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