[February 12, 2021] The movie Dirty Harry (1971) came out in theaters 50 years ago to great fanfare. When a madman calling himself “the Scorpio Killer” menaces the city, tough-as-nails San Francisco Police Inspector Dirty Harry Callahan is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath. This movie was popular because it tells an old story of manhood.
We’ve all heard the story before. In fact, this movie follows a familiar pattern; a significant threat emerges, and an imperfect hero steps forward. The soon-to-be hero (a man) understands the threat and voluntarily, sometimes reluctantly, takes personal responsibility to end it. We see it in the classic stories of the past when the shining knight slays the dragon.
Clint Eastwood plays Inspector Callahan in Dirty Harry. He gives us some genuinely gritty, hard-hitting acting that shows us the dark side of his role. But before he can eliminate the Scorpio Killer, Callahan is harassed by his superiors for his brutal tactics, tough talk, and shoot-first, ask questions later attitude.
In one of the best-known scenes in half a century, Inspector Callahan catches up to the killer. Shots are fired during a foot chase. The drama is about to come to an end. You can see it here (a YouTube video, 0:51 minutes).
“Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?” – Inspector Harry Callahan
Evil is not always as easily recognizable as the Scorpio Killer. We do know that Adolf Hitler’s fascism was evil. We know that Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields were evil. And, we know that China’s Great Leap Forward killed up to 55 million people was evil (although that history is not spoken about today).
Dr. Jordan Peterson often speaks about these meta-stories.1 From a psychological point of view, he explains why these stories are so powerful and why we associate with them. He believes that each of us “inhabits a story,” describing where we are, where we are going, and the actions we must undertake to get from the former to the latter.
Stories of heroes of yesteryear are part of our mental makeup and our culture. Without them, we would not be who we are in any sense. Stories are powerful and we can learn leadership through stories. The story of Dirty Harry is one of them.