Gran Torino: Film Review

Muscle Car, Military Rifle: Modern Cowboy

Muscle Car, Military Rifle: Modern Cowboy

As I stepped onto the train that goes through one of my city’s many Chinatowns, I felt like the incarnation of a young Walt Kowalski. This display of demographic displacement vibrant diversity inspired me to write a few thoughts on the film.

The film’s opening scene is the funeral of Dorothy Kowalski, Walt’s devoted church-going wife. The viewer is immediately confronted with the ill-mannered and disrespectful behaviour of Walt’s sons and grandchildren: poorly dressed, playing with cell-phones, mockingly genuflecting and chuckling about the prospect of their father moving in with them. The naive young priest blathers in his sermon about ‘what is this thing we call life’. Eastwood reiterates this message throughout the film; it is clear that the younger generations of white America are alien to him. They mock God and replace him with consumerism and debauchery.

The poor relationship Walt has with his own sons is itself an admission of the failure of his generation – the WWII/Korean war generation, to successfully pass on its values to the baby boomers. His sons don’t share his patriotic duty to ‘buy American’, are bossed around by their wives, and their children are so far removed from the traditional family that they are only capable of viewing their grandparents as a source of material inheritance.

Released in 2009, Gran Torino performed well at the box-office and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Its feel-good ‘redemption for white man’s sins’ narrative is encapsulated in the most popular IMDB review:

One of the best movies I’ve seen in years

This is a poignant, beautiful movie, maybe the best film Eastwood has ever done. The characters are fully drawn, believable, and resonate true human emotion. I at first was put off by the idea of seeing a movie about an old racist, but when I saw the numbers of people attending the screenings, I thought there must be something there, so I went to the Arclight in Hollywood, where the theater was packed. Crusty old Kowalski, a Korean war veteran, now living in run down Detroit, hates the Vietnamese immigrants that have moved next door to him. As time goes on, he gets to know them, and the bond that forms is wonderful, and spiritual. There was not a dry eye in the house when the movie ended. I won’t give the ending away, but suffice it to say this is a truly wonderful story, one that you will love and tell your friends to see. If you’re looking for one of those great movie experiences that so rarely comes along, you’ll not find a better film to see than this.

Despite its popularity amongst cinema-goers, Gran Torino received many negative reviews from the mainstream. These usually came in two forms: the aesthetic and the political. I admit there were several stylistic contrivances. The symbolic manifestation of Walt’s sacrifice, as he falls gracefully, Zippo in hand, hitting the ground in a ‘Jesus on a crucifix’ sprawl was a bit much, even for me, and I’m usually willing to overlook production flaws in Westerns.

But the other form that the criticism has taken is that, despite the handing over of America morally and demographically from whites to foreigners, Eastwood didn’t do enough to portray ‘minorities’ in a positive light, and instead there were no elder Asian male role models, blacks weren’t represented as hardworking, loyal and moral (what fantasy land do they live in). Oh yeah, and there were no Hispanics, and there was not an adequate strong independent woman™ character. It probably failed the ‘Beschadel test‘.

In the movie world, not promoting a radical leftist agenda is ‘disappointing’, ‘racist’ or ‘yuck’. Art has been reduced to a vessel that must spew the dogma of the religious progressives who seek to destroy our world. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m starting to agree with Matt Forney, mental illness is a form of leftism.

The film imparts a sense that although ‘this’ is the new America, in order for it to carry on, the last vestiges of frontier white man values need to be transmuted to young minority men. Walt’s self sacrifice is feel-good and contrite, and seeks to redeem his own failure to bring America into the 21st century intact. It pleases (or more like appeases – it is still described as a ‘racist’ film) white sensibilities because it portrays the Asians (with a touch of old world values) as the future, and like a vigilante cowboy he ‘tames’ the black and asian gangbangers as he unleashes Dirty Harry and Jose Wales.

