a man who did them wrong, he sets out to kill again.
It is a classic, American, heroic tale of justice. Only it feels like a sad, pathetically real story of revenge. In fact, Munny’s heart really isn’t into the killing—it is more of an unappealing chore—until his friend Ned is killed. Then, he has an emotional reason to want to kill. You can tell because he drinks again for the first time in years. He also at that point becomes the typical, American, Western bad-ass. At that point, our American-film-audience-mentality tells us we are supposed to cheer and root for him. THIS is the Clint Eastwood we all love to watch!
The jerk of a Sherriff that he is out to kill protests as Munny is about to kill him:
“I don’t deserve this. I was building a house.
“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
But it does, doesn’t it? That is what revenge is all about. And, after all, Munny’s earlier line made it clear. Death is something everyone is headed for, so it is OK to help some people along their way. Especially if money is involved, or—even better—paying back some wrong.
Of course, the film is not really saying that. This is a commentary against that attitude in the old, American West. The attitude that so many still hold on to today. The attitude that many want to regrasp and “Make America great again.” But the real American value si something very different.
America isn’t really a Christian nation, but it was founded on Christian ideals. And one of the most important of those ideals is to do right no matter how one feels, and revenge is not a part of that. We should look to the example of Christ who didn’t seek revenge nor judge us when we were His enemies. He died for the very people who hated Him. He died for pathetic revenge mongers like me.