Study Guide

Unforgiven Quotes

  • Violence

    QUICK MIKE: Brand you like a damn steer, b****!

    Mike's comment to Delilah is one of the first audible sentences we hear in the film, and foreshadows the violence that will appear throughout the film. Bill will "brand" gun-toting guys like English Bob and Will with his justice, for example, and Dave will get killed while branding a steer.

    THE KID: Uncle Pete says you was the meanest goddamn son of a b**** alive, and if I ever wanted a partner for a killing, you were the worst one, meaning the best, on account as you're as cold as the snow, you don't have no weak nerve nor fear.

    Violence, it seems, came naturally to Will, who never had any "weak nerve nor fear" and was the "meanest goddamn son of a b**** alive." We learn more about this as the film progresses, but Will is unique in that he is capable of violence without really being bothered it. He is "cold as the snow." He might regret things, but he doesn't show true remorse.

    THE KID: I'm a damn killer myself, except I aint killed as many as you because of my youth.

    This is the first of many boasts from the Kid, who talks a big game and acts like he's a violent killer. Ned and Will don't believe him, and the Kid learns a tough lesson later: being a "damn killer" is not a good life, and it wreaks havoc on one's conscience.

    LITTLE BILL: I guess you think I'm kicking you, Bob. It ain't so. What I'm doing is talking to you…talking to all them villains down there in Kansas, talking to all them villains in Missouri, and all those villains down in Cheyenne. I'm telling them there ain't no whores' gold. Even if there was…they wouldn't want to come looking for it anyhow.

    Little Bill resorts to violence in order to prevent violence. That's his logic here. Violence is his way of talking, of communicating to would-be bounty hunters that "there ain't no whores' gold" in Big Whiskey. The irony here, of course, is that Little Bill himself is a huge "villain."

    LITTLE BILL: That's why there's so few dangerous men around like Old Bob, like me. It ain't so easy to shoot a man, anyhow, you know, especially if the son of a b**** is shooting back at you.

    Bill hits the nail on the head. Yes, it's hard to shoot when you're being shot at, but the real truth here is "it ain't so easy to shoot a man." Killing isn't as easy as lots of movies make it seem, and Unforgiven explores just how ethically difficult murder is.

    LITTLE BILL: Well I ain't gonna hurt no woman, but I am gonna hurt you. Not gentle like before, but bad.

    Bill seems legitimately excited about the prospect of hurting Ned "bad." This is one of several clues that Bill might be some of psychotic masochist, a lover of violence.

    WILL: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have.

    Okay, either Will doesn't know what to say when people like the Kid are crying, or he really just doesn't care. There's something coldly understated in these comments. All Will can say is that "killing a man" is a "hell of a thing"? This seems so detached, so surgical, and so inhuman.

    THE KID: You want it, keep it. I'm never gonna use it again…I won't kill nobody no more. I ain't like you, Will…Go on, keep it, all of it, it's yours…I guess I'd rather be blind and ragged than dead.

    The Kid here proves he's not like Will. He gives up his gun, which is as good as a statement about non-violence as there is. He could have kept the gun and not used it, but it sounds like he'd rather not have it at all.

    WILL: That's right, I've killed women and children. Killed just about everything that walks or crawls at one time or another. And I'm here to kill you Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.

    This is Will's most explicit statement about his violent past. He doesn't seem to care one way or other, and he simply admits that he has killed just about everything. The fact that Little Bill is now on the list, so to speak, suggests that Will is still okay with violence.

  • Transformation

    THE KID: You don't look no meaner-than-hell, cold-blooded damn killer.
    WILL: Maybe I ain't.

    Will is so different than he used to be that he doesn't physically resemble an outlaw. The "maybe" here, however, is crucial. Just how transformed is he?

    WILL: I ain't like that anymore, kid.

    This is the first of several instances where Will claims he isn't the killer he used to be. When a character says something like this, we need to pay close attention.

    NED: We ain't bad men no more. We're farmers.

    These lines sound a little more earnest coming from Ned, but it's certainly interesting, if not ironic, that Ned and Will head out to do some "bad" things shortly after Ned issues these remarks. Farmers? Yeah right, guys.

    WILL: She knew what a no good son of a b**** I was. She just ain't allowing that I changed. She don't realize I ain't like that no more. I ain't the same, Ned. Claudia, she straightened me up. Cleared me of drinking whiskey and all. Just 'cause we're going on this killing, that don't mean I'm gonna go back to being the way I was. I just need the money.

    Will does sound heartfelt in these lines, but this is the fourth or fifth time we've heard this from Will. He's trying to reconcile what he's about to do—kill two men for money—with the new, "changed," Will. By the end of the film, Will kind of goes back to the way he was, but not all the way.

    NED: You ain't like that no more…like I said, you ain't like that no more.

    Ned seems really unsure when he utters these lines in the film. It's like he's trying to convince himself that Will "ain't like that no more." There aren't a lot of reasons to doubt Will's claim to have transformed, but Ned's tone definitely makes us suspicious.

    WILL: That's right; I'm just a fellow now. I ain't no different than anyone else.

