Capital Punishment and The Unforgiven

Last week I noticed some friends debating on social media the 21-year-long prison sentence received by Anders Behring Breivik for killing 77 people in Norway. Most commenters expressed frustration at the seemingly light sentence and many wished that Breivik had received the death penalty, even though Norway doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore. At one point, one commenter replied to another, “I’m glad you agree the guy deserves to die.” This sentence immediately brought Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven to mind.

In the movie (see the clip here) Will Munny, played by Clint Eastwood, and the Kid, played by Jaimz Woolvett, exact some vigilante-style justice by hunting down and killing a bad man. The Kid does the actual gun work when they finally find their man. But as it turns out, the bad man was the first person the Kid had ever shot. He’d been looking forward to killing the man, but now that the deed was done, the Kid is confused and sick. In an attempt to make himself feel better, he tells Munny, “Well, I guess he had it coming.” Eastwood’s Munny replies, “We all have it coming, kid.” This phrase is one of the more theologically loaded lines penned by Hollywood. The Unforgiven portrays a world without redemption. No grace, just harsh justice dispensed by fallen men.

Fortunately, God offers hope for forgiveness in this world, but in the end death still comes for everyone. We think of physical death as a natural part of life, but according to the Bible, it’s actually God’s judgment on sinners. Sometimes justice isn’t swift, but Breivik has already been given the divine death sentence. Even so, I really don’t think that most people will be consoled by this idea since we all stand under the same penalty. We tell ourselves and each other that we just want justice in the case of Breivik, but in our darkest hearts most of us know that what we really want is for him to remain unforgiven. “We all have it coming, kid.”

5 responses

  1. I believe he got a maximum sentence. Renewable in five year increments until he rots to death. One case I worked on involved a DWI where no accident occurred. Thirty years. Don’t mess with Texas. Or Me, when I am representing Texas.

  2. Jodey, first, I’m fine with Breivik staying in jail for the rest of his life (though the imagery of “rotting” disturbs me a bit). Second, I think thirty years for a DWI demonstrates how broken our justice system is.

    • You should have seen his rap sheet and how many times he had been convicted for the same and other felonies. Also, I have seen dead babies crushed by highly intoxicated drivers. It might be broken in many places, but I will have to fail to concur that 30 years in this case is demonstrable of the same. Ten years for three dead children is not near enough (another case I worked on). That one is support for your position.

  3. “Unforgiven” has always been one of my favorite movies, even though (because?) the ending left me feeling so unsettled. We, as a culture, do NOT like feeling unsettled in the end. I had a German friend tell me once that you could always tell which movies were American by the tidy (and usually happy) endings. It’s a paltry proxy for divine and perfect justice. We should long for that, and not be satisfied with substitutes.

    Good post, as usual, Dr. G.

  4. It’s better that when you kill a person or people, you should also be killed. This man deserved a death sentence other than 21 years only.

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