Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gran Torino

Movies are so bad nowadays, it is hard to find one worth the price of the ticket. It was thus a welcome sight to learn that Clint Eastwood was coming to town with still another of his highly entertaining adventures.

Gran Torino, however, was a surprise. It far exceeds the boundaries of merely escapist entertainment. It has a simple story line that resonates into multiple layers of meaning.

The first layer is an entertaining Clint Eastwood story of personal courage when one man takes on the corrupt establishment, much like the westerns and detective stories that have made Eastwood so popular. Walt Kowalski is a retired, widowed automobile worker in bad health living in a changing neighborhood. What was once dominated by a mainly caucasian working class is now occupied by Asian and African Americans. The new establishment appears to be gangs that roam the street clashing for control of their territories. Walt is a tough guy, sort of a Dirty Harry after retirement. A marine war hero, he had killed at least thirteen “kooks” in the Korean War. He exudes toughness in his exterior, but he has never let go from the torment he suffered during his war experiences. The story focuses on how this tough and savvy warrior responds to the violence and intimidation visited upon him in his neighborhood. It is deftly told with a combination of suspense and humor that provides good entertainment.

A second story kicks in involving Walt’s fractured relationship with his children and grandchildren. We are spared the details of how that family had grown so distant. The children try to be good children, but they do not know how, because they do not know their father any more. The relationship is so deteriorated that we do not know where the fault lies. There is so much water over the dam that all generations are both the victims and the perpetrators of their broken relationships. I found myself profoundly sorry for every one involved. Thus the story becomes a good parable on the consequences of a breakdown of the nuclear family.

The third layer, however, makes the movie something special. Gran Torino is, in the final analysis, a morality tale. Walt is lonely, though he can not bring himself to admit it. His closest neighbors are Vietnamese who he consistently abuses with genuine bitterness. A young girl in the Vietnamese woman reaches out to him, and he finally melts. He becomes involved with her, her brother, her family and ultimately the entire Vietnamese community. In so doing, he learns that they are in danger of succumbing to destructive forces which can destroy their dreams.

I have to leave the story at this point. I hope that I have not spoiled it for you, because I did not realize until the movie was almost over that I had been sucked into a morality tale, and now you know. Suffice it to say that he had to reach into his own soul to save this family, and in so doing he came to understand the essence of life abundant.

The viewer must tolerate a bucket load of bad language. I am weary of gratuitous vulgarities, but the language in this case serves to fill out the landscape of the world Walt lives in. Moreover, I the swearing and vulgarity is a dramatic sign of Walt’s separation from God.

One final note. Clint Eastwood is amazing. This man is seventy eight years old with the grit and muscle to convince you that if chooses to take on a teenage thug, it would be no contest.

By the way, the Gran Torino is pretty nifty, too.

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