Gran Torino Is a 2008 Essay

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Ironically, when Walt's last Will and Testament are read, he has left his house and estate to the Church; a final tribute to his wife's years of devotion, and even perhaps, we are given to believe, to Father Janovich's unwavering belief in the goodness of humans.

Walt is almost a quintessential example of someone who has become so embittered by the temporal world that he cannot see the beauty of life or the nature of spirituality. Walt likely went through life much as most of the Post World War II generation; life was planned, this is what you did; you fought for your country, came home, got a job, raised a family, retired, drank at the local pub, and let your wife handle the Church and all the emotional issues. Trouble is -- this paradigm often results in a great deal of burying emotions, of distancing from one's family, and of putting far too much idealized faith in having one's spouse around to handle all the issues that life has to offer. When someone is married for five decades, they are so used to each other's moods and foibles that they are typically able to work through their differences, or have learned to simply ignore them. When Walt loses this connection, he becomes even more self-centered, bitter, and cynical about life -- and certainly that God took away his wife; what power can the Church have if something so bad happened to him?

Stance on Christianity - Gran Torino is not what one might see as a typical socio-religious film. The main character is certainly a sinner, and seemingly proud of it. Walt has killed people, is not ashamed, curses with almost every breath, and is unabashedly critical of the Church. He does not come to God easily, he does not even come to God publically, but he does seem to embody the very nature of some aspects of Christianity in his fervent belief in right and wrong, his protection of the innocent, his feelings of duty and honor, and his final acts of selflessness and gifts. Essentially, what greater gift could Walt have given the community than his life, and yet he did it in a way that would protect others from the menace of the gang without using violence, only verbal taunts. Throughout the film, one get the sense that Walt is cynical because he has actually lost his faith, and that Father Janovich knows this, and is offering Walt "an excuse" if not permission, to realign with the belief system he already holds. Father Janovich is not a Christian who believes only in the dignity of the few, or that humans should be ministered to only if they are perfect. Rather, he knows that human beings are individuals who are on a path towards God, a path towards becoming more than they are, and indeed, a continual path towards actualization. Thus, the Church as an entity is but a catalyst in Walt's journey, it is more what the Church embodies and stands for that becomes the message of the film. It is not, as we might have been led to believe, "might makes right," but rather, that sometimes the strong must protect the weak and show them the right path.

Opinion and Conclusions -- Despite an almost continuous litany of swearing, likely put in to bring the audience into the frame of reference of the neighborhood and demographic, the movie was well done, interesting, and above all, insightful. I am reminded of the stories of the martyrs and those who, for their religious fervor, were willing to give their lives for the glory of God. Walt is not quite that selfless -- he has a terminal illness and symptoms that are getting worse and worse. But, instead of dying an old man, alone in a hospital room, angry with God and the world, Walt buys a new suit, puts his affairs in order, and become synergistically greater than himself by his selfless gift! To me, the abject cynicism and Walt's negativism all lead up to this lesson that he imparts to Thao and the Hmong community -- in some ways, it is a unique dual-bias that is won over, as we see at the funeral, through a final act of contrition and love.…[continue]

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