Clint plays a rather crotchety old man called Walt Kowalski, an old blue collar former Ford- auto-worker from Detroit. Walt has been living in the same neighbourhood for most of his life. He is also a Korean War veteran. Walt is generally disgusted with most things in life, but he becomes especially dismayed as gradually, his neighbourhood is taken over by immigrants. People of Hmong descent have moved in, whilst most of the white people have moved out. The Hmongs are Vietnamese, but for Walt, that is close enough to Korea to be bad. Nevertheless, Walt stays.
They other thing that has grown up in the area is gang culture. One of the Chinese gangs are hounding the Hmong family who live next door to Walt in order to get the young boy, Thao, to join. One day, Walt stands up for their daughter against some belligerent gang members and takes her home. Whilst the girl starts to befriend him, Thao is bullied into trying to steal Walt’s pride and joy, his 1972 For Gran Torino, as an initiation rite to the gang.
Thao does not succeed, but is caught by Walt. As the family try and atone for the young boy’s behaviour, he is drawn towards them. Thao is loaned to Walt as a worker to work of the debt, and, as Walt spends time with Thao, he begins to act as a father figure to him, to protect him and draw him away from the gang.
Joining this gang would get Thao into a lot of trouble – robberies, murders and so on. It would scupper Thao’s chances of having a decent life, going to college and would push him down the life of crime. Thao doesn’t want this either and needs the direction of a father figure.
Towards the end of the film Walt decides to do something about this gang which has been plaguing the neighbourhood. He goes round to their house late one evening and confronts them. He pretends he has a gun (but actually only has a cigarette and a lighter). As he pretends to draw this non-existent gun (but is actually reaching for the lighter), he is shot. The gang is immediately arrested and jailed, out of Thao’s life.
Walt’s sacrifice saved Thao from the gang. It dealt with the trouble and allowed the him to live a decent life. Oh, and Thao got left the Gran Torino.
There are many religious overtones in this film, made obvious but the inclusion of a young Catholic priest who strikes up a friendship with Walt. For me, the most powerful metaphor was that of the sacrifice which gave life. Walt’s sacrifice was necessary to free Thao from the burden of the gang.
The obvious comparison is with Jesus. The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah, speaking against all the sin and corruption of his nation, had warned of judgement. However, in the same breath, he also said this:
Be silent before the Sovereign LORD,
for the day of the LORD is near.
The LORD has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited. (Zeph 1:7)
The apostle Paul sheds more light on the needs for such a sacrifice:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Rom 3:23-25)
All fall short of God’s standards, yet can be brought to God nevertheless. This reconciliation needs a sacrifice to redeem (pay for) the sin. The purpose of this is to give life and enable all to reach their God-given potential. Jesus said:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
A great Christian metaphor from an excellent film.