by Jason Koenigsberg
Years ago in college my friend Joe and I were discussing Clint Eastwood and his filmography. The friendly discussion soon turned into a debate because Joe was a stone cold conservative and I was a bleeding heart liberal at the time (since then both of our political beliefs have melded more in the middle of the spectrum). We were both trying to figure out what political viewpoint Clint Eastwood had. Joe wanted to claim the film legend as one of his own, a right wing Republican, and it makes sense. If you watch some of the war films he directed like the great Heartbreak Ridge (1986) they do have a certain sense of honor and pride in being American. However, I doubt anyone would walk out of the superb Eastwood directed film Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and think that war has any redeeming qualities for Americans, Japanese or anybody involved. This made me think perhaps he was a more leftist Democrat like the majority of the Hollywood community.
Our discussion continued and some of our other friends started to gather around and listen. We brought up Absolute Power (1997), which Eastwood directed and starred in as a skilled cat burglar who witnesses the President of the United States engage in sexual acts with a woman that is not his wife and then is killed as their sex turns violent. This was a clear attack on Bill Clinton who was the President at the time and was in the middle of a major sex scandal.
Then two years later Eastwood directed the powerful and underrated True Crime (1999), one of the most anti-death penalty pictures you will likely ever see. Thus strengthening my point.
We knew he was politically involved and served as the mayor of his hometown Carmel, California so we went to the internet and looked up what party he was in and discovered he was Independent. So that did not help either of our arguments but Joe looked up that Eastwood had voted for and endorsed Ronald Reagan for President so that helped his stance. I then cited Million Dollar Baby (2004) as a film with a liberal bias since it was in favor of euthanasia.
The debate kept going back and forth and I was not willing to back down. Then finally, losing his patience my friend Joe shouted out “HE’S CLINT EASTWOOD! HE’S A STUDY IN DUALITY!”
We all laughed, and that was the end of the debate. We never really discussed Clint Eastwood’s politics again. I assumed maybe Eastwood was more liberal and just disliked Bill Clinton as many Americans did, because he was seen as an embarrassment to the Oval Office and lost his integrity.
In the following years he would release Gran Torino (2008), one of the best films of his career and I felt it had a liberal slant. Whether Eastwood’s character was a Republican or not, the film was clearly a statement about Detroit turning into a dying city ever since the auto industry abandoned it and it’s slums were a breeding ground for immigrants starting a life of crime. I felt that the retired blue-collar worker and Korean veteran Eastwood played and his Hmong neighbors represented working class Americans. It seemed like Asian minorities on film would most likely be liberal and the journey Eastwood’s character went on built a bridge of friendship between him and his neighbors.
But then of course at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood famously had his speech talking to a chair asking Obama “where is my America?” Obviously, Clint was making his political beliefs clear by even being at the convention let alone speaking at it.
Now with American Sniper blowing up the box office and earning Oscar nominations he has made the most successful republican propaganda picture in a long time.
So now, who is the real Clint Eastwood? He is clearly a hardcore republican now, at least in terms of his script selection and outspoken criticisms of Obama. Was he always like this? If so, why or how did he choose to direct films with certain obvious liberal agendas like True Crime and Million Dollar Baby?
He is much too smart to not realize their themes and the message those films would send to audiences. Eastwood is fortunate enough that during most of his career he has been able to select whatever scripts he wanted to star in or direct. Perhaps he is suddenly turning ultra-conservative now that he is an octogenarian. The late screen icon Charlton Heston was once a big liberal who endorsed John F. Kennedy and supported the Democratic Party. Then as he got older he became more conservative. Towards the end of his life he was known as much for being the President of the NRA as he was for being an actor. It was more likely that people would quote Heston’s famous phrase “from my cold dead hands!” as he held a rifle high, than anything he said in a one of his classic movies. That’s sad considering this was the man who played Ben-Hur (1959) and Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956).
Charlton Heston would not be the only big name celebrity to turn more politically conservative as he got older. Before Dennis Hopper passed away he admitted that he voted for George W. Bush twice. This is Dennis Hopper we are talking about! The man, who was a leading symbol of counter culture, directed Easy Rider (1969), which epitomized the counter culture movement. One of the biggest hippies and drug users of his time was now an old man and had become a republican!
Regardless of his political views Clint Eastwood is one of the biggest international movie stars of all time and one of the most talented filmmakers alive. There will likely never be another person who has a career in films as unique and dignified as Eastwood. I have enjoyed most of his pictures and his work has provided me with many hours of enjoyment and moved me emotionally on numerous occasions. But I still wonder about Clint Eastwood and his political affiliation and how he has followed a similar dynamic to Charlton Heston and Dennis Hopper. Is this the path that Eastwood has embarked on? Was he always this conservative and just kept it hidden? Or maybe was my friend Joe right, “HE’S CLINT EASTWOOD! HE’S A STUDY IN DUALITY!”