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Clint Eastwood's Theological Vision

January 12th, 2009 | 2 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

From the beginning of his career as a movie director, Eastwood has addressed fundamental questions... placing his iconic identity of ruthless masculinity in tension with a broader vision of individual and social wholeness. How should we live together? How do we define the good?"

the car of the movie

Since Gran Torino is out and is doing rather well at the box offices (Have you seen the film? How is it?), it's time for a (lengthy but well-written) retrospective on the career and -- more interestingly -- theological underpinnings of this remarkable artist.  Sara Anson Vaux at Common Review provides the goods:

It will not be lost on seekers of spiritual wisdom that this... disposition to wrest power from the mighty and elevate the weak, comes from the Bible...  “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (Luke 1:52–53). In interviews with Michael Henry Wilson, Eastwood has commented on his fascination with “the biblical stories and their correspondence with the mythology of the Western.”

Eastwood who (thinking especially of Unforgiven) deliberately and delightfully subverts the Christian message of humility is at least aware of and in careful dialog with it. In this way he both foments and rides the wave of "post-Christianity" roaring across Western Europe and the Americas.

Yet while critics talk about the Christ figure in George Stevens’s 1953 western Shane, Eastwood never attempts to construct the hero as a savior. He distinctly challenges that time-honored though now-formulaic cliché."

CS Lewis has suggested that the Evolutionary Myth -- that timeless struggle of the unlikely hero against the overwhelming forces of chaos, chance, and nature -- is only the most compelling modern version of the classic structure of the Illiad, the Prose Edda, and Wagner's The Ring. What is the good man: Either the sacrificial and humble Christ or the exulting and glorious Superman... The Knight of Faith or the Knight of Infinite Resignation... Are there any other options?

The Outlaw Josey Wales provides a powerful example of Eastwood’s willingness not only to tamper with the formulas of the western, even to outrightly subvert them, but also to offer playful correctives to his Hollywood macho killer persona. Far more boldly, though, through this movie the director ennobles men and women... This signals a rejection of the culture of death in favor of new life. It may seem a stretch, but this choice puts him solidly in a religious tradition that would have to include the book of Micah, Boethius, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, and the beloved community celebrated by Eastwood’s contemporary Martin Luther King Jr. The theological company Eastwood keeps offers a distinct way to help to better understand his cinematic vision."