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I liked Gran Torino. I really did. It was like wrapping myself up in an old blanket, as old as Clint himself, predictably warm, comforting as expected, reliable, and safe. As anticipated, the movie is something of a comedy, due in large part to an over-the-top performance by Eastwood, whose character, Walt Kowalski, a racist Korean War curmudgeon, is a living Dictionary of Outmoded Racial Slurs (welcome back, zipperhead!) and a grizzled, grumpy bear who actually growls when he’s angry.
I didn’t mind the stubborn determinism of the story either. Grandpa’s such an outlandish racist that he MUST eventually befriend his little yellow neighbors and he MUST be transformed by that friendship and, therefore, he MUST gain redemption. Our friend Raymond mentioned Crash in his post about Gran Torino, which is a perfect comparison, another movie where the characters are simply chess pieces sailing across the board to their predetermined destinies–redemption or damnation, with nothing in between.
All that said, the politics of this movie are seriously effed. It’s not just that, once again, the Big White Dude teaches the Little Yellow Dude lessons in manhood (literally, in this instance, when Walt teaches Hmong teenager Thao how to curse and swagger and swing like a big dick). Or that the Big White Dude saves the Little Yellow Dude–unable to protect himself or his family, of course–and gets to be the hero. In Gran Torino, which has a lapsed-Catholic (that would be Walt) storyline running through it, the Big White Dude doesn’t just get to be redeemed, he is the Redeemer. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) The Big White Dude saves the Little Yellow Dude not through violence, but through pacifism and sacrifice. He martyrs himself for the Little Yellow Dude (conveniently, the Big White Dude’s also terminally ill, just so the audience, I suspect, doesn’t think he’s a total death-wishing lunatic). Just in case you missed that point, the Big White Dude is pumped full of bullets in the end, and falls dead to the ground in a crucifixion shape, his body, like Christ’s, riddled with holes.
And, you know, I gotta problem with that. Is this a movie or is this missionary work? Because I don’t need to be converted. I don’t need to be saved. I don’t need to be shown the Way, the Truth, and the Life by another White Savior, thank you very much, amen.