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Author Topic: Unforgiven: The Best Movie Eastwood has made or an overrated piece of work?  (Read 30029 times)
AKA23
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« on: October 02, 2011, 06:10:29 AM »

I hope this opinion doesn't get me permanently banned from the board, but I've never really understood what is so amazing about "Unforgiven." Many say it is the best western ever made. Why? I don't think there's an argument to be made that it is not well acted or well directed. It is those things, but I don't see why it is placed as one of the best in Eastwood's filmography. It could be that I am not well versed enough in the Western genre to understand the brilliance of this film, but I just really don't get what is so wonderful about it. I know that "Unforgiven" was the one film that motivated KC, our most valuable and important board member, to become an Eastwood fan. So, KC, I think it would be useful and fun to revisit this issue. What is so breathtakingly beautiful about "Unforgiven?" What separates "Unforgiven" from other Westerns in the genre, and what was it about this film that made you such a huge Clint Eastwood fan?

I know that there are a few members who think "Unforgiven" is overrated (Philo comes to mind), so what about it do you not like? What is missing? Do you just not find the film to be entertaining? Do you not like it because you think it has been overhyped? How could it have been improved? Let's talk about this. I'd love to gain a greater appreciation for this film. It has been quite awhile since I've seen it, and I think I need to have a repeat viewing.

After graduating from law school, I have the free time to kick back and watch Eastwood movies!

So, what are everybody's views about all the praise it received? Is it one of the best movies Eastwood has made, or do you believe it is overhyped?

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this, and I will look forward to reading the responses in this thread.
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The Schofield Kid
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« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2011, 03:47:27 AM »

In February 1993 I went to the cinema to see this. Being a huge Eastwood fan, I was looking forward to seeing it. After the final credits rolled and I left the cinema I have to say I was disappointed. I enjoyed the film but I was expecting a lot more action. In the following years I have watched this film probably on average twice a year sometimes more.

There's more in this film that meets the eye. Years ago I viewed films as entertainment but now I looked for more and my viewing habits and likes have changed considerably. 20 years ago I could watch a film where the body count was high and things got blown up and sat back and enjoyed it. Now watching something like that and I asked what is the point of all this mayhem on screen.

I watched Stallone's The Expendables a couple of months ago and years ago I could sit there and not think about what was going on, on the screen but now I see scenes where someone is firing a gun where the bullets slice bodies in half and just roll my eyes. It's overkill. Please excuse the pun. There's no sense to it.

The thing for me concerning Unforgiven now is that it changed the way death and murder was shown onscreen. Maybe it had been done before but this is the film that effects me like no other when it comes to this subject. No matter how many times I see this film, little parts of it come back to me in the following days.

The savage beating of English Bob by Little Bill. Yes, he broke the law by wearing guns into town but was the beating and the viciousness of it warranted? A man had attacked a woman with a knife earlier in the film and this same character let them off with just a good talking to and asking for a couple of horses! Why the difference in punishments? Surely the earlier crime was more brutal?

The Schofield Kid's cockyness through the film on how many men he has killed and then when the time comes for him to pull the trigger on Quick Mike, he hesitates. It's his first kill and will be his last. It changes him forever. Like the quote says, "It's a hell of a thing killing a man, take away all his got and all he's ever gonna have." The same can be said of the Schofield Kid now. His innocence has forever been taken away and he'll never get it back.

The character of Will Munny, once a mean drunken SOB, killer of women and children. Now trying to make it as a pig farmer and failing miserably. A changed man from his past or is his past just laying dorment for an event to happen to make him snap and return to his true self? The murder of his friend sends him into a rage. Not like a Rambo or Terminator but the drinking starts again and so does the killing. But he first kills an unarmed man. His only crime was he owned the saloon where they showed off his friend's corpse.

As I said, no other film affects me like this one. No matter how many times I see it, the message I get from it never deminishes. It strips bear the western genre that I've seen so many times, and shows no heroes, no happy endings, no riding off into the sunset with the girl.

"It's a hell of a thing killing a man, take away all his got and all he's ever gonna have." So many times I watch the news and see stories of people who have been killed for no reason than just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and that quote comes back to me everytime. I'm not trying to preach to anyone here but the reason this film is my all time favorite is probably all down to that quote. You can have your, "Make My Day" and "Do you feel lucky" and they'll always be remembered but the quote from Unforgiven isn't just a line in a film to me, it's a statement that a lot of people should look at and think about a lot more.