    Will's response to Ned expresses just as much uncertainty. Just like Ned was trying to convince himself that Will is different, so Will seems yet again like he's trying to convince himself. The fact of the matter is he is "different than anyone else"—he's killed a lot of people.

    WILL: I ain't like that no more, Ned. I ain't no crazy killing fool.

    The film's final scene will prove otherwise. Will really is kind of crazy by the end: he enters a saloon where he is grossly outnumbered, and still manages to come out alive. He isn't a "killing fool," that's for sure, but we soon learn he's just as capable of killing pretty ruthlessly to get his revenge.

    THE KID: You want it, keep it. I'm never gonna use it again…I won't kill nobody no more. I ain't like you, Will…Go on, keep it. All of it. It's yours…

    Just like Ned, the Kid clearly wants to transform himself—from a smack-talking aspiring killer into somebody who doesn't even own a gun. He definitely isn't like Will, and that's why he disappears from the film shortly after this. He doesn't belong in Will's universe anymore.

  • Memory and the Past

    WILL: I thought maybe you was someone come to kill me for something I'd done in the old days.

    Will seems aware that his past may come back to bite him in the butt. His first thoughts of the Kid, here, prove as much. He knows there must be a ton of people who are determined to "fix" the past.

    WILL: I used to be weak, and given to mistreating animals. This horse and them hogs over there are getting even with me for the cruelty I inflicted

    The past eventually catches up to you, and Will seems to think this explains why he's having such a hard time with his hogs and horses. They're "getting even" with him, punishing him for what he used to be.

    WILL: He didn't do anything to deserve to get shot. At least nothing I could remember when I sobered up.

    From his vantage point in the film, Will seems legitimately disappointed with how he acted in the past. He realizes that he has done things that he shouldn't have done, which suggests he is feeling at least some regret.

    THE KID: There's two deputies up close pointing their rifles right at you. Got you dead to rights. You pulled out your pistol and blew em both to hell…
    WILL: I don't recollect

    Will is usually quiet about his past, and her we see actively trying to bury it, to eliminate it from the oral-historical record that the Kid embodies. This suggests that Will is trying to change, but we've seen enough movies to know that you can't just bury the past.

    THE KID: Is that what it was like in the old days Will? Everybody riding out shooting, smoke all over the place, folks yelling, bullets whizzing by?

    The Kid is like Beauchamp here, and the kinds of people who read his books. He clearly has a romanticized view of Will's past, as if the bullets and smoke were part of some movie set and not part of a violent, potentially deadly spectacle.

    THE KID: Was you ever scared in them days?
    WILL: I can't remember. I was drunk most of the time.

    While Will would love to forget the past, and sometimes he claims he can't remember, here it seems his old whiskey habit is helping him along. He was so drunk in those days, he can't even remember all the horrible things he's done. This is a blessing in disguise in some ways.

    WILL: That's right, I've killed women and children. Killed just about everything that walks or crawls at one time or another.

    This is one of Will's most overt statements about his past. In a way, he's owning what he's done and accepting that he can't change anything about it.

  • Death

    WILL: You remember Eagle Hendershot…No I saw him…His head was all broke open you could see inside of it. Worms were coming out.

    This is the first of several very graphic descriptions from Will. Death is a harsh, gruesome reality ("head was all broke open," "worms…coming out") that the film will uncomfortably explore.

    WILL: I seen him Ned. I seen the Angel of Death. I seen a river Ned. He's got snake eyes. It's the Angel of Death…I'm scared of dying. I seen Claudia too…Her face was all covered with worms. Oh Ned I'm scared. I'm dying….don't tell nobody. Don't tell my kids, none of the things I done.

    Will's nightmares have him coming face to face with the reality of death and, for the first and only time, we see a vulnerable side of him, the one that is "scared of dying."

    THE KID: It don't seem real, how he ain't never gonna breathe again ever. How he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger…I guess they had it coming.

    Up until this point the Kid has been living in a fantasy world. Now, the reality of death hits him hard. It's almost surreal for him. He can't believe that just "on account of pulling a trigger" he can kill a guy.

    WILL: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have.

    Death is the absolute end of everything. Everything one has achieved and will ever amount is suddenly and absolutely, taken away at the moment of death. Will, strangely, seems not to mind taking everything away from somebody.

    WILL: We all have it coming, kid.

    You can always count on Will to say something profound. He doesn't say much, but when he talks it counts. If one thing is certain, it's that we're all equal—we're all going to die no matter what.

    THE KID: You want it, keep it. I'm never gonna use it again…I won't kill nobody no more. I ain't like you Will…Go on keep it. All of it. It's yours…I guess I'd rather be blind and ragged than dead.

    After his first kill, the Kid is beside himself. Everything is in perspective, and he's suddenly afraid of a death in a way that he doesn't seem to have been previously. Death, for the Kid, is the worst possible scenario.

    LITTLE BILL: I don't deserve this, to die like this.
    WILL: Deserve's got nothing to do with it.

    These semi-enigmatic lines express a profound point about death. Recall that earlier Will had said that, "we all have it coming." Death comes no matter what, whether one deserves it or not. Here, Will basically makes himself the engine of fate.