Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Walt and his family: religion
The opening of the film introduces us to WALT KOWALSKI at the funeral of his wife. The opening scene and the next (the wake) show us that Walt has no desire to belong either to his family or to his religion. Everything jars with Walt, from the young priest giving the eulogy to his granddaughters belly button ring, from the Japanese car driven by his son to his granddaughters crass selfishness. He perceives his family as selfish, materialistic and shallow. His family also reject and are intolerant of him. He also rejects the ties of belonging represented by religion though we only learn the real reason for this later. It’s quite plain he thinks that the young priest knows absolutely nothing about life or death and is singularly ill qualified to speak at any funeral let alone his wife’s. When the priest turns up at the wake he is almost unbelievably rude: “I have no desire to confess to a boy who is fresh out of the seminary”. The wake scene also shows Walt’s racism and rejection of the family next door – the Hmongs – through his overtly racist comments (“swamp rats...zipper head”.) and his refusal to help Tao with the jumper leads. He’s horrified by the sacrifice he witnesses in the neighbours’ back yard. But his rejection of and isolation from his own family are contrasted with the family next door: their own gathering represents how strong still are the ties of religion and family, despite the tensions and conflict over Tao. Tao and the Hmong gang
In poor neighbourhoods gang culture can be a substitute for the wider sense of identity which comes from belonging to and sharing the values of society at large – especially when you feel your own culture is rejected. The fact that the gangs in this movie – Hispanic, Black, Asian – are based on race makes them in a way a racist defence against racism – ironically the kind of racism represented by Walt’s attitudes in the film. The Hmong gang rescue Tao from the Hispanics and then try to enlist him, offering him protection, identity and a sense of belonging – all things he’s struggling to find. He reluctantly accepts and agrees to their “initiation” – to steal the Gran Torino. In these scenes various “ways of belonging” are represented: the language (ironically both the gangs speak a similar language), the clothes, the racist attitudes, as well as the way gang membership appears to meet the need for safety and security. Tao is having trouble finding a sense of identity and belonging with his family who reject him because he’s “not a man”. Gran Torino
The car, like Walt himself, is a symbol of an America which no longer exists if it ever did: and Walt’s efforts at keeping it in absolutely perfect condition while he himself drives around in a rusty pick up, show him standing against an inevitable tide of change. There’s a conflict between what has given Walt his sense of identity and belonging – the America he fought Asians to preserve – and the present reality where the Asians have moved in to his neighbourhood and his own family have not only moved away but themselves reject the old values. Detroit – where he still lives – was the centre of the car industry (until it was challenged by the Japanese cars Walt hates and his son sells) and symbolises both America’s past industrial strength, and its present industrial decline. Of no less importance here are Walt’s house (note the American flag defying change), his garage with its tools and the clearly marked boundaries he tries to maintain between his lawn and the neighbours. The two rescue scenes
In the first scene Walt is completely unaware that he is doing anything to rescue anyone. As far as he is concerned he is just defending his territory: “Get off my lawn!” When Tao is saved from the gang he repeats his order to the rest of the family. All he cares about is that he has been “invaded” by the “gooks” next door....