Gran Torino (2008)

Published: Dec 31, 2009 |Updated: Aug 23, 2014

Synopsis

Walt Kowalsky is a Korean war veteran who has just lost his wife. He is on poor terms with his two sons and his grandchildren are spoilt brats. All he now cares for in the world are his dog and his Gran Torino. But through an unexpected turn of events the insecure Asian boy next door becomes his willing student in life, and Walt has something to live for yet again. Gran Torino is a lovely movie that shows us the importance of old-fashioned masculine values.

Genre
Drama
Production year
2008
Director
Clint Eastwood
Male actors
Clint Eastwood

General spoiler alert!

» What is there to learn from a hardened, conservative racist?

Walt Kowalsky is a stern, old man who always wears a scowl on his face. And with good reason. The world that he lives in has changed drastically from the one he grew up in. And according to Walt, it's not for the better.

Ashley's disrespect

Some of the greatest problems facing our society today are hinted at in Dorothy's funeral, the movie's opening scene. Walt's wife was a devout catholic. Walt, on the other hand, is not too fond of the Church and its clergymen, but still demands that his family members respect the sacredness of the ritual. So when his grandchildren arrive to – while showing not a sign of mourning or respect – violate the sacred space with their childish antics and gadget addiction, he growls quietly.

In a later scene, Walt enters his garage and finds his granddaughter taking a smoke. The obnoxious and altogether unlikable Ashley asks Walt what he plans to do with his Gran Torino vintage car when he "...well, dies". This scene is completely shocking, but so true to a pervasive mentality among today's young that we may fail to bat an eyelid. Faced with the temptation of laying her hands on Walt's nice car, she effectively wishes him dead as soon as possible – and takes it for granted that SHE will have the car, even though she appears to never have done anything nice for Walt. There is something profoundly wrong with this picture.

What is going on here? Is Ashley just one particularly spoilt brat or are there larger things at work here? To uncover the nature of the huge rift between Walt and Ashley in this scene, we must dig deeper into the developmental trends of Western culture. I will therefore now take you on a roundabout way towards the core of the story.

Postmodernism and the culture of entitlement

When Postmodernism arose in the 1960s, it was in reaction to the negative aspects of traditional and modern mindsets. Postmodernists saw that traditionalists depicted the world as black and white and filled with saints and sinners. The modernists, on the other hand, were seen to plunder the planet and divide the world into winners and losers. Figuring this was bad, postmodernists started deconstructing all truths and hierarchies in order to pull the rug under these two predominant worldviews. The core idea was that everything that separated people into groups or put one person above another was evil.

Since it can be argued that gender can be a way of grouping people, postmodernism has gone to the extreme of deconstructing the differences between men and women. Through some leap of the imagination, they have convinced themselves that men and women are one and the same, and that gender is a sociocultural construct. This is of course foolish beyond belief. The biological differences between men and women are so out in the open that making such arguments is akin to madness. No wonder these dolts end up divorcing each other en masse. Also, because of the postmodern aversion to hierarchies, parents have practically lost their position of authority, which can be seen in the way Ashley and her siblings pretty much control the family. Anyway, when we combine this understanding with the unobjectionable fact that feminism grows out of the very same cultural trend that gave rise to postmodernism, we see that in this worldview, there is no place for a positive image of men or boys. Boys are considered, as many writers have pointed out, "broken girls".

The postmodern world is a place where fathers are ignored or devalued and boys and men are discriminated against for the supposed evils they cause in the world. Authority – a cornerstone of all good child rearing and life tutoring – is considered mere oppression and any attempts of fostering discipline is met with shouts of victimization. In the postmodern world, age is considered to have no inherent value, and the idea of life experience as something valuable is a totally lost concept. All that is left is "I have my truth and it is mine to have. I am worth everything that comes to me and I should not be expected to work for it. I will not accept criticism or feedback, for I clearly know the subjective truth about ME better than all others. I am a beautiful garden, God's perfection made manifest on this Earth, and all people must venerate me by caring for my every desire."

