Unforgiven (1992) Ending Explained – Does this western have a happy ending?

Unforgiven Plot Synopsis

‘Unforgiven’ is a ground-breaking 1992 western movie, written by David Webb Peoples and directed, produced, and starring Academy Award Winner Clint Eastwood.

The movie is based on a former ruthless cowboy who seeks forgiveness while dealing with the villainous complexities of his life, aspects that were clouded by his unstoppable desire for power, aspiration, and voracious desire for vengeance.

Unforgiven centers on William Munny, an ex-gunfighter who accepts one final job decades after quitting and switching his profession to farming. A masterful piece of filmmaking skilfully hides his violent, mysterious past, giving his role an air of suspense and darkness.

Alongside the heinous crimes and inhumane acts he perpetrated as a young man, Eastwood’s stone-eyed, straight-faced demeanor allows us to sincerely empathize with his character as we enter the world of his tormented conscience.

William escapes the tyranny of remorse and residual flashbacks of his earlier years as he alienates himself from everything in his past. However, in one concluding act of brutality and chaos, he resurrects his former self and his spirit which was contaminated with resentment, remorse, misery, and despair.

The movie’s exceptional realism in depicting the West, as well as its rich and nuanced elements of the morally complex plot, may have piqued your interest in learning about the rather confusing ending of the movie. So, let’s dive a little deeper.

What served as the movie’s inspiration?

As per reports, the movie’s writer was inspired by Glendon Swarthout’s “The Shootist” which, in turn, was partially based on John Wesley Hardin’s story.

Clint Eastwood stated in an interview that he wanted to make a point with this movie, which is that the western imagery was built by characters who inflated the fantasy of the west. He intended to express his opinion on the romanticizing of violence and gunplay in the community. His feelings on these themes were given room to grow in this movie.

What background does Munny have?

When “Unforgiven” starts in 1880, Munny, as portrayed by Eastwood, seems to be an aged ex-assassin who is now a dutiful farmer helping to raise two children. Munny was a violent man decades ago who, as he says in the movie’s climactic scene, has killed just about everything that walks or crawls.

However, Munny reformed himself by giving up drinking and violence, along with having a family with the assistance of his deceased wife.

What causes the movie’s chaos to begin?

Unforgiven’s catalyst for this drama centers on a prostitute named Delilah Fitzgerald, who is scarred by two cowboys in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, which sets the plot of the movie in motion.

Following the incident, her brothel acquaintances put up a prize for whoever kills the cowboys, which infuriates sheriff Little Bill Daggett as he forbids vigilantism in his community.

When Munny’s ranch starts to crumble, he realizes that uncomplicated new beginnings and fairy tale endings do not happen in the Old West after all. Motivated by a desire to protect his children and to provide them with resources, he hesitantly persuades his friend Ned Logan, a fellow bandit, to work alongside him as well as an adolescent sharpshooter known as The Schofield Kid to earn a reward for the murders of two farmers who disfigured and traumatized Delilah Fitzgerald.

Two groups of gunfighters come to claim the prize; they tussle with each other and the sheriff. One group is led by elderly former bandit William Munny, another by the florid English Bob.

What causes the Schofield Kid to abandon his fantasy?

Once it’s time to take out Delilah’s perpetrators, Ned realizes he can no longer murder anybody, so Munny has to jump in and brutally murder a man. Munny as well as the Schofield Kid pursue their further objectives while Ned manages to escape. Sadly, it results in a man striking and gunning Ned down as he is hiding in an abandoned house.

The Schofield Kid confesses to Munny that he had never shot anybody before that night and gives up the sharpshooter life after the two earn their prize because it’s a terrifying reality in comparison to whatever illusion he may have envisioned.

Does Munny manage to kill Bill?

The fact that Little Bill discovered his identity upon capturing and tormenting Ned to death eliminates Munny’s choice of running away. In order to calm his nerves before the necessary action, he also consumes liquor for the very first time since his spouse’s passing.

The final confrontation between Munny and Little Bill is far from an honorable conflict. Conversely, he attacks Little Bill as well as his squad in the dead of night as they get ready to track and kill him and The Schofield Kid in the early hours.

After having taken out Little Bill’s squad and injuring Bill, Munny coolly shoots the parlor’s disarmed owner. Little Bill protests that he does not really deserve this demeaning fate, but Munny sneers, “Deserve has got nothing to do with it”.

What makes this movie stand out?

There is substance to the movie. Every character in the movie, including the antagonist, has a perspective. Despite the fact that he is wrong, the antagonist believes that he is righteous and taking the right decisions.

Every character in the movie, including the supporting ones, have a point of view. The movie’s protagonist is not the stereotypical “good character”; rather, he has moral ambiguity and is multifaceted, which gives the movie a more genuine sense and it makes it more relatable to the audience.

What is the movie’s central theme?

Even though Munny succeeds in collecting the money he needs to support his two children, it comes at a high personal cost which is the nasty side of his personality which he had hidden and has now come to the forefront. He is once more a brutal killer who enjoys drinking hard liquor, and will undoubtedly be troubled by the images of his latest victims.

