The Redemptive Power of Sacrifice
Release Date: December 17, 2008
Genre: Action Drama
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 116 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures/Time Warner
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Nick Schenk
Address Comments To:Jeffrey L. Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner
Barry M. Meyer, Chairman/CEO
Alan Horn, President/COO
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (New Line Cinema)
(A Time Warner company)
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001
Phone: (818) 954-6000
The story opens at the funeral of retired auto worker Walt Kowalski’s beloved wife. Walt, played by Clint Eastwood, is a gruff, cantankerous, foul-mouthed old man who hates his two sons and doesn’t like minorities. He even gives a hard time to the young Catholic priest, Father Janovich, at his wife’s church who earnestly wants to fulfill the wife’s dying wish for the priest to look after Walt and take his confession. Walt insults the priests. He tells the father in no uncertain terms that he’s not really a believer, hates church and only went there to please his wife.
Walt is particularly upset when he sees a family of Hmong Asians from Southeast Asia move in next door. He resents all the foreign faces of Asians, Latinos and blacks who all think the neighborhood now belongs to them. Walt just wants to be left alone, but one night, the shy teenager next door, Thao, tries to steal Walt’s beloved 1972 Gran Torino, after being pressured by Hmong gangbangers, led by his mean cousin.
Walt scares Thao away with his M1 rifle from the Korean War, where Walt earned the Silver Star. Another night he also scares away the cousin’s gang who come to force Thao back into the gang.
By scaring the gang away, Walt becomes a hero to Thao’s family and the whole neighborhood of Asians. Thao’s older sister starts to make tentative friends with Walt. To his surprise, Walt discovers that he has more in common with the old-fashioned Hmong people than his own family, especially his punkish granddaughter.
Thao’s mother and Sue insist that Thao work for Walt to make amends for trying to steal Walt’s classic car. Thao starts helping Walt with some chores. When Walt runs out of things for Thao to do at his place, he puts Thao to work cleaning up and fixing the neighborhood’s rundown houses. This makes Walt even a bigger hero.
As Walt becomes Thao’s only male role model, Walt opens up to his Asian neighbors. He even opens up to the persistent priest, who makes an effort to understand Walt rather than just to judge him.
Things are going along smoothly, until the cousin’s gang decides they’ve had enough of this interfering American. More violence occurs. This leads to the movie’s sad, but strikingly redemptive, ending.
As noted earlier, Walt’s mean and rough demeanor comes with lots of strong foul language and racist attitudes. The language from the local neighborhood gangbangers isn’t much better. At one point, Walt even shows Thao how to curse like a macho sailor with other American males.
Despite this problem, GRAN TORINO has many powerful moments of pathos that lead to its redemptive conclusion. These moments and the conclusion contain strong, positive Christian elements, including talk about repentance and forgiveness. The priest eventually succeeds, at least a little bit, in softening up Walt, who even ends up going to confession in one scene. Also, although Walt uses violence at times to stop the Asian gang, and there is talk of getting revenge against these evildoers, the ultimate answer to the problem is not violent revenge, but sacrifice. In fact, Walt cautions Thao at one point that anger and violence, even to protect oneself, have psychological consequences that are not pretty. Even better, the example of sacrifice in the movie actually ends up re-establishing law and order, which is exactly what Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice is supposed to do.
One other problem in the movie should be noted. There are two scenes where an elderly Hmong shaman reads Walt’s life and performs a superstitious house opening ceremony. These two pagan incidents add to a light, politically correct message of multiculturalism that the movie seems to have. At the end, however, the Hmong and the Americans are shown sitting together in the priest’s church. Symbolically, this shows that the power of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross brings all people together, into God’s Kingdom. Amen!
Thus, while it’s hard to tell at times where exactly this movie is going to end up, the story actually ends up in a good, positive place. Hopefully, that will inspire some moviegoers to consider Christianity as the best, most powerful answer to the problems in America’s rundown neighborhoods full of evil, violent and callous gangbangers.
GRAN TORINO has many powerful emotional moments. Those moments build to a redemptive ending with positive Christian content. In the end, the Hmong neighbors and Walt’s family are shown sitting together in the priest’s church. Symbolically, this shows that the power of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross brings all people together. Regrettably, the movie is filled with strong foul language, so extreme caution is warranted. There is also some strong violence, but it’s not excessively graphic. A couple scenes are shocking, however.