Clint Eastwood: Actor, Director… Ethicist?

Published: October 1, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Who knew the legendary star of screen and Republican conventions was into the great ethical conundrums of the universe!

In the years that Dr. Sara Anson Vaux taught religion at Northwestern University, never once did she consider that underneath Clint Eastwood’s gruff veneer was… a gruffer layer, but… underneath that was the heart of “…an ethicist, a theologian even.”

Vaux recently published a book that lays bare The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood.

“From the beginning of his career as a movie director,” Vaux writes, Clint Eastwood has placed “his iconic identity of rugged American masculinity in tension with a broader vision of individual and social wholeness.” Throughout his filmic archive for historians to examine, Eastwood apparently asks the greatest questions of the ages: “How should we live together? How do we define the ‘good’? What is family? What does it mean to be human?”

“It will not be lost on seekers of spiritual wisdom,” Vaux writes, “that Eastwood’s journey toward embracing empathy for outcasts and pariahs, the disposition to wrest power from the mighty and elevate the weak, comes from the Bible: the Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, the Beatitudes and the Gospel writer’s references to the wisdom of folly” in the Gospel of Luke.

With universal themes like Justice, Compassion, Honesty, not to mention Civic Virtue, I got the chills. How might Clint respond to my questions based on the ethical text from his cinematic oeuvre?

I couldn’t wait for the book, so Eastwood and I sat down, digitally, to share a beer and just talk, ethicist to ethicist.

Me: So, Mr. Eastwood, who knew a hard-ridin’, no-nonsense cowboy like yourself, was an ethicist?

Eastwood: “Ain’t the sheriff supposed to be courageous, loyal and above all, honest?”

Do you mind if I call you Clint?

“A good man always knows his limitations.”

Oookay. Mr. Eastwood, what philosophy do you feel most at home with?

“ ‘Fang schmay!’ Don’t you know anything?”

Give me a second, gotta check my phone, here.

“Would you mind gettin’ your beak out of that Blackberry!?”

I think we got off on the wrong foot. Did I do something to offend you? Can we continue?

“Okay, you did two things wrong: one is you asked a question, and two is you asked another question. … Go ahead, let the tears fall in the beer.”

I wasn’t crying. I was promised we could have an honest dialog about ethics.

“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”

Look, I’m just trying to understand your philosophy. For someone who’s presumably spent a career focused on the universal questions of right and wrong, you have spent a lot of time around guns.

“I have strong feelings about gun control. If there’s a gun around, I want to be controlling it.”

Yes, but wouldn’t a philosopher steer clear of shooting people?

“Nothing wrong with shooting, as long as the right people get shot.”

Look, I’ve done a little work in the area of ethics, myself, and…

“You don’t know half of what you think you do.”

… I’m trying to glean some insight into your ethical thought-process. Is there anything wrong with a couple of colleagues sharing…

“I’ve got to go have my pacemaker checked. It has been so exciting talking to you.”

I guess I’ll just have to wait till my copy of the Vaux’s book arrives for further insights.

Note: Of course, all Eastwood-philes will recognize that all of Eastwood’s responses come from a variety of his films, including his most recent, Trouble with The Curve.


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