A Costly Confession

From Cheap Grace to Embodying Forgiveness in Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Priest: Good afternoon Walt

Walt: I told you I’m not going to confession.

[…]

Priest: I’ve been thinking about our conversation about life and death. About what you said. About how you carry around all the horrible things you were forced to do, horrible things that won’t leave you. It seems it would do you good to unload some of that burden. Things done during war are terrible. Being ordered to kill. Killing to save yourself, killing to save others. You’re right. Those things I know nothing about. But I do know about forgiveness. And I’ve seen a lot of men who have confessed their sins, admitted their guilt, and left their burdens behind them. Stronger men than you. Men at war who were ordered to do appalling things and are now at peace.

Walt: Well I gotta hand it to you, Padre. You came here with your guns loaded this time.

Priest: Thank you.

Walt: And you’re right about one thing. About stronger men than me reaching their salvation. Well, halle-fucking-lujah. But you’re wrong about something else.

Priest: What’s that Mr. Kowalski?

Walt: The thing that haunts a man the most is what he isn’t ordered to do.[1]

It’s a well-worn scene. A patronizing priest, clothed in clericals, approaches a surely man and offers him some unasked for advice: he should make a confession. The prospect of the surely man (Walt) confessing to the priest is made even more absurd by the contrast in the two men’s appearances. The priest, under thirty, is equipped with a baby face that would assign wisdom to a toddler. Walt, face lined with a bitter old age, wears a grittiness only Clint Eastwood’s features can bear.

It takes only a few lines of dialogue before the audience understands the characterizing back stories of each. The priest, whose occasional insights are clouded by his vocational infancy, recently left the seminary. Walt, a veteran in the Korean War, never left the battlefield. The priest, believing he can exercise a kind of forgiveness that can relieve its recipient of the burden of guilt, continually offers the sacrament of confession. Walt, believing such forgiveness is not meaningful in relation to the crimes he has committed, continually rejects it.

The struggle for a meaningful forgiveness is at the heart of Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film, Gran Torino; a film that raises important questions for Christian practices of forgiveness: Who has the power to forgive? How is forgiveness given? What is the relation between the individual seeking forgiveness and the community? And what does all this have to do with the sacrament of confession? Continue reading

Making Thought Visual

A Review of Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt

Sherry Coman

Margarethe von Trotta has dedicated her life to illuminating the stories of women, both fictional and real. Her films about Rosa Luxemburg (Rosa Luxemburg) and Hildegarde von Bingen (Vision) are at opposite ends of my TIFF 30 year range of experience: I think it was Rosa Luxembourg that first introduced me to von Trotta in the mid-80s and I have followed her ever since. This year von Trotta is back with a biopic of the great German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt, in the film with that title. Continue reading

The Ones Who Didn’t Make It

A Review of Benedek Fliegauf’s Film, Just the Wind

Emily Loewen

When thinking of the refugees who come to Canada every year, Europe likely isn’t the point of origin you would picture. But in 2011 the largest number of refugee applicants came from Hungary, and almost all of them are Roma.[1] Immigrating and building a life in Canada is not easy, and likely will get harder as Bill C-31 is implemented. But for many Roma, going back to the alternative in Hungary in unimaginable.

A new film, Just the Wind, which had it’s North American premiere at TIFF, follows the life of a fictional Roma family living in Hungary, waiting to join their husband and father in Toronto. Continue reading

A Strange Serenity

A Review of Xavier Dolan’s Film Laurence Anyways

Sherry Coman

Laurence Anyways is the story of a man who wants to continue a life-long committed soulmate relationship to a woman, while embarking on gender reassignment to become a woman also. It is about love that endures and also fails, even while the lovers cannot expunge each other from the soul. And I’m not sure which is more astonishing: the fact that at age 23, Québecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan has already made a third fine film, or that at age 23, he has already understood so much, and with such maturity, about the complexity of human relationships. Continue reading

The Gunfighter and the Nation State Part III

“You Know What You Are? Just A Dirty Son-of-a-Bitch”

Andre Forget

If anyone in my generation has seen a western (aside from throwback pieces like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 to Yuma or Appaloosa) there are pretty good odds it has starred Clint Eastwood. The squinting green eyes, the reluctant gravel voice, the bursts of extreme and shocking violence; if John Wayne typified the western in the forties and fifties, Eastwood’s shadow lies long on the westerns of the sixties, seventies and eighties. Wayne’s heroes embodied the quintessential American virtues of independence, loyalty, toughness and fair play – Eastwood’s were morally ambiguous, vengeful, anti-social, and opaque. If westerns are, as I’ve been trying suggest, a barometer of American self-image, the movement from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to the Man With No Name is telling.

