I have this theory that if you go down any major list of the best films of all time, say the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of all Time, you will find parallels in mythology for each film, not exact, mind you, but enough to show that the filmmakers of the last (and this) century developed themes and plots similar to stories our ancestors had been telling for generations.
The Wizard of Oz, a story of a girl’s adventures as she finds her way home, is little more than a retelling of Books 5 to 12 of the Odyssey, the part most people recognize as the Odyssey, Odysseus’s adventures as he tries to get home from Troy. Brando‘s Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront is Prometheus on the loading docks. Orson Welles‘s Citizen Kane is Oedipus–as that unfortunate Theban King’s story was understood before Freud.
I just returned from a film which borrowed (perhaps unconsciously) from the main theme of the Odyssey, that which lay at the heart of the story as the Greeks understood it, but with which people today are less familiar. Only eight of the epic’s twenty-four books focus on Odysseus’s adventures on his way home from Troy. The remaining sixteen deal with his son Telemachus’s search for his father, the story of their reconciliation and their battle with the suitors to regain his own, then to pacify his island kingdom.
It is this paternal theme to which Clint Eastwood turns in his latest masterpiece, Gran Torino. While the dialogue is at times clunky, the story lines are near perfect. Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski, the grizzled war veteran, while (unlike Odysseus) long since returned from his battles, still must rid his kingdom, er, neighborhood, of a clan of rowdy men who make it difficult, if not impossible, for a boy, on the cusp of manhood, to find his way in the world.
While Kowalski devises different strategies than did Odysseus to face his woes, like that ancient Ithacan, he uses his wits more than his strength to confront the usurpers. And that is how the mythic theme repeats itself in this recent release. It’s too soon to tell whether this flick will join any list of the top films of all time, but it is certainly one of the best films of this year.
Once again, Eastwood amazes us with his knowledge of this medium. And his understanding of the human condition–and human emotion. And once again, we see a story from the ancients retold on the silver screen.