The scene of the reading of the will is metaphorical of America’s future – due to the younger Americans moral failings, they are disinherited of its riches (manifested most aptly in a green 1964 Ford Gran Torino, assembled by the great Walt himself). The entitled, bitchy granddaughter’s jaw drops when she finds out that she has missed out on the car. The film ends with Thao, who took Walt’s tools and makes an honest living in construction, driving off into the sunset.

Conservatives love this film, because they get to revel in a bit of old time Clint the cowboy giving it to them ‘zipperheads’  and ‘spooks’ with his open carry Colt or military rifle that he kept from the war. Yet they can meekly hide behind ‘but he dies for them’, as America’s legacy is handed to the previously reviled ‘swamp rats’. Liberals get to feel vindicated that this run down, violent, ethnically diverse Detroit is the backdrop of the last great American cowboy, who symbolically repents for his evil white man ways and makes way for the multi-kulti future. They all can come together and enjoy the film (for completely different reasons), yet end up celebrating the demise of America.

 

Enjoy that decline

 

Gustavo M.

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4 comments

  1. I loved that the white characters served as poignant vignettes of the decay of white America: the naive priest; the lily-white wannabe gang-banger; the entitled sarcastic granddaughter; the vapid yuppie sons and their harridan wives; even Detroit itsself.

    Notice how he contrasts them with their foils; the uncouth blue-collar types at the VFW lodge, barbershop, and construction site. These characters represent the Remnant. These are the guys who are portrayed as buffoons or racists in the media; caricatured as beer-swilling morons in commercials; hapless husbands on sitcoms; the obsolete. That Eastwood would include them at all indicates that he laments their eclipse and cultural dispossession.

    I can only theorize about Eastwood’s motivations behind this movie, but I’m pretty sure that he’s offering more to white movie-goers than the repentant/vigilante dichotomy which you described. I think he’s offering a ray of hope to the Remnant by demonstrating that they might find camaraderie with their emergent Asian neighbors. Traditional whites don’t need to despair (as deeply) if they take action to transmute some vestiges of their values (and value) to their Asian neighbors. Stand on principles, evangelize, and maintain as much of that cultural cache as possible before the undertow eventually consumes what’s left of the current order.

    It is a message which the ascendent left wishes to suppress and that the Remnant absolutely needs to hear.

    1. The Remnant, as you describe, is not something that I had given much thought to. There is as you say, a pointed rejection of PC-culture by the portrayal of the rough but endearing blue collar whites who bear the brunt of the liberal-media’s abuse. Duck Dynasty and Sarah Palin come to mind as similar examples who are berated and lampooned not so much for what they say or do, but for what they represent.

      Perhaps the last of the supposedly ‘American’ values could live on in the Appalachian hunting lodge, the Midwest construction outfit or the barbershop.

      1. The problem with the Palin\DD types is that they’re only allowed media exposure because they’re unsophisticated and relatively easy to lampoon. The left has become soft and chooses soft targets which require little more than witty snark and indoctrination to overcome.

        If the Remnant wants to survive, it has to discover champions (in the form of philosophies or people) which can affect the culture while outmaneuvering the media\cultural smear-machine and resistimg corruption by the established “right.” The UKIP and Tea Party offer contrasting examples of Remnant political movements which have confronted the status-quo. The former is achieving some success while the latter is becoming politically isolated. Neither seems to be effecting many cultural or demographic changes.

        Gran Torino was useful in that it showed an unvarnished glimpse of our current situation. I’d be interested to interview Eastwood (in secrecy) and find out whether or not he intended the message which I laid-out in my previous post. After mulling it over, I’m pretty sure that he didn’t. I’m going to generalize here but his generation was very good at elucidating problems while being selfishly unable to make course-corrections. That’s where I think the alt-right can help.

      2. I agree – so much is left unsaid. I think this is a form of partial commitment – only the right-inclined thinkers will draw the logical conclusions. There’s also the narrative that they (his generation) have already lived through the war/50s and this (modernity) is just ‘change’ as a natural part of the world – they don’t understand that their future generations could want something like that.

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