Saturday, January 31, 2009

See Gran Torino: Forget the Oscars

Just a very quick note to say that Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino is full of paradoxes, the foremost ones being (1) that an ostensibly racist old man demonstrates what it means to relate to other people on the basis of their character rather than their race, religion, etc., (2) that an ostensibly angry old man epitomizes selfless love, and (3) that an ostensibly anti-religious old man teaches the priest in the movie the essence of religion. The Gran Torino (car) in the movie instantiates the paradoxes (but I will not say why for the sake of those who have not seen the movie).

This movie makes a thoughtful viewer rethink what it means to be a good person. It does so by putting its hero in the body of an old, scowling, disillusioned man whose attitudes and language are not just politically incorrect, but the stereotype of racism in action. Yet Eastwood's character (Walt) comes to realize that "I have more in common with these people (his Hmong neighbors) than my own family."

By the end of Gran Torino it is apparent that Walt's anger and disillusionment come from his awareness that America has become superficial and spoiled, and that those who have the courage to buck the shallow values cannot be superficially identified by race or class or religion, etc. but only by their character. "Walt" may be the most unlikely character imaginable to embody Martin Luther King's goal to have it be the content of a person's character that matters, but that is what makes Gran Torino a wonderful movie--along with the terrific acting and compelling story. It is outrageous and funny and exciting and important in its ability to confront our easy assumptions.

The Academy has lost its credibility with me for failing to give Eastwood a single nomination for this terrific movie.

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