Sunday, August 28, 2011

Unforgiven’s influence on Cowboys & Aliens

No one can possibly make a modern western without paying tribute to what many consider a masterpiece of western fiction: The Unforgiven.
Cowboys & Aliens is no exception.
In some ways, The Unforgiven ripples through nearly every scene in this film, filling it with allusions and echoes of the earlier film.
In The Unforgiven, we have a notorious gunman, who is trying to forget his past, trying to live up to his wife’s expectations of a decent man.
In Cowboys, we have an outlaw who has been granted a gift of forgetfulness, a chance to find absolution by fighting on the right side – largely because he can’t remember who he was, but who has already taken the first step towards salvation when he fell in love with a prostitute named Alice.
In The Unforgiven, the outlaw, whose wife has died, gets an offer to avenge the wrong done to a prostitute named Alice, by taking up the bounty to kill them.
We get repeated images and situations in Cowboys that we saw in the Unforgiven, including a spectacular shoot out in the beginning, the hero being beaten up by bad guys, even a similar scene of the hero being stitched up.

We even see him looking at a photograph of his dead wife in the Unforgiven, the way the hero in Cowboys does.
There are a number of repeated images, comic elements such as attempts to learn or relearn how to shoot, and other sequences that are clearly drawn from the earlier film as a tribute.
Cowboy’s hero even wears the same hat at the hero in The Unforgiven, and we get a similar scene of law men coming into the bar in both films.
But the essence of the character is the same: both outlaws have to live with their notorious pasts and must somehow make things right so that they can move on into the future.
While the Cowboys hero steals blood money from fellow crooks, the Unforgiven hero earns his blood money.
Both heroes struggle with memory, although in the Unforgiven, the hero can’t remember because he was mostly drunk when he committed his felonies.
There is even a similar theme about death and afterlife in both films, as The Unforgiven hero mistakes Alice the prostitute for an angel. In Cowboys, we get the alien woman who pretty much is an angel. In both films, the heroes are well aware of good and evil, heaven and hell, as the Cowboy hero tells the villain to collect his gold in hell, while the villain in the Unforgiven tells the hero, he’ll see him in hell. Since in both films, it is clear that while they might be able to make amends, they are doomed to eternal punishment.

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