The thing that haunts a guy is the stuff he wasn’t ordered to do.
The Master, knowing all things came from the Tao,
recognizes what he has in common with his enemies
and always tries to avoid conflict.
But when there is no other choice,
he uses force reluctantly.
He does so with great restraint,
and never celebrates a victory;
to do so would be to rejoice in killing.
A person who would rejoice in killing
has completely lost touch with Tao.
Lao Tzu is less poetic in this verse. The direct language abhorring weapons and violence is not difficult to interpret. This particular stanza juxtaposed with this particular Eastwood dialogue reveals a common state of mind.
Walt Kowalski, played by Eastwood, is a cranky, retired old man who finds himself alone after his wife dies. He is resigned to living in peace with his dog, in a working class Detroit neighborhood. Unexpectedly, and unwantedly, a new family moves in next door.
In true Eastwoodian fashion, the relationship is subtle and outwardly reluctant. Understood only in Walt’s actions towards the new friends he begrudgingly, but lovingly, begins to accept.
When his new Korean neighbors find unintended trouble with a local gang, what little peace Walt Kowalski has in his small world is shattered.
Walt carries demons from his past for unsaid things he had done in a war fought long ago. In a subconscious attempt at redemption, he chooses to teach his youngest neighbor how to avoid the mistakes he’s already made. To try and maintain a peace of mind he never could. In the final scene, knowing he is already dying of lung cancer, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save himself and his new family. Doing so, he redeems his decency and avoids the use of the tools of fear.
And let’s not ever forget that the young neighbor’s name just happens to be Tao.—