The Purpose of Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's life offers more valuable lessons in masculinity than those contained in his films.

I was listening to the latest The Big Picture podcast on Friday morning, this specific episode being a retrospective on Clint Eastwood’s career with the release of Clint’s latest, Cry Macho, in theaters and HBO Max. Sean Fennessey is the host, with two guests - Adam Nayman and Chris Ryan - appearing this week to give their top 5 Clint films. Early on, they were chatting about Clint in general when the following (edited for clarity) points were noted (about 4 minutes in), the topic being why Clint Eastwood… at 91 years of age… is still making movies:

Adam Nayman: “But this is past that, this is one of the last men standing… Clint has written and directed and starred in what is probably going to be a pretty profitable movie and it’s unreal that he keeps doing this because, why does he keep doing this? Is it pleasure? Is it compulsion? Big question.”

Chris Ryan: “I can’t help but feel that he (Clint) felt he had to do this before it was too late. And that there was something about making this movie which was him saying ‘I will always have a place and a purpose… as long as I am behind a camera. As long as I am making movies, I will always have a sense of purpose, a sense of worth, a sense of place’.”

There have been a million and one expositions on Clint Eastwood and American masculinity, and Lord knows I didn’t begin this life or even this week with the intent on writing another one. But… let’s go ahead and talk to the above quotes, for they actually *do* touch on an underappreciated and underdiscussed aspect of American masculinity and how it ties to Adam’s question above: the need for men to have purpose.

The Bear, the Lion, and my Grandfather

His health failing, his team finishing 6th in an SEC he dominated just a few years prior, Paul “Bear” Bryant announced his upcoming retirement as head coach of the University of Alabama football team at the end of the season, this finally occurring after Alabama beat the University of Illinois in the 1983 Liberty Bowl. When asked after the game what he planned on doing next, the Bear simply responded “Probably croak in a week.”

He lasted four, dying on January 26th, 1983.

->->->Fast forward 18 years->->->

January 2001, a few months after moving into the retirement community, my grandfather passes away from what my grandmother called “boredom.” “Jimmy had nothing to do, he just sat here with his energy and he had nowhere to put it. He didn’t have his house to upkeep, his garden to tend, his trees to prune”, she said.

Of course, she passed away within a year, preferring to join her Jimmy in heaven than wait w/o him on Earth. She had spent every day from 1928-2001 with the man and wanted more. Good for her!

->->->Fast forward 10 years->->->

Up until November, Penn State Nittany Lion’s football coach Joe Paterno was having a fantastic 2011. Then his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, gets arrested for pedophilia-related charges regarding incidents which occurred at Penn State, Paterno gets fired at the same time his son announces he has a treatable form of lung cancer, the treatment of which kills Joe Paterno a mere 2 months after the Sandusky arrest.

Regardless, just like Bryant: While he was still coaching football, nobody was saying “Joe Paterno is near death, let’s win this for Joe”. No, he was having a good season. His health wasn’t great, but nobody in September 2011 was predicting a January 2012 funeral for JoePa, nobody. But… past sins caught up with the man, he lost his job, and, because of this, passed away 2 months later.

How to Kill a Man

All told, men are pretty simple creatures. Just not going to lie about that. But one thing which is underappreciated by most people, both women and men, is men’s need for purpose and its impact on their health.

Chris answered Adam’s question above – making films is what gives Clint purpose. And unless Clint has plans on what to do after he can no longer make movies, once he realizes directing is beyond him it is likely that he will pass within a year or two, solely because his purpose was removed. So if you want to kill Clint, it is simple: just stop funding his movies. Remove his reason for living. If you want to keep him alive, give him $10-40 million/year so he can continue the most comprehensive career in Hollywood history.

You remove a man’s purpose and they can literally die. Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, my grandfather, more… all of them lost the will to live once they could no longer serve their purpose. And while my examples are largely career oriented, men can find their reason for being in a lot of things – their religion, their family, their golf game, hell, even their anger. And when they lose this, when men can no longer continue serving their purpose, their health inevitably declines.

And this goes for life events as well. If you know a man going through negative life changes: deaths, divorce, empty nest, financial issues, lost job… have a talk with him, try to see where his head is at. Understanding that much of their purpose of the past years, decades, is now gone, talk to him and find where or what he is finding new purpose in. Constantly getting angry at something seen online? Red flag. Going to the gym? Good sign.

This isn’t hard, it just takes people who care enough to ask and who also understand that the problem isn’t the immediate issue, it’s the unmooring of preset habits and change/loss of purpose.

So, be the good person and ask.