Clint Eastwood’s depiction of Walt Kowalski is compelling, funny, gritty, and heart-warming.
My brother called me a while back and said, “You’ve got to see Clint Eastwood’s latest movie Gran Torino.” My brother and I are major movie buffs, and we keep each other in the loop about what’s good and what isn’t. Needless to say, I loved the movie. Gran Torino is about Walt Kowalski, a disgruntled Korean War vet and retired Detroit auto worker who has recently been widowed. Walt’s neighborhood is being taken over by Asian immigrants (specifically the Hmong family who live next to him). Though he has a great deal of innate prejudice against these Asians because of his Korean experience, Walt nevertheless has an innate nobility that causes him to want to help rehabilitate the young man next door after he tries to steal Walt’s prized possession, a 1972 green Gran Torino in mint condition. This theft attempt was set up by an Asian gang as a hazing ritual for the young neighbor.
What ensues is Walt’s attempt to help the young man come of age and be of service to his community. I loved the way in which Walt mentors the young Hmong lad into the culture of manhood. (The man I saw the movie with assured me that this hazing process was accurate. Believe me, women don’t do it this way!) Meanwhile, Walt is increasingly embraced by the Hmong family next door (much to his chagrin). Over time, the wisdom of the heart wins out. And Clint Eastwood’s depiction of Walt Kowalski is compelling, funny, gritty, and heart-warming.
Gran Torino relies on violence to solve problems, which, as we all know, isn’t a good long term solution. Still, there is something very satisfying and heartwarming about the character of Walt that makes his use of violence understandable and forgivable. The hero takes matters into his own hands, using violence only as a means of protecting those who are weaker. (This is the ancient Aries warrior archetype.) I also liked the message that people don’t have to lose their mental or physical prowess as they age.
Movies like Gran Torino (and also Shooter, another movie I really liked which is far more violent) give us a safe outlet for our violent and aggressive tendencies. Years ago, I saw a documentary about Indonesia called Ring of Fire by the Blair brothers. They pointed out that the peaceful Balinese keep their culture calm and tranquil by staging violent plays and also cock fights on a regular basis—often after religious services. This is a way to ritually—and in community—engage “evil and darkness” so that these forces don’t take them over unconsciously and get played out in their lives.
Gran Torino shows us what Dirty Harry would be like at the age of 70 or so, once life experience, a broken heart, and good old-fashioned heroism and morality have all blended into his character. Gran Torino is thought-provoking, and well acted and directed by Clint Eastwood. I highly recommend this movie.