By Sean Collier
April 2, 2009
The disclaimer at the end of Gran Torino would head off this argument. Clint smoked for reasons related to his character; he was, after all, a defiant, angry old man with little regard for his own health and life. It makes perfect sense that he would keep up old habits.
There's nothing wrong with this acknowledgement. If we are to believe it, it allows us to forgive cinematic smoking to a degree, and quells concerns that producers are willing to compromise morally to cash in. What's dangerous about this, however, is the precedent it sets.
Say, hypothetically, that every studio follows suit. Just as any film with the briefest scene including an animal actor carries the "No animals were harmed" disclaimer, any film wherein an actor lights up will bear the "We didn't get paid to have that guy smoke" bit at the end. Wouldn't the logical conclusion involve a seemingly endless array of these caveats tailing the end credits? "The depiction of drug use in this film is not intended to promote these activities," followed by, "No gun or ammunition manufacturer donated or provided the weapons used in this picture," leading into "The use of racial slurs in this film is not intended as a hate crime," right before "The use of insults and vulgarity is not meant to promote schoolyard taunting and potty-mouths?" If we need a disclaimer explaining that a character choice is a character choice, aren't we really saying that we don't trust the audience to separate fiction from reality?
Furthermore, if we're going to begin using this particular brand of Hollywood ass-covering, doesn't this give ammunition to watchdog groups criticizing films without such disclaimers? Say, for example, a film has a similar character to Eastwood's in Gran Torino, who smokes and chews tobacco – in a way justifiable by the plot. Couldn't a group like Smoke Free Movies, alarmist decriers of big-screen puffing, accuse that film of taking big tobacco handouts because they neglected to include a disclaimer?
It's certainly a good thing that Eastwood and the other producers of Gran Torino didn't take a payout to have Clint smoke. It's not necessarily a bad thing that we're clear on that fact, either. But filmmakers feeling obligated to justify every character choice out of fear is not a positive thing for Hollywood, and it's a slippery slope from here to there. At some point, we're all just going to have to remember that movies are not reality, and are not telling us how to live our lives. Most of the time, anyway.