Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Engine hums and bitter dreams grow...

...heart locked in a Gran Torino." Gran Torino, by Clint Eastwood and Jamie Cullum.

So, as I mentioned before, I went to see Gran Torino with Bella last Saturday. We had a Very Long Day, and we wanted to go see a movie that was emphatically NOT a chick flick. Gran Torino was most definitely not a chick flick.

The story (yes, I'm spoiling the movie, so skip this paragraph if you don't want to know) basically followed a Korean War veteran, Walt (Clint Eastwood)'s life from his wife's funeral to his death.

It was full of language and racial slurs and violence, yet it was a surprisingly worthwhile and moving story. Initially, Walt makes snide comments about his Korean neighbors (based purely on race) and we note very early on that Walt's family is nothing to brag about, with self-absorbed sons who have raised obnoxious children, most notably a granddaughter who comes in an inappropriate dress to her grandmother's funeral and during the reception afterward asks her grandfather if she can have some of his furniture and his car (the 1972 mint condition Gran Torino) when he dies.

A gang attempts to coerce the boy next door, Thao, to join their group (headed by Thao's cousin), and he resists until they save him from a hispanic gang which makes him feel obligated to try to perform the initiation his cousin prescribes--to steal the Gran Torino from his neighbor, Walt. He fails and his family, which is comprised of his mother, grandmother, and sister, all insist that he make reparations for working for a full week for Walt, who grudgingly accepts.

A curious friendship forms between Walt and Thao, as well as with Sue, boy's sister, and they slowly replace Walt's unloving family. Walt, in turn, saves the Thao's life multiple times, gets him a job, teaches him "how to talk like men," and gets him started on his own tool collection.

It was in this discipleship aspect that the movie struck the deepest chord.

Thao had no father, and his sister and mother comment more than once how he has no good example in life to teach him to be manly. He is intellectual, with gentlemanly instincts (he carries groceries for an old lady at one point) and he resists evil in the face of ridicule.

But he also engaged in less manly behavior (especially by his family's standards)--he washed the dishes, he let his sister boss him around, he gardened. He was, in fact, falling in the cracks between two cultures while struggling to maintain a moral standard. Sue notes at one point in the movie that the men from her homeland all go one of two ways when they move to America: a wuss or a criminal.

This issue seemed incredibly appropriate for today, and especially in the little subculture in which I find myslef, where boys are raised with thier mother's primary influence (much for the best, undoubtably) and with strong morals, good intentions, and absolutely no backbone.

Last semester some friends and I looked at 100 Skills Every Man Should Know from Popular Mechanics and I counted something in the high 80s on the list that I have either done, dealt with, or been taught (For example, I've never actually treated frostbite--but I am Red Cross certified to treat it). The five guys who looked at the list with me were averaging fifties, with the closest runner up being around a 68. And these are not particularly effeminate guys--they are intelligent, seem to work out on a regular basis, and all of them are in thier early twenties.

And honestly, I don't think I'm an especially manly girl. I've done some crazy stuff, but I like to paint my nails, wear pretty dresses, and have the door held open for me. My one caviat with myself has always been that I don't wear pink. Yet here I am, being more "prepared" than these blue-ribbon, boy-scout, genius guys that I am supposed to look to for thier leadership qualities.

What has happened?

And that is the point this movie made. Walt took Thao under his wing and taught him to retain his moral standards--to help little old ladies with their groceries and to help out at home and to do the yardwork and such, but to also know how to step up and be the man--to deal with bullies, to talk "man talk," to fix things, to get a girlfriend (a priceless scene), and to collect tools (also a priceless scene: he gives Thao a "start" with his own tool collection with some WD-40, a vice grip, and some duct tape, saying, "any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone").

In the end, the selfless love Walt shows to his adoptive family in comparison to his selfish family makes you writh in a mixture of pride and shame for our confused American culture. It was a perfect picture of realistic lives in our American suburbs, and it certainly did not hide the bleak aspects of that life.

The movie also provided interesting religious commentary, as Walt's wife had made the young priest at their Catholic church "promise to make Walt come to a confession" after she died. The young man spent much of the movie debating with Walt over his bleak outlook on life, and there too an unlikely friendship arose.

This was not a movie for the delicate-minded, but it certainly was worthwhile. Beyond the depth in the message of the story, the filmography was marvelous, the acting superb, and the script extremely clever.

When it was all said and done, I walked away from the movie wanting to encourage all my guy friends to be real men.

This is a thought that'll have to be expanded later, but I think we women certainly messed up society with the whole feminist movement. Men who want to be men get their noses bitten off for "infringing on women's rights" (to work hard and be in bad situations), and you can be a useless doofus but be "sensitive" and be attractive for that. A balance of the gentler qualities with masculinity doesn't even seem to exist in my generation...

So yes, I thought it was a very good movie.

Isn't it ironic?

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