Clint Eastwood Appreciation

Dan Liechty | September 11, 2012

“Normal Dan” Dan Liechty

Good old Clint Eastwood is back in the news lately, following his “empty chair” speech at the Republican Convention. There is not much more to say about that, other than to express my disappointment in Clint’s political judgment. But because he is front and center in current events, I have been doing an increased amount of thinking about him these recent weeks. No question about it, I love Clint Eastwood’s movies. Although I oppose on ethical grounds the concept of redemptive violence (a theme running through his movies like the mighty Colorado since Fistful of Dollars (1964), director Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, starring Clint, that created the very genre of the “spaghetti western.” The noxious theme continues to run through the later movies Eastwood directed himself, but at least there it tempered by the realities of aging and moral ambiguity. I have thought long and hard about why I would love these movies so much, even though I so vehemently oppose their central theme of redemptive violence. I’ve come to the conclusion that their tales of righting the world’s wrongs through the explosive but heroically portrayed violence is for me a sort of moral pornography. I cannot deny that it holds a certain fascination, even if it be teasing what I tend to think of as the dark side of our nature. Kirby Farrell’s cultural analysis, especially his book Berserk Style in American Culture, strongly outlines the grounds for both the fascination and for why overall this must be considered the dark side of our nature.

Ernest Becker, of course, was the master of suspicion when it comes to cultural heroism. Yet he also suggested that we cannot live in the absence of its pursuit. That is quite the dilemma for anyone striving to incorporate Becker’s insights into daily living – be deeply suspicious of all forms of heroism, criticize it, debunk it whenever possible, but recognize that you can’t live without it. Well, I suppose if there is an implicit heroism in such a task, it is the heroism of insight. Peel away the onion of illusion. Now the next layer, now the next layer. Now again the next layer. And then what?

Clint said it the best, in his 1973 film, High Plains Drifter (perhaps my favorite, by the way). With that determined glint in his eye that is quintessential Eastwood, he says, “And then you live with it.” Gosh, I wish I’d said that…

4 Comments

  1. Why do you think we toss the term “hero” around so much in America? I don’t ever remember hearing the word as much as in the past ten years or so. Put on a uniform, it seems almost ANY uniform, and you are automatically a hero. Children fresh out of High School are heros the very moment they sign up for any military service.

    I think you will agree…. Something is up here…. Culturally speaking.

    • Another term we hear so often now I find equally troubling, and that is “he made the ultimate sacrifice” for what when I was a kid was the much more realistic “he got killed in the war.” Ultimate sacrifice is the kind of language I would expect to associate with some kind of pagan blood cult. But maybe that is what we have really come to in any case.

  2. I thought Gran Torino was an interesting film. The central theme seems to be transition, nicely dovetailed into a changing world and the North American historical difficulty with South East Asians. Although Eastwoods Korean war vet character sacrifices himself the young lad driving his car along the ocean road at the end is symbolic of the movement of global power.

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