Girls do better than boys in this world, for reasons obvious for anyone who have studied how men and women grow, although far too many of them become intolerable, little cretins who think the world is a playground designed specifically to cater for all their wants. They are almost correct: The Western world has over the last several decades been carefully crafted into a world that cares for and empowers girls at the exclusion of boys. In fact, in schools and society at large, any signs of a boy acting true to his proactive and lively nature is met with great contempt and the desire to "cure" him of his masculinity. Somewhere along the way, his true masculine self is banished from him and the politically correct elite rejoices. Boys, now out of touch with themselves and without role models, suffer tremendously.

Sue, the Hmong girl next door to Walt, describes the result in one scene: "Actually, it's really common. Hmong girls over here fit in better, we adjust. The girls go to college and the boys go to jail."

A new family

Walt's disillusionment with the world's development has him fast at work isolating himself in his house. With only his golden retriever Daisy and his 1972 Gran Torino to keep him company, Walt is a lonely man.

But Walt isn't the only lonely man on his street. Sue's brother Thao is also a little man whose soul is lonely and troubled. He is a lost kid who lacks confidence and the ability to assert himself. His conservative family is concerned that he is not turning into the man that he should be at his age.

Walt and Thao's neighborhood is a troubled one, plagued by restless gangs. Other movie reviews on Masculinity Movies (e.g. American History X) discuss how the presence of gangs is a sign of absent fathers and this is true here as well. Thao's father is absent (perhaps dead) and there are no role models in his life. He becomes the target of his cousin's gang, a small group of unfathered boys who try to teach each other how to be men. They talk the reluctant Thao into stealing Walt's Gran Torino as a form of gang initiation – as a way of turning him into a man – but it goes wrong and Thao runs off into the night while Walt recovers from kissing the garage floor.

When Thao's cousin later returns for him with the rest of his crew, Walt intervenes with a shotgun at the ready, showing them who is the biggest badass present. There is a certain potency about Walt here that is likable, even though he is rude and uncivilized. Even his absolutely horrid comment to one of the Hmong gang members "You’re nothing to me. In Korea, we stacked fucks like you five feet high and used you as sandbags," is in danger of drawing a smile from my lips. Not because I appreciate that horrific image, but because these kids think they are badass motherfuckers, and here they meet Clint–frigging–Eastwood, whose character has seen a whole other realm of badass: The Korean war. The gang realize they are outmatched and retreat. Life experience still matters.

From near and far, members of the Hmong community arrive to offer blessings of food to Walt for the service he rendered in Thao's protection. Of course Walt was only fending for his own property and wants nothing, but the ongoing kindness of these somewhat naive, but lovely people start getting to his heart. A couple of steps further down the road, and he is Sue's invited visitor for a family party. He finds himself oddly at home there and mutters to himself in disbelief "Geez, I have more in common with these gooks than my own spoiled rotten family".

Thao and Walt learn to serve

One day, Thao starts working for Walt to make amends for his attempt at the Gran Torino. This is where the core storyline boots up. Thao doesn't know what he is good for, but as Walt's increasingly willing student, he starts to discover that he is a capable young man with good hands to spare. As Walt gets over his initial resentment, he starts warming up to Thao and takes him under his wing.

One scene offers a clue to his change of heart. An old lady across the road from Walt loses her groceries on the tarmac as she unloads her car and one of the three boys that pass her as it happens pretends to violate her from behind. They laugh as they hop down the road, and Walt scowls and asks himself "what the heck is wrong with young people these days". Then Thao shows up to help her, and Walt's demeanour changes immediately. It's as if Thao in this scene gives Walt a glimmer of hope that there are still young people in this world who are willing to offer their service to others out of mere kindness and a desire to help. His appreciation for that is a far more potent force in him than his racism towards the Hmong family.

Thao is neither rebellious, narcissistic nor needlessly aggressive. True, he is a boy "without balls", but that is workable. Unlike Walt's grandchildren, Thao has a good heart. As Walt slowly comes to recognize the nature of Thao's character, he discovers something worth living for: Helping Thao become a man. Fascinatingly, the first job Thao is given by Walt has an almost zen–like quality to it. Thao is a good for nothing nobody at that point, so Walt tells him to "count the birds." It's like a meditation, a kind of purification practice. Here's the secret: Counting birds for a day may teach you more about yourself than studying psychology for a month.

