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Life Arts    H3'ed 1/10/09

Gran Torino and the Politics of 'Get Off My Lawn!'

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The endearing aspect of Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” is not that Clint Eastwood’s character Walt is a vigilante character (similar to many of the characters that Eastwood has played). What makes this film stick with you is the way with which Eastwood’s character navigates a world he knows he has lost control of---a world that has gotten out of hand.

The story development and script by Dave Johannsen and Nick Schenk unfolds meticulously and the two novice writers deserve credit for providing material with the potential to be turned into gold by Eastwood.

The way the dialogue and actions of the characters take place, the manner with which the camera shifts angles and the technique which determines the beginning and end of a scene is clear evidence that the film’s director, Eastwood, is a pro.

A sign of a great movie is one which involves a character who is constantly faced with stakes that are being raised against him or her.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) could be best described as an “old-timer”, one very much set in his ways. He has seen some serious sh*t in his day and knows more about death than life.

Having served in Korea during the Korean War, Walt is an example of what happens to men who kill others in any war or conflict. 

Walt’s involvement in the Korean War shapes him into a man who is rejecting and/or afraid of other sections of society that have immigrated to America. Particularly, the Hmong family next door is a source of irritation for Walt.

Minutes into the film, the audience sees a funeral ceremony for Walt’s wife. The story wastes no time establishing the characteristics of Walt and it’s in this first scene that you start to see Walt’s face contort as he sees belly-button rings and text-messaging, which contradict his traditional values.

The story gains its plot from the fact that an Asian gang eggs a member of the Hmong family living next door on. That member, Tao, is bullied into joining the gang and made fun of for being like a girl.  

After becoming tired of constantly being picked on, Tao reluctantly tries to prove himself and accepts an initiation: steal Walt’s 1972 Gran Torino.

The result of Tao’s attempt to steal the Gran Torino jump starts the film, which moves at just the right pace for the rest of the movie giving the audience a chance to see all the players in this world that has gotten out of hand make their case for being the way that they are.

Eastwood’s character, Walt, is very much a person who believes in personal responsibility and believes a man should keep to himself. People should not intrude on others.

Walt is every American’s grandfather. He served America in Korea, he came home, he’s kept his lawn maintained, he’s kept up a tool shed and made sure his house does not have a sub-par look to it, he doesn’t bother other people, and he went with his wife to church every week despite his doubts on life and death.

At some point, the viewer knows Walt could not live much longer. Feeling threatened by the presence of Asian people he thought Americans fought and killed and defeated long, long ago, he wonders why they are in America fouling up his neighborhood with their gangs and inability to properly to take care of their houses.

Too much is un-American. The neighbors don’t speak English. His son bought a Japanese car and didn’t “buy American.”

Walt knows the world by the American centric views in his mind and has an ethnic slur for every person who is unknown to him. Yet, this unknown is not racist; it is a sign of weakness.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for
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