Friday, 6 March 2009

Gran Torino

We (literal, not royal) went to see Clint Eastwood's film Gran Torino yesterday. I would not normally want to recommend a film with as much swearing as this one (there is a lot, I don't suggest that you try to count the number of profanities as you will have to give up very quickly, and remember that the scenes shown in the trailer have been censored for language) or one with aspects of the story line that are as violent as this one (and some of the violence is quite raw).

But this turned out to be a film with a number of very interesting aspects.

1. In some ways, Clint Eastwood's character displays prejudice - in his attitudes to his neighbours. But it is not long into the film before his character is being shown in a rather softer light than this statement suggests. ... I was particularly struck by a scene where some misbehaviour by passing teens causes Clint Eastwood to comment to himself "See that. Young people these days!", and a few moments later add "Now, look at that" as one of his teen neighbours comes to help.

2. One aspect of the film, that becomes explicit in one sequence where Clint Eastwood's character listens to an explanation of Hmong culture from the daughter of his neighbours, is a dialogue between American culture (represented by Clint Eastwood's character) and the culture of Hmong immigrants to America. This really is quite fascinating to see developing as the film progresses, and it is done with considerable attention to detail, most especially in the dress of the Hmong family in the closing scenes. [The Hmong people are a hill people from the Laos/Thailand/Vietnam area of South East Asia. They sided with the Americans during the Vietnam War, and came to settle in America in the wake of that conflict.] The film is a very genuine and successful exercise in inter-cultural dialogue.

3. Another aspect of the film portrays vividly the problems of gang violence in a neighbourhood, and how difficult it is for young people to keep out of that way of life in areas where it is prevalant. The rawness of some of the violence arises from this. The story line of the film is built around Clint Eastwood's efforts to stop the son of his neighbour's family getting involved with a gang. Little things are well portrayed - that the parents/grandparents of an immigrant family might well not speak English, and rely on their children/grandchildren to translate for them. There is a very touching scene portraying this, when a little girl brings her Chinese grandfather over to ask for help with a job round the house, and she has to speak for her grandfather.

4. There is also a Catholic slant. Clint Eastwood's character is a lapsed Catholic, being regularly visited by his parish priest - see the trailer. Eventually, as the film approaches its climax, Clint Eastwood is shown going to confession, though one could perhaps argue that the substance of his confession is rather superficial. However, that came over to me less as a skit on confession and rather more a portrayal of an aspect of the character being portrayed by Clint Eastwood - an inability to understand just how objectionable he was to others. A scene with his neighbour teen in a barber's shop shows Clint Eastwood trying to make this teen a bit more of a man. He models this by entering the shop and greeting the proprieter in a conversation littered with profanity. The teen is then asked to come and behave in a "manly way". He repeats word for word what Clint Eastwood has said ... only to be told off for being rude, and being asked to do it properly and politely. Clint Eastwood's character just didn't seem to realise that his normal way of doing things was so rude ... Catholicism does get portrayed in a quite sympathetic way.

5. Another interesting aspect of the film arises from Clint Eastwood's character being a veteran of the Korean War. The character has a "past" that in some way stills lives with him, as a matter of both personal experience and culture. His encounter with his Hmong neighbours is coloured by this, because of their origins in South East Asia. The working out of this in his relations with his neighbours is another interesting thing to watch for in the film.

6. I might have given an impression of a film of constant swearing and violence. It is, however, in my view, a very intelligent film. It held my attention completely. A number of the aspects that I have mentioned have a universal value, applicable to any society influenced by the increased migration and globalisation resulting from conflict and modern means of travel and communication. It is a very moving film, too.

And the ending of the film is quite self-sacrificing. By saying which, I have probably given it away ... And Zero observed that many of those in the cinema were of an "older" age group, probably Clint Eastwood fans.


Fr John Abberton said...

I saw the film last week. Thank you for recommending it - I was going to do that. There is another aspect although some might think it a bit strained - at this time of the year, it has something of the shape of the Triduum. There is an experience of community, including much eating and feasting, during which we have a warning of something (as he coughs up blood). There is a preparation and a kind of "judgement" (a coming to terms, as it were) and then the ending.
The "resurrection" theme is expressed by both the boy and the car. Evil is vanquished etc. I know it is a bit strained, but somehow, whether Eastwood wanted this or not, there are parallels.

I agree that it is moving (and, at times, VERY funny).

Joe said...

Fr John:

Thank you for an interesting comment.

As I watched the ending in the cinema, my thoughts were to describe it as "eucharistic", in the sense of a self-offering for the salvation of others. This train of thought was prompted by Walt's going to "confession" - and interesting that the term used for the Sacrament was "confession" and not "reconciliation"! The word gives a sense of bearing or carrying a burden - which is what follows in the storyline. [It also put me in mind of the ending of The Exorcist, where I feel a eucharistic implication is much clearer.]

I do rather doubt that that was Clint Eastwood's intention. But, on the other hand, he definitely showed an appreciation of the significance of confession before entering on a moment of mortal danger.