This is the 25th anniversary of Clint Eastwood’s best movie as an actor and a director. It’s remembered as a great western and a great revenge story. But much more than that Unforgiven is a great love story. The movie opens with a title card telling us about the life and death of Claudia, Bill Munny’s wife as we hear some of the beautiful music the film world has ever given us. Clint Eastwood plays Bill Munny, and through the rest of the movie we hear that beautiful piece, “Claudia’s Theme” written by Clint Eastwood whenever Will faces a moral dilemma.
Bill tells people that he’s not the person he used to be because Claudia cured him of drinking and wickedness. We know he was a notorious murder, and we know that he means it when he says he’s not the person he used to be. The beautiful love theme tells us how the memory of Claudia keeps him living in a way that would please her. It’s his only priority in life. Unforgiven is the first movie I know of to tell a love story from the perspective of how the romance continues after the death of one of the lovers. More recently, Up and another Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino have done this very well.
Bill is offered a job as a bounty hunter, something he hasn’t done for 10 years. He needs the money for his kids, and this offer isn’t like any of the acts of his past. A real injustice was done, and he’s hired to kill the offenders. The love theme tells us how he wrestles with the decision he has to make. He knows Claudia would not approve of killing people in cold blood out of drunken stupor as he used to, the music tells us that he senses her approval to get justice for the young woman who was hurt. His pursuit of justice is an act of love for Claudia continuing their romance several years after her death. When he meets the young woman he is defending and finds out that she’s a prostitute, she offers him a “free one.” His response to her is the movie’s most heartfelt moment that shows us how much goodness is in Bill Munny. His response expresses both his love for his wife that extends beyond the grave and his desire to give
His pursuit of justice is an act of love for Claudia continuing their romance several years after her death. When he meets the young woman he is defending and finds out that she’s a prostitute, she offers him a “free one.” His response to her is the movie’s most heartfelt moment that shows us how much goodness is in Bill Munny. His response expresses both his love for his wife that extends beyond the grave and his desire to give justice for the young woman. Through this whole scene, we hear the most dramatic performance of “Claudia’s Theme” throughout the whole film.
When Bill reaches his breaking point and turns from justice to revenge, we stop hearing “Claudia’s Theme.” We hear the film’s main film music, dark and forebodingly written by Lennie Niehaus. This involves some of the saddest moments the movies have ever produced, not so much because of the people Bill is killing but because we know what the title means. Bill fought between his past that haunted him and his wife that saved him for many years, and now the past is starting to win. He hasn’t learned to forgive himself for his past, and he allows it to stop haunting him and to become his present instead. That doesn’t mean that all the goodness is gone. We do get to hear “Claudia’s Theme” again, but it takes a lot of inner moral fights and forgiveness of others and of himself to keep make sure he continues to keep his love for Claudia alive.