Just a quick note. Both of these movies are rated-R and contain quite a bit of salty language. Unforgiven also has some sexual content. I will be giving the basic plot of the each movie including the ending. So if haven’t seen them and plan to you may want to come back.
Gran Torino is movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. He is an old Korean War vet who lives in Detroit. The movie opens with his wife’s funeral. His neighborhood has been overrun by Asians. He is the last white man left. He spends his days keeping up his yard, drinking at the bar, mocking the local priest, and yelling racial epithets at his Asian neighbors. Through a series of events he becomes friends with the Asian family next door. He takes the teenage son under his wings and mentors him. However, he figures out that the teenage son will never be free of a local gang. This gang ultimately beats up and rapes (this is not seen on screen) the boy’s sister in retaliation for his refusal to join the gang as well as his friendship with the veteran. No one will give up the men in the gang. The neighborhood is silent. The movie ends with Clint Eastwood, going to the gang’s house unarmed. Eastwood tricks them into shooting and killing him publicly so they will go to jail and the boy and his family can be free. He sacrifices his life so the young man can have a new life.
Unforgiven is another Clint Eastwood movie. This one is about a washed up old gunfighter in his last days. His wife is dead. He is without strength. The movie begins with him chasing a pig and ultimately falling in the mud. He agrees to take on one last job with a young, hothead gunfighter who dreams of glory but does not understand the cost of killing men. Eastwood recruits his old partner, Morgan Freeman, to help him. He does the job, which means executing a man who cut up a woman’s face. In the process he comes in conflict with the tyrannical, local sheriff, Gene Hackman. Hackman ultimately kills his partner in brutal fashion. The movie ends with Eastwood coming back to town and executing vengeance on Gene Hackman. Unforgiven is not your typical revenge movie. Killing in the movie takes a toll and is not treated lightly. Yet it still is a revenge flick. Eastwood’s wrath is on full display at the end.
As Christians we look at these two movies and see one that tells a Christian story of sacrifice for others and one that tells a non-Christian story of revenge. However, this is splitting apart what should not be torn asunder. Our God is a God of vengeance (Romans 12:19). Vengeance and wrath are part of the Christian story. The story of Jehu’s purging of Ahab’s house is a great, bloody example of God’s wrath poured out on man. But wait you say, “Unforgiven is not about God’s wrath. It is about man’s wrath.” To which I say, “That is all a movie can do.” In movies men can be little christs sacrificing for those around them. Or in movies men can be little christs executing vengeance on the wicked. In other words, just as Gran Torino is Christ’s sacrifice put on the small screen so Unforgiven is the wrath of Christ put on the small screen as well. We reap what we sow. Justice will be served. Wrongs will be set right. The wicked will either take the sacrifice of Christ or will pay with eternal damnation.
This is not a wholehearted defense of revenge movies. Bloodlust is a real problem in our culture, especially among young men. Movies like these can appeal to that lust for blood instead of a longing for justice. Many of these movies exploit and glorify violence in a way that is not good. Many of them are just poorly done. But revenge movies resonate with humans because we all long for justice. When Gene Hackman whips Morgan Freeman to death we know that something has gone terribly wrong. Yes Freeman was not a good man, but Hackman is worse. So we wait for justice and vengeance. A father’s daughter gets kidnapped and killed. The police never find the culprit. So we wait for justice. Men are burned alive in cages and we wait for justice. Sometimes justice comes in the form of the magistrate’s sword. Sometimes it comes in other forms, such as rival gangs or diseases brought on by wickedness. Sometimes it comes on the Last Day when all will stand before the seat of Christ. Sometimes it comes at the Cross. But justice will come. Revenge movies remind us of this. Be careful. Don’t spend all your time watching movies devoted to violence and vengeance. But don’t reject them entirely either. For the character of God is not just seen in the sacrifice at the Cross, but it is also seen in his wrath in Hell.