All I'm really trying to say AKA23 and I've always had a hard time putting down on paper what I want to say but I think it's the best film of Clint's career. It isn't a typical western but maybe there should have been made more like this in recent times. Not just westerns but other genres as well. Violence on film and how it's shown these days needs to be addressed. There's always been the argument about films influencing young people into similar acts. Years ago I didn't agree. Violence has been around long before films. But now when I see some of the violence in films I just shake my head and say no one can watch that and not be influenced.

If more people watched Unforgiven and I mean actually sat down and listened to the dialogue to see and hear what the film is actually saying, they'd get more from it then any other film. But maybe that's just me. Everyone is different and has different tastes in films.
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2011, 03:50:15 AM »

The first time I watched Unforgiven I was totally unimpressed. I bought the DVD when it came out and it sat on my shelf with all the other Clint Eastwood movies for a long time. Gary had never seen it so we decided to look at it one evening. This time I really watched it and felt I had missed so much in the first viewing. I have seen it a number times since, including on the board and I can now say I like it. Each viewing shows up more than the last. Acting skills, dialogue, music, camera shots and scriptwriting are all parts that I didn't appreciate in that first viewing. I would love to see it again on the big screen.
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« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2012, 04:49:21 PM »

I don't like Unforgiven, which suprises me because there are many classic & good elements.

It isn't the lack of a bodycount..there are plenty of movies that don't have that high a count that are better movies.

I think it is a "preachy" movie, it beats the idea of "violence is bad" over your head until you want to yell "OK I got the message can I just watch the movie now?"

William Munny is a bad guy...got it, his partner Ned..bad man...got it, Little Bill & English Bob..same thing...got it.

Schofield Kid..dumb kid looking for a Rep, our ticket into how dumb such aspirations are...got it.

The entire ensamble is a group of people for whom I have no respect, & little sympathy, toward.

Little Bill's death was perhaps the worst "I don't deserve to die like this"...after telling the story of English Bob & Two-Gun he honestly believes that "he who lives by the gun" deserves better?

Perhaps the best bit was a few seconds before when he kills the bar owner & states "he should have armed himself; if he's going to decorate his bar with my friend".

The problem is that, in that scene, we WANTED Clint to blow the bar owner away...which runs counter to the whole theme of the film.

In a way Unforgiven comes accross as an apology, from Mr. Eastwood, for the "senseless violence" of previous films. Films that many of us truly enjoy.
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« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2012, 05:13:05 PM »

In a way Unforgiven comes accross as an apology, from Mr. Eastwood, for the "senseless violence" of previous films. Films that many of us truly enjoy.
Where'd you hear that one? I've heard that before and it still boggles my mind.
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« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2012, 07:38:22 PM »

I think I listed Unforgiven as #2 on my Eastwood best western list. And that is taking in all aspects of the film. Storyline, characters, location, etc.
I don't see it as over rated, just a matter of individual personal likes or dislikes. Some folks put Josey Wales at the top(not me). Eastwood's films seem to have an appeal to different levels of our society.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. 8)
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« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2012, 09:25:30 PM »

I listed it as number 1 - remember it followed a box office losing streak ("The Rookie", "White Hunter", "Pink Cadillac", "Bird") and critic were starting to compare Eastwood to Bronson and Reynolds as stars who had lost their audience (hard to believe now).  I've read he took a little more time than normal shooting it, and it shows.  Plus it was the first time he shared the screen with three other "major" actors (Hackman, Harris, Freeman), so I think everyone knew it could be something special.  Plus the first time a film of his got major multiple awards.  He's really had a different career since - the character in "Gran Torino" is the only film he's acted in in the last ten-fifteen years or so that bears any resemblance to the "old" Clint. 
I don't think it's the greatest western ever made (matter of opinion there), but it's definitely an excellent picture - I've always loved it. 
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rojblake
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« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2012, 11:46:16 PM »

Quote
Where'd you hear that one? I've heard that before and it still boggles my mind.

I didn't hear, read or see that, it is my own analysis.

Watch Unforgiven with a analytical eye; who is the redemming character?

Clint himself plays a character full of self-loathing & self contempt..the only redeeming thing he does is try to do the "right thing" for his kids. His wife got him to walk a different path & he throws it away for the promise of "easy money".

Ned decides to go after it even quicker.

In previous films even Clint's "anti-heroes have some redeeming quality, or some worthy cause, something with which the audience can sympathize, empathize, or agree with...in Unforgiven we have a couple of groups of cold-blooded murderers going after each other for money, on the one hand, & a power play on the other.

