Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

GRAN TORINO

By chance, this is the only hyped movie I didn’t get to see--until yesterday. It’s easily the best movie of the year, or maybe the last several years. There’s more about the strengths and weaknesses of our country as it once was and now is than in all the Oscar nominees put together. There’s also more about the proper relationship between the real, lonely, and judgmental inwardness of a real (wounded) man and the loving realism of (tough) real woman than almost any movie I’ve ever seen. The most hilarious scenes are about the Eastwood character teaching a shy Hmong young man with promise how to talk--with profane and politically incorrect affection--like a real American man. The movie is genuinely multicultural insofar as it shows that true virtue makes possible kinships that transcend profound cultural differences. It’s also "multicultural" in the sense that it causes us to reflect on the violence we did to our admirable and very traditional allies we abandoned (the Hmong) by forcing them, quite abruptly, to take up residence in some of the most decadent and dangerous places in our country. It’s also very pto-Catholic; one of the heroes is a priest who looks like a boy but (with some help) acts like the best of men (while still believing in sacred promises and the power of sacraments). And the Eastwood character (who believed, like a warrior, that religion is all about fooling credulous women) confesses to the boy priest who earned his admiration and is saying the Hail Mary at the hour of his sacrificial death (an unarmed warrior dying to make men--his friends--free). That this movie gives a much deeper and more convincing analysis of the American 1950s than REVOLUTIONARY ROAD goes without saying. There’s depravity portrayed realistically in this movie--but always for a reason.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Totally agree, Peter. It's a must-see. Any thoughts on the meaning of the title, i.e., the great bull?

PAUL, I think you might have some such thoughts. I don't have any beyond the obvious, for right now. I do have a lot more to say about the movie as a whole, but I'm holding back until I get a copy of the script.

I also agree. Very surprised by how good it was. Thanks for reminding me. Peter, good short review. I sent your paragraph on it to my son John in Okinawa (he is 21 today) just for your line: "...an unarmed warrior dying to make men--his friends--free."

One only has to know that Gran Torino is a great, timeless American film in the fact that it has made more money than all the films nominated for Best Picture this year and that Hollywood has completely ignored it.

"Gran Torino" is outstanding. It will probably be disappearing from theaters soon, so see it while you can. My reasons for thinking it oustanding are roughly the same as Professor Lawler's. But I would add that it is a deep and frontal challenge to just about every kind of political correctness. The movie is morally serious, thoughtful, well-acted, entertaining, and viscerally satisfying.

Pace Lawler, however, I would argue that the greatest strength of the film, and its deepest meaning, is none of the things he identifies, but rather this: It finds considerable virtue -- from the beginning, not just eventually -- in a man who is the epitome of everything the modern-day American culture (or anti-culture) and education (or anti-education) tells us to despise. And it is right to do that.
Thus my contention that it is a "deep and frontal challenge" to political correctness. It is far more than a portrayal of manliness, a plug for the Hmong, and a favorable portrayal of a priest (good though those things are).
In addition, the relationship between Kowalski and the girl is much less significance than that between him and the boy, her brother. Also of great significance are the confrontations between Kowalski and the various thugs; and even the brief portrayals of Kowalski's smug sons, in-laws and grandchildren. The real lesson lies not in his warming up to his previously alien and (to him) alienating Hmong neighbors, but in Kowalski's lonely, somewhat patholgical yet ultimately healthy, confrontation with the difficulties of modern life -- and with evil, in the form of modern thuggery.

Great comments by David F.

As a huge Eastwood fan, I liked Gran Torino too. I thought the climax was the best part of the film, not only emotionally and dramatically satisfying, but also philosophically moving -- a kind of evolution of his thought on whether violence is overwhelming and contagiously evil (as in Unforgiven or Mystic River), or whether human beings can somehow overcome violence or redeem it. I was moved by the film's (and Walt's) ultimate use of violence, by which Eastwood beautifully varied the Hollywood Western theme that lawless force is necessary to establish (or restore) procedural law and order. Instead of, say, Liberty Valence getting executed, the good guy lost his life, though for the moral end of justice: the Hmong thugs' "going away for a long time."

I also found it entirely fitting that Walt would warm up to his Hmong neighbors; after all, they were traditional too (unlike his own sons and grandkids). I'd figure that the Hmong would be patriarchal too, except that, curiously, there were no Hmong men in the story. Was the film implying that the Vietnamese Communists wiped out one or two generations of them (and thereby created the Hmong's social/familial crisis of male thuggery)? If so, then the film is more profound in its politics than I realized. Or maybe the absence of any reference to, e.g., Tao's father, grandfather, brothers, uncle was just the screenwriters' oversight?

That said, I found the barbershop scenes, with their ballbusting banter, cringingly contrived. Pop into an old-school barber shop anywhere, and you find the old guys there are taciturn, not struck with Tourtette's syndrome.

In addition, the scene with Sue strolling with that black thug-wannabe white kid (then encountering black thugs) made no sense, given her maturity and intelligence. It seemed inserted in the film (awkwardly) only for Walt to show his equal-opportunity bigotry, for him to rescue her and thus get to know her, and for the film to set up his final pull of the "gun."

In all, a flawed but at times truly brilliant film.

The two best, most insightful films released last year were Gran Torino and Let the Right One In, the first for what it says about America (per Peter Lawler) and the second for what it says about Europe.

JQA--some fine points, esp. on the absence of Hmong men.

This was a wonderful movie and it was disappointing that it was so ignored during Hollywood's big awards season. Also, just fyi, I live in a city with an enormous Hmong population and talked to a Hmong acquaintance about the movie. She said that her Hmong community was generally thrilled with the portrayal in the movie. She felt that it acurately portrayed the very real challenges of Hmong life in America, and was factually correct in addressing Hmong customs and traditions.

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