Why We Should Love Gran Torino

Gran Torino is about a man finally becoming a human being.

We are all trapped in our own minds, and we have a tendency to get wrapped up, like what a spider does to its prey, over time.  Time, and sin, is that spider, and rarely do we escape from that accretion.  We usually die inside the cocoon the death-dealer wraps us in.

Clint Eastwood plays a man who has been burdened by the events of his youth, but because he’s a man–and men don’t cry about what they did in the war–he buried it.  He’s tough on the outside, but crying deep inside, all the time.  No one knows this.  Probably not even him.

Well, his wife dies, and he lives in a neighborhood in Detroit that has inexplicably (to him) stopped being Polish while he wasn’t paying attention.  He’s now all alone (his kids have no interest in that asshole dad of theirs).  One wonders what married life was like for him–although he gave his wife a great bathroom and kitchen, and the old house has gleaming wood floors, looking fabulous, so there’s that.  She probably wasn’t happy, although she probably didn’t expect happiness anyway, given that world.

Anyway, Clint (Kowalski is his name in the flick) finds his island of serenity jeopardized by his wife’s passing, when his “gook” neighbors start having to be paid attention to.  They are from Indochina, and he could not care less about them; he just wishes they had stayed there, wherever it is or was.  Still, they are here to stay–he can’t do anything about that–and he ends up finding his humanity as he sees his way to accepting them as his neighbor.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks, “who was his neighbor?”  Here is the passage from Luke 10:

25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 “Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 “On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”

Clint learns neighborliness, and as he does it he learns how to face the nightmare he has had brewing inside him all his adult life.  No one could be more surprised than Clint that he could be saved.

We are good at not facing such things.  It’s how we make it through life.  Clint’s kids have no idea who he is, because he’s been closed down all their lives, ever since he got back from Korea, where the nightmare began.  He papered over his trauma, and affected a gruff exterior.  His kids had no idea that the asshole was in reality a wounded soul, a true softie.  So they grew up, and away.  It took this chance event, these Asian aliens landing landed next door, to finally wake him up and make him human.  He never saw it coming.

This is a GREAT movie.

If you don’t have a Netflix account, you are missing out on one of the greatest features of these horrible, debased, times.  It is movies such as Gran Torino that demonstrate this to be the case: you can put it top of your queue, and it’s in your post a day later.  Amazing.


3 thoughts on “Why We Should Love Gran Torino

  1. Clint Eastwood. Who can play the gruff old sod needing saving better than him? Either in this movie, or the gruff old trainer in Million Dollar Baby, or even the hopeless William Munny of Unforgiven who most likely damns his soul to rid the world an evil that could only hope to match his own demons. I think the message of Gran Torino is also just a little about immigration. After all he does play “Kowalski”, most likely the son of immigrants. Kowalski comes from folk who most likely were not so loved either. Catholic immigrants were on the outside for much of our history, just as Kowaski’s neighbors are.

    Although not religious, Kowalski develops an odd friendship with his priest who desperately wants Kowalski to get right with God. Also Kowalski, develops the friendship with the young Asian boy next door. His greatest gift to the boy in my twisted world is played out in a scene where Kowalski takes him to the barber shop for his weekly haircut( in true Marine fashion regardless of being off active duty 50 plus years) and teaches him how to “talk like a man”. I think part of Clint’s message was: look, if you want people to assimilate, don’t just tell them, help them by being a desirable culture to assimilate into.

    One other thing. Did anybody else catch the part where Kowaski’s priest, while having a drink in his dark living room seems to go along with Kowalski’s plan, but then attempts to thwart it in some kind of odd betrayal? The Bible tells us over and over that mankind will be saved by the shedding of innocent blood. Kowalski however was not innocent, and the priest knew this. I may be looking to deep, but sometimes, like was discussed on MHB regarding Planet of the Apes in the Mathison article, messages come out that may have been unintended… by the writers at least.

    • Yes, assimilated immigrants from groups who had a hard time becoming just another American have been just as reluctant to let in the next wave, and the movie demonstrates that really well; the fact that he choses to stop being that way, introducing the kid to ethnic joshing, showing him what it’s like to see the other ethnicities as equals by insulting their superficial differences, is really beautiful. It’s almost wistful, as if that won’t happen here anymore, but he’ll damn well give the kid an idea of what America is going to miss.

      The priest has no idea of Walt’s plan: he thinks Walt is going to kill the street gang in retaliation, and he wants Walt to not go through with it. The best part of that scene, in my opinion, is that when offered a beer, and told to retrieve it from the cooler, he grabs FOUR. He is saying, I’m serious, and I want to be your friend, so I intend to stay here, this is not the perfunctory call on a parishioner I was guilty of before. Certainly he harbored the hope that in doing this he’d be able to persuade Walt to calm down. Walt appreciated the gesture (the fact he intended to drink more than one beer with him, really being present). You can tell.

      What the priest did not know, because Walt couldn’t even get his son to chat–too little too late?–was that he knew he was going to die soon, and could give his life to save that bunch of kids, in atonement for the murder he committed in the war. He had to pretend that he was the jungle killer going after the enemy. Everyone had to believe that. So, that night in the dark living room, he made friends, and also allowed the deception to be planted perfectly.

      What’s great is the Confession scene. I think that priest, so bound to the deception, so upset that Walt was going to through with it, broke the rules of the Confessional. But no one could know what Walt REALLY intended to do.

      Of course, Walt proved to provide the REAL seminary education that young priest needed, in that short time they knew each other, as we learn when he eulogizes him. Brings tears to my eyes.

      • Yes, I understood the Priest had no idea of the REAL plan. I was just thinking that in the beer scene he was OK with the plan as he knew it, but then changed his mind later, of course finding out that Walt had pulled the fast one, trading his blood to save others who he decided deserve a chance at the happiness he had to pass on by not releasing his demons. In the beer scene, the Priest agreed that something had to be done and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I thought he played a great part as the young idealist truly wanting to save his first lost soul. Great film. Its been a while so its not so fresh in the mind, but I will see it over and over I’m sure. I will surely catch the eulogy scene again. I can’t quite remember how he pulled that one off given Walt’s reputation as a SOB. Will be good to see that after this discussion.
        A New movie is coming out which I am sure you will like to discuss someday; Calvary starring Brendan Gleeson. Darn good actor.

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