Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gran Torino - or "A Racist Old Man Learns to Love"

Clint Eastwood's films generally have too much humanism and "Vengeance is mine, punk!" for me to appreciate them anymore. The message is usually the same: "You gotta go kick tail yourself 'cause there ain't going to be any Divine help, stupid."

But even as Eastwood loves to show the dark side of humanity and the seeming ineffectuality of faith in a God of justice, he does indeed seem to know what justice is -and redemption.

And that is what makes this movie so enjoyable in his portrayal of its crusty curmudgeon, Korean vet Walter Kowalski. I recommend young men to watch this move with their granddads and older men; I do not recommend it for everyone. [The language is very offensive - if you have a DVD player with 'foul-language filter' it would pass muster, though.]

You see, one of the redeeming features of the film is that Walt starts his redemption by helping out a young boy named Thau (who is renamed "Toad" on the spot by him) who has no father, no male guidance, and is being forcibly drawn to join a gang of youths, who naturally only want to make him a criminal like themselves.

Walt rescues the boy - after nearly shooting him for trying to steal his precious Gran Torino - and begins teaching him how to be a man. The path of this road from racist neighbor to reluctant mentor is short enough to keep the movie from dragging and long enough for you to see he's got no choice in the matter. He's amazed at what the boy doesn't know.

I said Eastwood was humanistic, right? As you might suspect, his mentoring is fairly comedic - teaching the boy how to curse and complain like a working class man, what tools are for and how to shake hands. Even more important - how not be clueless when a girl has her eyes on you.

I found myself wishing I had had someone more like Walt in my life - but with a deeper faith in God. I still didn't do too bad, but I have large gaps in my practical knowledge that I am only now filling in. [Side note: I actually tried to take Vocational School training in High School so I could learn all that cool stuff about electricity and mechanics, etc. School counselor wouldn't let me. Said that was for 'non college-bound students.' Crap on a stick - I can't tell you how many times I have wandered through a hardware store stupefied while the money I got for doing some ad in graphic design was long gone.]

I ended up liking this movie - with its sincere young "padre" who was like many Catholic priests a fine philosopher and humanitarian dressed up in religious robes. My bud watching with me and I both had come to Christ and been born again after years of religion and saw a lot of ourselves in him as well: we also knew the 'words' but not the 'tune.'

Jesus changed all that for him and me. Jesus became my mentor, my friend. And that is also why I liked Gran Torino.

Because whether he realized it or not, Clint got very close to the truth of Christ in the end. That Jesus did not die for everybody, but for His elect. The friends He's chosen. The ones He also taught and the ones who loved Him for changing their lives.

When Walt makes THE sacrifice to save Thau and his sister from this H'mong gang, we see precisely what Christ did for His sons and daughters who placed their trust in Him.

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

"This is the verdict: Light HAS come into the world - but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."

Eastwood, for all his flaws, stands by this truth - that men who are evil hate the light. And light, even if it must be snuffed out, is worth living for. Worth dying for.

In Gran Torino, racist curmudgeon Walter Kowalski shines brightly at the end of his life, discipling a young Asian man into manhood and leaving him with his greatest treasure. That makes this film probably the best thing I've ever seen Eastwood make.

See it with someone who has anger issues and enjoy yourselves.



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