These guys drink to ease their guilty consciences, but still go out & murder each other. The scene where Clint promises "not to shoot" so that one of his victims can be given some water...give me a break; he was as good as dead (they even said so in the film) so rather than mercifully killing the man they give him a drink of water & let him bleed out in an agonizing death.

Sorry, but there is no one in this film to whom I feel anything but contempt..& it honestly seems to be written for that effect...I do not find this entertaining.

When Emilio Estevez played Billy the Kid in Youg Guns he made the observation that "if you're going to be watching this character for two hours he has to be likeable, even if he's going to be blowing people away".

While I don't agree that the character has to be likeable, there must be something worth watching, or something worth respecting...this was not the case in Unforgiven.
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Duncan73
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« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2012, 09:33:19 AM »

Well, you know, it's only a movie...not to get heavy here, but if you take away the pretense or "civilization" that we live under (in certain parts of the world) human beings can be no different than animals (watch "Lord of the Flies" or "The Exterminating Angel" to see a subtext about that).  Not every movie can be a Disney film - and as Dylan once wrote, "a man's gonna do what he has to do when he's got a hungry mouth to feed."

Please note that I respect your opinion, sir - just having a little fun discussing!
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« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2012, 10:33:29 AM »

Noted..& no offence taken.

I fully aknowledge the truth of your statement...but that doesn't mean that I want to watch a movie that dwells upon such things.

Also, as I am a "gun guy" the film rubbed me the wrong way for it's anti-firearm sentiment; although I did appreciate seeing a Spencer rifle on screen.
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« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2012, 10:42:24 AM »

... Also, as I am a "gun guy" the film rubbed me the wrong way for it's anti-firearm sentiment ...

Note that it is the "villain," Little Bill Daggett, who has imposed and ruthlessly enforces the "No firearms" policy in the town of Big Whiskey.
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« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2012, 02:53:22 PM »

True, but the "Villian" is subjective here...William Munny is hardly an anti-hero in this piece. The film goes to lengths to make the point that there are no heroes; that Little Bill & William Munny are cut from the same cloth as it were.

Let's put it this way, many of the observations can be summed up with another (non-Eastwood) movie: "Many of the truths we cling to depend largely from our own point-of-view".

I think this was the inference between Munny & Little Bill with their exchange about "I don't deserve to die like this" & "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

Little Bill is a villian, but he has become a lawman (of sorts) he imposes a non-firearm policy to prevent the town from becoming a shooting gallery. (Many would be sympathetic to this tactic) Unlike the film Five Card Stud where the preacher recommends leaving the guns at home, while being the killer; in Unforgiven the story is more being told from the Villians (Munny's) point of view.

It is Munny who comes into town with the intent to commit murder (Beating & disfiguring a woman is reprehensible, but is it not a killing offence), it is he, not Little Bill, that is the criminal here.
If Little Bill was played as an upstanding citizen..would we have a different interpretation of the movie?

In truth, in the old west, many former outlaws became lawmen & "upstanding citizens", so is Unforgiven a morality play (for a group of immoral morons, the characters not the audience), or a story told from the villian's perspective?
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« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2012, 08:22:07 AM »

For me Unforgiven is up there with Firefox as one of the greatest movies ever made...
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« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2012, 01:39:37 AM »

I think Unforgiven is the best movie Eastwood has made.  It's not only my favorite western movie, it's in my top three favorite movies period.  To me this movie is a master piece and was a great western for Eastwood to end his western movies on.  Can't say enough good things about this movie! O0
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« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2012, 11:48:50 AM »

I think Unforgiven is the best movie Eastwood has made.  It's not only my favorite western movie, it's in my top three favorite movies period.  To me this movie is a master piece and was a great western for Eastwood to end his western movies on.  Can't say enough good things about this movie! O0
Without a doubt Clint pulled out all the stops on Unforgiven. I have my own personal reasons for placing Pale Rider at the top. Nevertheless, Unforgiven captured a period in Americas old west that made history.
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AKA23
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« Reply #15 on: February 17, 2012, 07:22:00 PM »

I've enjoyed reading these responses. Thanks so much to everyone who has contributed to this thread.

