The Tao of Eastwood

Chapter 18

Master Yourself

My name’s Gunnery Sergeant Highway and I’ve drunk more beer and banged more quiff and pissed more blood and stomped more ass than all you numbnuts put together.

Gunny Highway | Heartbreak Ridge

Those who know others are intelligent;
Those who know themselves are truly wise.
Those who master others are strong;
Those who master themselves have true power.

Tao Te Ching | from verse 33

Gunny Highway clearly isn’t the most refined character. The rag-tag platoon of Marine Recon recruits he is assigned to train are even less so. Having experienced mortal combat, however, he has mastered himself and his fear.

As a master soldier, he has but one lesson to teach: be like me and you will survive. Let go of what you think you know and be aware of your surroundings. Adapt to what comes next. Pay attention, learn to control yourself and you will live.

All the other things you may have learned are of little use if you cannot master yourself in the heat of battle.

Heartbreak Ridge is not a serious war movie. It is mostly light-hearted and comical. Eastwood creates a caricature, rather than a commentary, on the machismo of the martial state of mind.

As gruff and over-the-top sure of himself as he is, Gunny Highway also reluctantly reveals a softer side, when attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife or help out a recruit struggling to raise his family. This is the endearing Eastwood that makes movies like this work, rather than fail.

This is also how I often think of Lao Tzu. He might say, “These lessons are ancient and wise and very serious, and you should take them seriously. But let’s not forget our sense of humor and compassion along the Way.”