The last remnants of Munny’s “good” self were ultimately destroyed by Ned’s passing even though he had been pardoned by his wife, society, and most importantly by himself. However, the temptation of his old ways is too alluring and he relapses into the violent world that he had left behind. Towards the end, he comes to terms with the fact that he is – and has always been – unforgiving.

All of the main characters have forgiveness as a recurring theme. After Bill punishes the cowboys, the women are unwilling to pardon them, Bill is unable to forgive English Bob’s past. Moreover, when the young boy murders the cowboy, he instantly asks for forgiveness.

Does the movie have a happy ending?

The revisionist western movie is not just about its plot, whether William Munny collects the reward, and about who is killed during the movie; rather, it is primarily about what it means to kill someone and how a society is altered when individuals are killed.

In a devastating tale, it exposes the futility of a life dedicated to violence. The movie makes the case that the Wild West was an unfair environment where those who survived gunfights weren’t necessarily good or even skilled shooters but were the ones who could maintain calm.

Although Unforgiven wasn’t the first western to do so, it did aim to lessen the romanticized portrayal of American history that the western genre is known to portray.

Even after Munny delivers his famous phrase in “Unforgiven,” the movie doesn’t mince words in illustrating its point. Little Bill responds, “I’ll see you in Hell, William Munny”, to which Munny merely snarls, “Yeah”, before shooting him dead and fleeing the area, threatening the residents that he will come back to murder them if they fail to give Ned a decent funeral or injure any sex workers once more.

Following this, he disappears into the chilly, rainy night, resembling a ghost rather than a justifiable warrior whose actions had helped everyone but himself.

Following this, the movie’s epilogue ends with a somber image of Munny standing next to his wife’s grave. Additionally, despite the on-screen text mentioning reports that Munny eventually thrived in dry goods, everything about this sequence suggests that, like the wild west legends, this gleam of a “happy ending” is undoubtedly a lie.

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

2 thoughts on “Unforgiven (1992) Ending Explained – Does this western have a happy ending?”

  1. Are we sure we even saw the movie, Sarah? You get a number of plot details completely wrong (i.e., Munny shoots the barkeep dead first and foremost for “decorating his saloon with my friend’s (Ned’s) body”. (To wit: The open coffin perched by front door with a sign reading, “This what we do to assassins”). Ned himself was beaten to death by Little Bill (LB) in his jail cell to extract the names of his cohorts, not gunned down in an abandoned house. After killing the “parlor owner”, Will experiences a misfire in the second barrel of his side-by-side shotgun, throws it at LB and pulls The Kid’s Scholfield and guns down the posse members who failed to flee and then — stooped like some vengeful demon over the bar drinking abandoned shots of liquor — turns and finishes off LB with Ned’s Spencer rifle. “I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killing folks.”

    Especially when intoxicated…

    We all bring our own experiences and sentiments into the emotions of an excellent movie, like “Unforgiven”. For me, Will’s relationship with alcohol was eerily similar, just not with violence. Some people have a drink or two, get sloppy and fall asleep, wherever. But there is another breed that don’t know where the end of the bottle is and get *sharper*, as they become intoxicated beyond the limits of other humans. We’re commonly referred to as ‘alcoholics’. In the movie, I saw Will as the very image of myself, pre- and post-abstinence.

    With an abusive amount of alcohol, my senses and reactions to my environment became hypersensitive. I was the lead singer in Rock bands in my late teens through late 20’s, and my tagline, “Nobody outdrinks the band”, made patrons and owners alike frenetic, euphoric and delirious. But, that ‘sharpness’ cuts everything it touches, even those we love…

    Without alcohol, I am lessened in all these ways. As Will was, evidenced by his horrible attempts at agriculture and animal husbandry. He can’t even mount his pale, “flea-bitten”/pestilent white horse (Death symbolism), when sober. He found a woman to love and be loved by, as I did, and fathered and raised children as best he could being thus broken, as I have.

    But the news of Ned’s brutalization, torture and murder by LB caused him to reinvite ‘Demon Alcohol’ to repossess his body and to once again become, “…murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition…” and put an end to the monstrous LB (the movie’s representation of the dark side of law enforcement, an ongoing problem today), for “what you did to Ned”, his friend, a Black man… He downs 2/3 of a quart of rotgut on the ride into Big Whiskey alone and exacts the vengeance Ned has earned and LB is due: “We all got it coming.”
    (NB: No more problems with submission from his Death’s horse, either, for the remainder of the movie. It knows Its master.)

    So, I — and I daresay many others similarly afflicted — could only see this as a movie depicting alcoholism to a tee. The good, the bad and the ugly (pun intended).

    You obviously experienced it differently, and many others may have been inclined toward confusion over the events and motivations of William Munny. For those of us who understand the dichotomy of alcoholism, its visceral thrills and emotional agony, no such confusion exists.


Leave a comment