Sunday, September 19

Pulling Rabbits: On Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood the actor will always be remembered as one of the great archetypes of American masculinity, along with the likes of Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford and John Wayne for an earlier generation (and Bruce Campbell for the nerds). His stoic turn as The Man With No Name in Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy is just as legendary as Ennio Morricones music for those films, but he wasn't done after that: his legacy cemented itself with the more mainstream Dirty Harry movies, in which he growled one-liners like "Go ahead... make my day" in a way that no man could have done better. The stonefaced badasses he played have since then inspired many an actor, and he has become one of the more legendary male screen performers in the history of Hollywood.

Clint Eastwood the director, on the other hand, is a completely different and actually a lot more interesting story. Like most other actors who took up directing, he has starred in the majority of his movies kept playing the same characters as he has always been known for. But what sets Eastwood apart from people like Sylvester Stallone or Kiefer Sutherland (also notably manly men) is that he preceded to make drama movies that have the ability to make rocks cry.

Also, he can point at someone and say "pew pew" and still be fucking terrifying.

Eastwood himself, if a general impression can be had from his Wikipedia page, seems to be not unlike the characters he plays in his more recent films: hard, no-nonsense and not particularly content with the way things are going (he has said that he dislikes both Democratic and Republican politicians because they "spend too much money"). Yet in this rotten world, both he and his characters always seem to find something worth fighting for.

Eastwoods career as a director begun as early as 1971, but it wasn't until 1992 that his directing became as celebrated as his acting. In that year he made Unforgiven, which deconstructed the exact genre Eastwood made his career in: the Western. The archetypical gunslinger character in the movie tries to redeem himself, but in the end can't escape his past and returns to the drunken massacres of his early days. The "cowboy" might have been considered cool in his heyday, but now he was just a sad old man with a bad disposition and a shotgun.

But it seems that the older the man gets, the better his directing is getting. In the last ten years, he made Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Changeling and Gran Torino, which were all good to brilliant. And although I haven't seen them all, his other movies from the 2000 have gotten rave reviews as well. What these movies have in common is that the main character always seems to fight against systems that are seemingly impossibly to defeat. Be it becoming the boxing champion as a woman who is too poor and too old for it, be it rounding up a violent street gang in your eighties. And if any victory is achieved it is always at great personal cost, often even lives.

And with this, Eastwood seems to return to the human drama at its most fundamental: the Greek tragedy.  The classical tragic hero is always left devastated by the whims of the gods and their destiny. And in the same way, Eastwoods characters are in the end always defeated by the system they're up against. But Eastwood has one thing going for him that the Greeks didn't have: he understands what a bittersweet ending truly means. And I'm sure I am not the only one who might have shed a dignified tear at the end of one of his movies.


Can I think of any other old man who, despite looking more and more like an old potato, still keeps fighting the system and doing magnificent work in the process? Why, of course! Bob Dylan! Also, Scarlett Johansson stars in the following video, so I strongly urge you to watch.


  1. I think Clint Eastwood is a very interesting director in that he makes movies that make you think.
    I also think that Clint Eastwood the actor made a damn good action star (in my opinion his westerns are better than anything John Wayne ever did).
    Here's to hoping he can keep his winning streak going.

  2. Great artical!
    But it's a shame really that you left out Eastwood 'the composer'. He has composed the melody for Gran Torino and serveral other films. I recommend you to listen to (if you haven't already) the grand torino title song and the song, grace is gone. Both the songs are preformed by Jamie Cullum. Enjoy!