As my wife Lauren and I enjoyed our weekend in Carmel at the Akasha Film Festival, we were also acutely aware of Clint Eastwood’s impact on that community. In turn, that made me even more aware of the depth of love, spirituality, and humanity that has infused two of Mr. Eastwood’s most recent films in particular (The third, Invictus, is also a story of human triumph.). At the age of 81, the man who made Dirty Harry a cinematic icon and who coined “make my day” has over the last few years become deeply introspective about the meaning of human life itself.
In both Gran Torino and most especially Hereafter, Mr. Eastwood has given his prodigious directing talents to 2 films that show who we can be as human beings when we operate from our hearts and the depths of our humanity.
Gran Torino is a dramatic film (with some wonderful comedic moments) about a “bigot” (Clint Eastwood at his absolute ornery best–just look at the poster) who has seemingly lost any sense of humanity, his own and anyone else’s. It is only when he is forced to actually engage in the world of which he seems so dismissive that his true grace and selflessness surface.
The film also has much to say about racial prejudice and, in so many ways, exposes the underbelly of true racial bigotry. At the same time, it also demonstrates the difference between that bigotry and our now sometimes exaggerated notions of political correctness.
Gran Torino is human, insightful, funny, poignant, and deeply moving. Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which is at times almost a self-parody of many of his own previous Dirty Harry roles, is utterly beguiling and achingly open. Watching it again made me feel that Mr. Eastwood has found a deep sense of his own vulnerability and humanity and is now sharing it with the cinematic world.
In Hereafter, Mr. Eastwood takes his humanity to an entirely new level. The film is absolutely mesmerizing, surprising, beautifully written, acted and, of course, directed. In some ways, the title is a bit misleading in that the film provides some very, very brief glimpses of near death experiences but, save for a couple of almost subliminal flashes, never actually ventures into the afterlife at all.
Instead, the film is a beautifully, even masterly, told story of three people who are haunted by their own encounters with death:
First, a woman whose harrowing near death experience in a tsunami at the beginning of the film changes her life so completely that almost nothing recognizable from her old life remains. The tsunami sequence itself is bravura filmmaking at its best.
Second, a young boy whose brother is tragically killed.
Third, and most central, the story of an intuitive (Matt Damon) whose connection to the afterlife experiences of others has also forever altered every aspect of his own existence. Peter Morgan’s brave and insightful screenplay captures Damon’s gift, and its attendant challenges, beautifully, hauntingly, and accurately.
Hereafter is an altogether engrossing, challenging, adult film.
Clint Eastwood is now indeed a cinematic “lion in winter” and his films will resonate in our hearts forever.