I think that my main problem with "Unforgiven" is that it has this reputation for being an anti-violence Western. It is widely cited as being one of the first westerns to de-glamorize violence, yet at the conclusion of the film, Will Munny goes right back to doing what he was doing before, killing people indiscriminately, and seeking vengeance against those who he perceives to have done him wrong. He even kills the bartender, who had no role whatsoever in killing Ned. Not only that, there doesn't really appear to be any consequence that he suffers for doing this. He goes back to his farm, with his kids, moves and "prospers in dry goods." He claims earlier on in the film that he had been cured of drinking, and of indiscriminately killing people, and is not the way he was, but he goes right back to doing exactly the same thing that he had spent most of the film condemning and guarding against. I think that's my main problem with "Unforgiven." If anybody has a different perspective, I'd love to hear it, but it does seem to me as if the conclusion of the film really severely undermines the anti-violence message Eastwood attempted to convey. 
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« Reply #16 on: February 17, 2012, 07:38:16 PM »

the conclusion of the film really severely undermines the anti-violence message Eastwood attempted to convey. 

http://www.clinteastwood.org/forums/index.php?topic=7735.0
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« Reply #17 on: February 17, 2012, 08:06:53 PM »

http://www.clinteastwood.org/forums/index.php?topic=7735.0

Indeed. And in particular ...

If it had ended any other way, the film would have to have been called Forgiven.

"I'll see you in Hell, William Munny." "Yeah ..." And Munny knows, as surely as he has ever known anything in his misbegotten life, that he is going to Hell, because he IS "like that," and not all the cures of all the Claudias in the world could make a difference.

I would say, though, that it's not quite true that "Will tries to stay away from violence but finally reacts violently only after a friend is killed." The fact that he follows the Schofield Kid on the bounty hunting expedition at all means he has committed himself to an act of violence, though he tries to persuade himself that he's only doing it for his kids, that the varmints "have it coming," and anyway, maybe one or both of the other two will do all the killing that has to be done.

...But anyway, I too on my first viewing in the theatre wondered if maybe the ending was a bit of a cop out, but then I thought about it more and saw it more times, and I came to realize it's the only logical ending, even beyond how it ties together the themes of the film.

1. Throughout Unforgiven, we are constantly hearing about how it was in the old days, as the Kid asks Munny about his past...  There is all this build up, and yet in the film all we see is a "broken down pig farmer" who can't mount his horse, needs to use a shotgun to hit a tin can, is regretful of his past, and is torn up about having to shoot the cowboy.  And of course before shooting the cowboy he is beaten up and spends three days with a fever.  So after all this build up, the film has to show Munny the way he really is.

2. Little Bill is built up almost as much as Munny is, and we know he has a past almost as rough and possibly shady as Munny's.  We see firsthand what he is capable of when he confronts English Bob and then later when he whips Ned.  So the film having built up these two characters to near mythical proportions must have them confront each other in the finale.  Anything else would be cheating the audience.  It's like you don't spend the whole first act of a play talking about a gun, only to never mention it again in the following acts.  Same principle. 

3. As well, the finale shows the real difference between the Schofield Kid and William Munny, and it's a difference that has to be shown.  The Schofield Kid wanted so bad to be like the Munny of legend, but in the end realized he wasn't cut out for killing.  Again the film has to show the William Munny of legend to make the film complete.

4. The ending is not a cop out because the ending is more complex than it first seems.  Sure, we want the shoot out and we root for Munny, but it seems to me to come at a cost.  I can only speak for myself and try to remember back to when I first saw it and the impact the film had.  For me, I had very mixed feelings about the ending.  While I was rooting for Munny, I was saddened too, because while he had killed earlier in the film, it had been simply to finish a job.  And that was an emotionally wrenching experience that really showed the horror of killing another man.  So for him to go back to that person he had been was sad, as though he'd lost the battle to change his life and not be like that anymore, and that I knew that final shoot out will haunt him more than all the others because, not only has his best friend been killed, but now he's also betrayed his deceased wife on top of everything else.

Well, that's probably enough, I don't want to ramble on too much.  So, no, I don't think the ending undercuts anything.  It's a perfect film, as far as I'm concern, and it's the only logical ending.
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« Reply #18 on: February 18, 2012, 12:11:09 AM »

The question of who is unforgiven, and for what? is, and will be, a puzzling issue with me.

An insight came to me and I share it with you. Little Bill tells us that he was there when English Bob murdered the disarmed Two Gun Pete in the Blue Bottle Saloon. He describes how English Bob had plenty of time to slowly walk over to the injured man and shoot him again.

How did he have plenty of time to do it? Wasn't Little Bill quickly acting to intervene and protect the defenseless victim? We remember how Munny single-handedly drew on and killed three assailants who already had him at gunpoint. We have seen the remarkable demonstration of how fast Little Bill can draw. We hear his own boastful declaration to English Bob that if he had taken the gun in hand from Beauchamp, he would have killed him. Little Bill has described the murder in terms that we cannot doubt that Little bill considered it reprehensible. So, in the saloon that night, how could the murder have happened with a capable and morally sympathetic protector watching close by? We are soon enough going to see how a man like Munny can confront overwhelming odds and prevail. Little Bill was watching his gunfighting inferior act toward committing a reprehensible moral crime...and it was permitted to happen!

