“Better not cut up nor otherwise harm no whores, or I’ll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches.” – William Munny
There is so much to say about Clint Eastwood’s western masterpiece. It’s one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time and I consider it Eastwood’s finest film. David Webb Peoples wrote a fantastic script, filled with intriguing and surprising characters. I was eleven when I first saw the film and it has been an obsession of mine ever since. There is so much to comment on and so much to explore that I don’t even know where to begin.
People take away all types of different ideas from this film. Some consider it an anti-violence film. Some consider it a pro-violence film. Gene Hackman has said that he considers the film to be about women’s rights. All of these interpretations are valid and all of them are correct. It is a film that touches on many subjects, but remains a rather simple and straight forward story. Like all great works of art, you receive based on what you put into it.
The story is thus: Two cowboys cut up a prostitute named Delilah Fitzgerald in Big Whiskey, Wyoming. The local sheriff, Little Bill Dagget(played by Gene Hackman) refuses to take them before the criminal court or to even whip them. Instead, he fines them by compensating the saloon owner named Skinny with ponies. Feeling that they were robbed of justice by Little Bill, the prostitutes led by Strawberry Alice(played by Frances Fisher) decide to get justice on their own. They put up a thousand dollar bounty on the two men who cut and scarred Delilah’s face. Little Bill who considers his authority absolute will make sure no one collects on that bounty. William Munny(Clint Eastwood), the Schofield Kid(Jaimz Woolvett) and Ned Logan(Morgan Freeman) aim to collect.
Since the story begins with the prostitutes than my over-analysis will start there. One thing that can be said about this film was that Eastwood’s casting choices were genius. Anna Thomson portrays Delilah as a sweet but submissive woman. She is hurt and scarred, both physically and emotionally but shows no desire for vengeance or compensation. In fact, it is Strawberry Alice who calls for justice. When she doesn’t receive it, she calls for blood. She’s a fierce defender and protector of her girls.
In the opening sequence when Little Bill decides instead of bringing formal charges against the assailants to instead use the opportunity to help enrich one of his friends, it’s Strawberry Alice who challenges him.
“After what they did? Skinny gets some ponies? That ain’t fair Little Bill. That ain’t fair!”
Indeed it isn’t. In this scene there are two telling exchanges with Little Bill.
Skinny: “I have hear a contract with Delilah Fitzgerald that represents an investment of capital.”
Little Bill: “Property.”
Skinny: “Damaged property. As if I was to hamstring one of her ponies.”
At not one point do Little Bill or Skinny speak of Strawberry Alice or any of the other prostitutes as actual people. They consider them as something beneath them. The second exchange is even more damning of the Little Bill character.
Little Bill: “Now Alice, these were just young boys who were foolish. Now if they were given over to wickedness in a regular way…”
Strawberry Alice: “Like whores?”
There is a momentary flash of anger in Little Bill’s eyes and even some surprise. Gene Hackman’s portrayal of this scene was perfect. Little Bill just had his authority directly challenged by Alice. Her resolve is strong. If Little Bill, the representation of law and order in Big Whiskey will not give Delilah justice than she will.
After William Munny had made good on killing the two cowboys, the town throws a brick through the prostitutes window and curse them as murdering whores. Alice’s reaction is violent and strong. She rushes to the window and screams right back out at her accusers.
“They had it coming! For what they did they had it coming!”
That line is a repeated motif throughout the entire film in many different variations. It’s the reasoning that William Munny and Ned Logan use to justify their murder for hire. William Munny ends the motif with his ultimate observation on the theme.
“We all have it coming kid.”
And so we find the specter of death. A dark, shapeless gloom that drapes over the film with it’s constant presence.