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.