Grief vs. Clint Eastwood

by Alison Severs

One day, after my father’s death, I was in my parents’ house looking through his bookshelves. I thought about powdering the books for fingerprints so I’d have something left. I still think about that sometimes. What difference would it make to have a copy of fingerprints made by fingers that no longer exist? Those fingers were burned, and now they are dust.

Seeing my dad’s warm, dead hand had made me look at my own hand and realise that, one day, someone might look at it after I was gone. Talking to others who have experienced similar grief, I noticed it unites us with a sense of purpose. People focus this energy on different things, but it’s always about legacy, success, and the fear of their own dead hands.

But objects outlive us all. Those books, films and records will still be here when I am not. On those shelves, still in the plastic, were some DVDs that I had bought my dad for Christmas. Grief counsellors encourage you to look for things they call “continuous bonds” so you can remember the good things you shared with the people you’ve lost. My dad and I used to watch films together, and he loved Clint Eastwood. So perhaps Clint would be a continuous bond.

Looking at the covers, I see Clint Eastwood and his lined face, lined with responsibility. Clint’s responsibilities are to save the life of a prostitute on a dangerous mission and make sure the bad guys get got. My dad’s responsibilities were more to book the car in for its MOT, pay the council tax and get the milk. But you can do all of that with a hero’s attitude. Even Clint Eastwood has to buy milk.

The film, The Gauntlet, opens with some panoramic shots of Phoenix. Clint is a washed-up cop with an authority issue, and his boss is an a-hole. What sort of square would tell Clint it’s time to get a tie? My dad didn’t wear ties to work. Heroes don’t wear ties. They don’t have to live in Phoenix either. My dad drove around Stratford-upon-Avon. I imagine panoramic shots following him in the twilight near Morrisons. His blue Vauxhall Astra passing a Shell garage with a bucket of browning roses outside. It seems less romantic than 1970’s Arizona, but I relish crawling into my dad’s imagination on his drive to the chip shop.

Clint’s sinister boss has told him it’s time to travel to Las Vegas on a mission to bring back a special witness. Clint agrees. My dad’s boss wasn’t sinister. He was a nice man. He gave everyone the day off when my dad died as a mark of respect. Arriving in Vegas, Clint couldn’t be less impressed with his prostitute companion. She’s fiery in a way only actresses from the 70s can play – wide-eyed and loud, with over-zealous gesticulation. Clint hits her. He directed that smack himself. People watch Clint Eastwood films because they want a strong, mostly silent, Clint to solve the problem: kill the bad guy, shoot his gun – all whilst looking pensive and handsome. I don’t want Clint to do any of those things. I’d rather the bad guys caught this Clint, because he’s abrasive and stupid, and this film has multiple plot holes.

If we had watched it together, my dad and I would have had at least one argument by now. The film would be on pause. My dad would have done his little head tick and told me I was being deliberately obtuse and didn’t understand Clint and his complexities. I wonder why my dad liked him so much. I don’t like him one bit, but I can’t really ask my dad questions anymore, so we have a made up conversation instead.

“Dad, why has Clint hit that lady?”

“She’s hysterical and she thinks Clint’s the bad guy – they probably fall in love at the end.”

“Oh. Like James Bond then? The women are fiery and have their own ideas and principles at the beginning of the film, but toward the end it’s so easy to succumb to the overwhelming charm of a man who keeps you safe from the bad guys, but also cracks the odd joke. It’s all very typical of films isn’t it?”

When we un-paused the film, we would have seen Clint hiding out at the prostitute’s house, waiting to be rescued by the goodies. However the goodies are actually the baddies and they’ve surrounded the house. The usual, “Come out with your hands up” bit happens, but Clint can’t find his prostitute. Moments before, she tried to thank him for saving her the only way she knew how and Clint was unresponsive to her sexual advances; which doesn’t sit right with the way his character has been behaving up until now.

I’d say that to dad. He’d say, “Will you just bloody shut up, Alison.” The film continues to get more ridiculous, and I’d ask my dad if he fancies a Snickers.

Clint’s prostitute friend has shut herself in the bathroom, so he decides to shoot the door open. The door didn’t look very strong; kicking it in would have worked, but it wouldn’t have been a good plot device. He needed to use the gun so that the baddies had an excuse to shoot the house down. Clint’s stupid. The film is stupid. But we’d be eating our Snickers by now, and it wouldn’t really matter that the film was stupid.

My dad and I would watch films together a lot. Towards the end of his life, he couldn’t eat most kinds of bread anymore, because the soy would make his face swell up. So I’d make bread for him instead, and we’d watch films in front of the fire while the dough rose. My dad’s chair would have piles of his favourite things stacked about it as well as his medicines and water bottle. His chair is empty now, and those piles have gone, but the room is still full of thoughts and jokes. He liked to share films and would pay special attention to those with story lines or actors he knew I liked. He sat through The Place Beyond the Pines despite not liking it whilst I moaned about how it’s false advertising to put Ryan Gosling’s name in a big font if you’re going to kill him off after 40 minutes. The bread dough rising while my dad watched and silently hated the film.

Possibilities eroded by the responsibilities that claw at you through life: perhaps watching films with your daughter is one way of disappearing back into what might have been. It makes it feel possible to steal a motorbike; rob a bank; stick it to “the man”. Possible to be a prostitute. Granted, some of those things are better than others, but the point is it helps evade the weight of existence, whether caused by circumstance, convention, or loss for a while. I’d like to say my father was a poet, a philosopher, an enigma; but the truth is he was the same as we all are. He didn’t have a gun or a fancy car or save the lives of enthusiastic prostitutes. But he looked after me and knew all the answers to the crossword clues. He moulded my interests through the time we spent together. We shared a sense of humour. We ate Snickers bars in silence watching worlds unfold on the screen.


Photograph by The Gauntlet, 1977

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