Continue reading

The Gunfighter and the Nation State Part II

“When The Legend Becomes Fact, Print The Legend”

Andre Forget

Westerns are origin stories. Myths about taming the frontier, they narrate the first encounters between colonists and indigenous peoples, the lawless feudal era of the cowboy and the cattle baron, and the arrival of law, order, and the state. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Shane shows how order is built on a mythic violence which sits uncomfortably between the feudal age and the age of the nation; it uses feudal means to undo the feudal order. This violence, however, is kept at arm’s length from the peaceful community that benefits from it. John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance takes up a lot of the same questions but ends on a significantly more cynical note. Continue reading

The Gunfighter and the Nation State Part I

“There’s No Living With A Killing”

Andre Forget

It’s a familiar image. The screen brightens to reveal a ruggedly picturesque landscape of rolling plains, high bluffs and twisting rivers; in the distance we can see a small speck that slowly grows larger until it is identified as a lone horseman riding towards us. The origin of the horseman is unimportant. He has appeared out of the landscape, and we already know that when the film closes we will see him disappear back into the landscape: he is elemental, barely human. Continue reading

Representations of Home

Jan Zabeil’s Film River Use to be a Man in Review

Jeffrey Metcalfe

River Use to be a Man stands at the crux of an unfinished conversation (and perhaps unfinishable) on the nature of representation. Which stories are we permitted to tell and in what kinds of places are we entitled to tell them? These are the sorts of questions that are inevitably asked when a film is depicted in the fragmented site of colonialism – more so when one who does not find that place his home authors that representation. This is both the narrative and the metanarrative of German film maker Jan Zabeil’s feature, where functioning as both author, director, and actor (and one might be tempted to add, character), he plays a listless German youth wandering Botswana, who is forced by circumstances beyond his control to journey on a boat down a river in search of his own life. This is a tale of existential and spiritual survival, a Heart of Darkness for a postmodern generation. Continue reading

Love’s Work in the Reel[1]

Julia Loktev’s Film The Loneliest Planet in Review

Jeffrey Metcalfe

In the midst of a multiplicity of choices, it is difficult to find a film these days whose images and narrative do not come with a short expiration date. For anyone who has ever been in love, The Loneliest Planet is such a film. It is haunting. By following a couple’s movements through the empty foothills of Georgia, it manages to capture that elusive spirit of love that is born out of struggle. As Bonhoffer criticized his culture for being a society in which grace was cheap, so too, our contemporary culture is a place were love comes too easily, and perhaps, not at all. Yet in her film The Loneliest Planet, Julia Loktev is able to portray love not simply as a feeling, but a work, an equivocal wrestling with naïveté, betrayal, self-doubt, self-hatred, and reconciliation that ends, if not joyfully, at least with a possibility of hope. Continue reading

Whose Religion? Which Cult? Seeing on the Margins

Sean Durkin’s Film Martha Marcy May Marlene in Review

Jeffrey Metcalfe

In a time when the greed of liberal capitalism has brought the global economy to the knife’s edge of utter collapse, it may seem frivolous to spend time at the movies. Indeed as the Occupy protesters continue their encampments, the often-heard criticism by the elite – the infamous 1% – is the hypocrisy of the protesters own positions. Are they not organizing their traffic stoppages on their iphones while they sip Starbucks lattes? Are they not themselves the very consumers who keep the death march of infinite protest going? How then can they make a legitimate critique of a system in which they are implicated? We can imagine the critics shouting: “let the hippies leave their communes and go home, let them get jobs and stop complaining about a system that supports them.”

Rather than feeling like you are handing over 30 pieces of silver for a pass to the cinemas this weekend, as Martha Marcy May Marlene hits theaters, few critics of capitalism could do better then to put their protest signs back in their yurts for a few hours (its okay, you will want to take them up again later) and head over to their local cinemas for Sean Durkin’s new film. Continue reading