The most important thing that Thao learns during his time working for Walt is how to serve his local community. Walt's property is neatly kept and has no real use for Thao's services. Instead, Walt comes up with the idea to send Thao on repair jobs to his neighbors. Walt's intentions initially seem quite self–serving; he just wants to get rid of the visual disturbance from his neighbours' properties. But becoming the local handyman makes a world of difference to Thao. We should remember that true confidence for any man comes only when he starts living a life of true service, with no expectation of compensation. Seeing Thao's growth and service, Walt knows he has done good. Something changes in Walt – he feels positive about life again. Walt too has learned to serve.

Becoming a man

As the mentoring relationship matures, Walt teaches Thao – in perhaps the movie's funniest scene – to "speak like a man". There's much to learn from this. The masculine grows from challenge more than it does from praise. In today's politically correct, sanitized society, you can't really communicate in ways that inspire the masculine. Male friendships in today's world are often too focused on offering understanding and support. This is of course important, but as far as ways to get a man to snap out of it and rise to the challenge are concerned, it just doesn't work. The crass tone Walt has with the local Italian barber would offend many modern men, but as we see from this scene, there is a deep love in their verbal combat. And as the scene points out, there is a big difference between being rude and showing appreciation through masculine communication.

Walt gets Thao a job and even teaches him about women. In an unlikely turn of events, he goes to the outrageous step to lend him his Gran Torino (the one he tried earlier to steal!) to take his date to town in style. This is a telltale sign of Walt's deepening appreciation for Thao. The Gran Torino is a symbol of this; cars are for many men a point of connection. Some cars are passed on to the next generation and become a kind of family heirloom, a symbol of male lineage. By offering Thao his Gran Torino, Walt practically suggests "you are family". It is a testament to Walt's recognition of Thao's growth into manhood.

Letting go

The Hmong gang is still after Thao. And when Walt's desire to intervene with their harassment of him goes too far, they brutally retaliate in the only way their immaturity lets them: a drive–by–shooting and the rape of Sue. In the shared desire to protect the Hmong family, Thao and Walt become even closer. Walt's experience from the Korean war start showing and he tells Thao that this is the time not for rash retaliation, but for careful planning.

Before he sets his plan in motion, Walt fulfills Dorothy's last wish and sits confession with Father Janovich. Something has changed in his mind. He knows what to do. And he is at peace with it. As he arrives at the den of the gang members, he lets go – and the Hmong gang is no more. I'm keeping this a little cryptic on purpose.

Conclusion

Gran Torino is a beautiful movie about the importance of role models. In evolutionary terms, Walt isn't a very advanced human being (in Spiral Dynamics terms, he is largely Blue with spatters of Orange), but the values he holds are exactly the ones that Thao requires to move ahead in his life. Walt's sons, on the other hand, appear to be Spiral Dynamics Green, which means that they are not too concerned with loyalty, structure, growth hierarchies, service and authority. The results of that can be seen in the disgusting behaviour of their children. Extreme Green so undermines the positive qualities of the Masculine that kids risk turning into degenerates. Ashley is a perfect example.

Men on Spiral Dynamics Green, we understand, are hopeless role models for young men and women. They tend to carry a host of negative attitudes towards everything masculine, which in some cases turns them into huge conspiracy theorists that idealize everything feminine while looking for signs that evil men are trying to destroy the world. And who knows, perhaps such men exist, but for the large part, they are merely mental fabrications of men whose masculinity has been banished from them by the politically correct liberal establishment.

Walt Kowalski is a conservative who reminds us of important masculine qualities. Taken as a whole, he is absolutely not someone to be modelled, but his qualities in teaching and caring for Thao are vital components in the "New Man". We must maintain all good aspects of Green as we move on to 2nd tier consciousness by integrating those very values Walt exemplify. Men aren't meant to be weak, apathetic and confused nobodies who waste away living meaningless lives. This statement is not machismo – it is a statement pointing to the true and enormous power of men. It's time to reclaim that power. And for that to happen, you need someone to show you the ropes.

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8.1

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