The Tao of Eastwood

Chapter 22


We all got it comin’ kid.

William Munny | Unforgiven

The Tao is the center of the universe,
The good man’s treasure,
The bad man’s refuge.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
When you seek, you find;
And when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

Tao Te Ching | from verse 62

After William Munny and one of his partners in crime, the self-proclaimed Scofield Kid, execute a dumb cowboy for cutting up a woman, the Kid gets scared. He starts to make excuses for why he was able to point blank kill an unarmed man. “I guess they had it coming,” he says.

As the reformed killer anti-hero of Unforgiven, Munny had likely never heard the word karma. Still, he seemed to grasp the idea, as almost everyone does. You get what you give.

Munny’s true nature is brutal and violent. Even though he senses that setting his nature free means he may one day pay the price, Munny is in more pain trying to hold it back than letting it run its course. It is his acceptance of this fate, and the lack of fear of it, where I see a connection to the Tao.

Eastwood’s protagonist in Unforgiven is what all the main characters in his previous Westerns are not. Or maybe he is them, just older now. The Man With No Name unapologetically rid the world of villains for some righteous purpose and didn’t think twice about it. Munny, by contrast, is full of regret. As an aging, struggling pig farmer, he is reluctant to find adventure and the trouble that comes with it. Yet deep down, he knows one day he must face the fact that he just is trouble.

The Universe created a natural born killer. He wishes it was different and is apologetic for the things he’s done. He has sought refuge, by once having settled down and married. He has sought forgiveness, by proclaiming to his best friend, Ned, “I ain’t like that no more.”

But when he learns his best friend has been killed and utters this unforgettable line, you can see in his eyes he has returned to and accepted his natural ways.