In The Unforgiveable, Ruth (Sandra Bullock) is released from prison after serving 20 years for a murder she didn’t commit, and many viewers were left wondering why she took the blame. Various flashbacks show that Ruth was threatening to shoot Sheriff Mac Whelan (W. Earl Brown) if he entered her house, which she was being evicted from. The central theme of the film pertains to Ruth trying to find a place in a world that will never forgive her for a killing she didn’t commit. No matter where she goes, she’s seen as a violent criminal. The big reveal is that it was her five-year-old sister, Katie (Neli Kastrinos), who grabbed the gun and shot the Sheriff because she thought that’s what Ruth wanted.
When she’s released, Sandra Bullock’s character in The Unforgiveable wants to contact Katie, now Katherine (Aisling Franciosi). She wrote Katherine thousands of letters that were never given to her by her adoptive parents. She has a confrontation with them where she expresses that they need to tell Katherine — who they say has no recollection of her life with Ruth — about her. Through several more flashbacks, it’s revealed that after Katie fired the gun, the recoil was so strong that she fell to the floor and lost consciousness. Ruth spoke with Katie and discovered she had no memory of the accident. She was soon arrested and confessed to killing the Sheriff.
Many viewers saw the fact that Ruth took the blame as a major plot hole in the Netflix original movie – most of them questioning her logic. In a scene where she argues with Liz Ingram, played by The Suicide Squad’s Viola Davis, she repeatedly says that she did it before she slips and reveals the truth to Liz saying, “I f*cking said I did it! She was only five years old!” She lied all those years because she wanted to protect her younger sister. This is also why she turns Katie’s seat around so that she can’t see her getting arrested. She doesn’t want either of those things to weigh on the conscience of the young girl she cares so much about.
Several audience members have pointed out that Katie’s age is why it made no sense for Ruth to admit to the crime. Katie wouldn’t have been held responsible the same way Ruth was. However, seeing as Katie forgot what happened, there was a chance nobody would’ve believed Ruth anyway. More importantly, Katie would not have understood what she had done, and Ruth didn’t want her to have to. In The Unforgivable’s ending, Ruth doesn’t even want to tell an adult Katherine what happened. Throughout the film, all she wants is to make sure Katherine is okay. Her care for her sister made her decide to take the blame. She didn’t want Katie to grow up knowing she had killed someone. Ruth feared destroying Katie’s life more than prison.
Beyond that, Ruth knew the sheriff, and she felt responsible for his murder. She kept telling Katie that she was sorry she “made” her do that. Katie shot him because she thought she was supposed to. Ruth kept yelling that she’d shoot him if he came inside, so that’s what Katie did. When Ruth realized Katie didn’t remember, she was relieved. She never wanted the little girl to blame herself. If she confessed, nobody else would ever know what really happened – not even Katie. The Unforgivable is almost as big on Netflix as Bullock’s Birdbox, so it makes sense that a lot of viewers tuned in and that many of them were confused by her character’s decision. To clear the confusion: Ruth took the blame for the sheriff’s death to appease her own guilt and protect her young sister.
While The Unforgivable has the look and feel of a movie that’s based on a true story, it actually isn’t. That being said, The Unforgivable is inspired by the British miniseries Unforgiven, which debuted in 2009 and was written by Sally Wainwright, and its source material won the screenwriter a Royal Television Society Writer of the Year award. Despite not being a true story, the Sandra Bullock film has plenty to say about real issues that face the U.S. in particular. As of February 2022, over 21 children have accidentally shot individuals, resulting in 9 total fatalities and 13 injuries according to aftermath.com. The debate on gun safety and firearms laws rages on in the United States, while citizens are the ones facing the repercussions in real-time. Ruth’s sacrifice for Katie in The Unforgivable may not be that far off from the truth for those facing a horrifying incident like this in real life.
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