Eastwood's Athenian Vision

Dr. Joseph Walsh
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“In Attic tragedy...force appears in its coldness and hardness, always attended by effects from whose fatality neither those who use it nor those who suffer it can escape; here the shame of the coerced spirit is neither disguised, nor enveloped in facile pity, nor held up to scorn; here more than one spirit bruised and degraded by misfortune is offered for our admiration.” –Simone Weil

Simone Weil’s insights on Greek tragedy apply equally to Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (and other late works), since the film’s vision and sensibility are thoroughly Sophoclean. Sophocles’ plays are not, contrary to common assumption, about character flaws that bring destruction; rather, the plays function as meditations on the intersection of human strengths, flaws, and vulnerabilities, and they take for granted that we are not fully in control of our lives and destinies. Mystic River, I believe, is at core the same sort of meditation. By examining some key scenes, I hope to demonstrate how in Mystic River Eastwood has created a modern Oedipus through a variety of cinematic, dramatic, and narrative strategies.

Like Sophocles, Eastwood portrays the world realistically – not in terms of plot; both Mystic River and Oedipus are replete with coincidences that strain credibility – but in their unvarnished, unromanticized depiction of our vulnerability to circumstance. The insight of both works is that our aspirations, lives, and even inmost characters are precarious and thus worthy of the deepest sympathy, a truth that should inspire both pity and terror.

Keywords: Clint Eastwood, Classics in Film, Tragedy
Stream: Analysing Artforms, Meaning and Representation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Joseph Walsh

Associate Professor, Department of Classics, Loyola College in Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Walsh has published (in Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S.) on the Classical Tradition (articles on Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, and John Henry Newman), the clash between the ancient Romans and Greeks, the Christians in the Roman Empire, Greek biography, and the history and character of Christmas. He has studied and/or taught in Belgium, Greece, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.

Ref: A06P0469