Little Bill likely was unforgiven, by himself, for failing to try to intervene.   
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« Reply #19 on: February 18, 2012, 04:27:39 AM »

It's hinted that back in those days Little Bill, like Munny himself, had yet to develop the finely honed moral sense he so eloquently expounds upon to the good citizenry of Big Whiskey. But unlike Munny, he seems to feel no remorse for any failings in his past.

(P.S., it's "Two Gun Corky" Corcoran, not Pete.)

If Little Bill was really there (and not just making it up to impress Beauchamp), he was probably as drunk as Corky and English Bob, and I doubt he much cared which of the two varmints killed the other.

But like you, I've wrestled with the meaning of that title ... Eastwood himself, as you probably know, changed the title; the script had been called "The William Munny Killings" or "The Cut-Whore Killings." One contemporary review had the caption "Unforgiven? For What? By Whom?"

AKA seems to be of the opinion that Eastwood was just out to make an anti-violence screed, a film with a "message." But like most of his films, it is much more complicated than that. Among other things, it's about vengeance versus justice, crime versus punishment, "got it coming" versus "deserve's got nothing to do with it," forgiveness versus "unforgiveness." And the main message seems to be that we are destined to wrestle with all these issues, and that the answers are seldom clear-cut.

The first unforgiving ones we see in the film are the women of Greely's, led by Strawberry Alice, and not only is the cowboy who slashed Delilah unforgiven, so is his friend, who actually tried to stop the attack. Little Bill, on the other hand, considers a "fine" of a few horses—to be paid to the whoremonger—to be enough punishment to expiate the crime of a violent assault on a woman who was, after all, merely a whore. (At this point, most of the audience is probably going to feel there is something severely skewed about Little Bill's moral sense.)

The whores' thirst for vengeance—or specifically, Alice's, because Delilah herself seems more disposed towards forgiveness—is the driving mechanism of the plot. It's no wonder that in most European languages, the film's title was rendered by the local equivalent of "Unforgiving." (See this thread: http://www.clinteastwood.org/forums/index.php?topic=4974.0) But it's only the beginning. Munny seems to be evoking the reverence he feels for women, inspired by his late wife, as a justification for going on an expedition to kill two men for pay—they were guilty of a horribly violent crime against a woman. But even when he finds the extent of that crime to have been greatly exaggerated, he insists on "seeing the job through." He too is unforgiving, but so are the townspeople who demand justice for the death of the cowboys, and so, of course, is Little Bill. As a result, Ned (who hadn't killed anyone, as Munny points out) is doomed to die. And that triggers the showdown in Greely's: in which not only Little Bill (who actually killed Ned) but also three of his deputies and the saloon owner will die, as well. The deputies, at least, are presented sympathetically and are after all just men who are doing their job. Do they deserve this? To die like this? And what about Skinny?

This brings us to a point in AKA's last post ...

He even kills the bartender, who had no role whatsoever in killing Ned. Not only that, there doesn't really appear to be any consequence that he suffers for doing this. He goes back to his farm, with his kids, moves and "prospers in dry goods." He claims earlier on in the film that he had been cured of drinking, and of indiscriminately killing people, and is not the way he was, but he goes right back to doing exactly the same thing that he had spent most of the film condemning and guarding against.

Munny specifically wants Skinny to die for "decorating his saloon with my friend." For him, at that point, putting Ned's body on display is also a crime for which one cannot be forgiven. But as for there not being any "consequence[ s] that he suffers for doing this" ... the disparity between cause and effect, like the disparity between reputation and actuality, is one of the film's main themes. I think that one line "Deserve's got nothing to do with it" is the most resonant in the entire film.

If Munny had been made to pay society's conventional price for single-handedly wiping out Big Whiskey's law enforcement squad, that would have been a conventional and clichéd end to the film. Instead he does indeed go "back to his farm, with his kids, moves and 'prospers in dry goods'" ... or at least he is rumored to have done that. But won't most of us be wondering about how he will now live out the rest of his life, after he has betrayed Claudia's legacy in every respect? Claudia had promised him Heaven, promised him God's forgiveness for the sins of his youth; but if he could repeat them, doesn't that mean his hopes of forgiveness were vain from the beginning? That he and Little Bill are indeed destined to meet again ... in Hell?

How can he live with himself? Isn't William Munny the "unforgiven" one in the end?
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