Friday, October 23, 2009

See the Goodness of the Lord -- Day Four

I hereby admit to a pleasure that no Quaker should admit: I love "Dirty Harry" movies. I guess I shouldn't worry, too much -- not judging by the number of Friends playing "MafiaWars" on facebook.

But still.

Most of that pleasure is in watching laconic Clint Eastwood. I know he gets criticized for his lack of expression facially and vocally -- I prefer to think of it as understated. And I have seen many of his films.

Last night I watched (on DVD -- I seem to rarely get to a theatre these days) Clint's "Gran Torino." "So what's that got to do with seeing the goodness of the Lord?" my faithful reader asks. Well, Mom, just this...

In "Gran Torino" I saw the transformation of two men -- and the Lord, in my opinion, had no small part in it.

The first man who changed was Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski. Kowalski, retired from Ford, recently widowed, is plain and simple (simple here being, in my opinion, simple-minded) a bigot. And much of the film is about his bigotry. I'd like to say that by the end of the film, he was no longer a bigot, but I don't think that's entirely the case. He's just not as bigoted as before -- he's been worked over by grace and love. Love from the Hmong family next door and grace as presented by a wet behind his baptismal ears Catholic priest. Father Janovich and Kowalksi get off to a rough start -- a start that shows Kowalski's surety about faith and his life. Kowalski tells Janovich, "I confess that I have no desire to confess." But by the end of the film he goes to confession -- and confesses some of the paltriest, everyday sins. Sins we all can relate to at one level. And Kowalski refers the Hmong boy next door as " friend... Thao Vang Lor."

But the biggest transformation is that Kowalski moves from a stance of taking life to giving his life for others. From begetting violence to accepting it unto himself. Which is part of the transformation I saw in the second man -- the man Clint Eastwood.

Here was "Dirty Harry" laying down his weapons and laying down his life. What, I wondered, had led Eastwood to this sacrificial moment? After all, he starred in and directed this piece of film. And if "Gran Torino" is not a film ultimately about redemption, well I don't want to know what it is about.

I was moved by this film and reflected on how the faithful Father Janovich both changed and was changed. The unbelieving Kowalski both changed and was changed. That love triumphed over death and despair -- even if it was a tough love, a love wracked with violence.

With Sue Lor, Thao's sister, I say to Walt, "You're a good man. " That's something I would not have said without much reservation even three-fourths of the way through the film. Which reminded me to let God do God's work in God's time. My job is to be a vehicle, in as much as possible, of God's love and grace. They are irresistible forces. They change people -- sometimes right before our eyes. Fictional -- and real.

-- Brent


Anonymous said...

"You're a good man ..." Nobody's irredeemable, right? Even Walt, whom I would have reduced to one word on which I would have heaped a lot of judgment: bigot.

You have written eloquently and have me much to think about. I had never considered that Eastwood himself may have been laying down Dirty Harry in this movie.


You wrote: "Which reminded me to let God do God's work in God's time. My job is to be a vehicle, in as much as possible, of God's love and grace."

I keep returning to that.

Thank you for this wonderful post.

Paul said...

The Lord does indeed work in mysterious (to us) ways.

patrickruth57 said...

I'm also a long time fan of Clint and have appreciated his progressive willingness to examine uncomfortable moral and societal issues in the guise of mythic entertainment(ie the western, the WW2 film). So Brent your not alone. Now try to explain to F/friends that "The Wild Bunch" and "Patton" are two of your favorite films- this I know from experience indeed. Thanks and later Patrick Ruth

patrickruth57 said...

Oh Dear- I meant they were two of my favorite films and the explanation goes from there- Sorry for any misunderstanding. Thanks Patrick