It’s the weekend; let’s go to the movies!

From left to right : Tom Stern, Clint Eastwood...

Clint Eastwood on the set of Gran Torino. Image via Wikipedia

We just saw “The Adjustment Bureau.” I won’t give away anything (except that it wasn’t a favorite). But it reminded me how rarely reviews help my husband and me know whether we’ll like a film, and encouraged me to share this bit I’d written after seeing a film you should be sure to see.

Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” got okay reviews because everyone loves seeing even an aged Eastwood point a huge gun menacingly at people. But in this particular film, the reviewers feel constrained to point out, he plays a racist yahoo. Eventually, he does a few good things for the immigrants who move into his urban neighborhood (once he stops waving his gun at them when they step on his lawn). End of movie.

It’s a little hard for me to understand how the reviewers missed the meat. Here’s the core of this very rich redemption story.

A newly widowed man won’t leave the house where he and his wife always lived – in spite of his anxiety about changes in the neighborhood. His children, who live in the suburbs, never contact him without pressuring him to move to a retirement community. He still passes time with a war buddy or two – like him, European immigrants who still rag each other with the rude ethnic nicknames of another era. And as time passes, he accidentally does a good deed for his new neighbors. They respond according to their culture, offering him the respect (and gifts) you share with an honored elder. As more time passes, he learns to accept their gifts, their respect, and their yearning for his leadership, becoming functionally the Polish elder of his neighborhood’s Hmong immigrant community.

Eventually, when Hmong gang threats to the community become out of control, and the fear of retribution has made it entirely impossible to get witnesses, he draws on the wisdom of his own Polish Catholic tradition. “Greater love hath no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” Because he is the honored elder, when he is publicly killed (and falls cruciform, in case you missed the point) everyone testifies; the gang members are jailed; and the community becomes safe. And his relatives don’t get what they want in his will – his prized Gran Torino. It goes to the immigrant kid next door, who has become his true son.

“Gran Torino” is one of the best redemption movies in a long time. A man’s life is redeemed from grief, loneliness, and lack of purpose; a community is redeemed from its inability to adapt to a new country, its fear of its own gangs, and ultimately from the gangs themselves. But our reviewer, who apparently only knows “the classic American movie iconography” of driving off in a car (plus the classic moment when Eastwood, as Dirty Harry, snarls “Make my day!”), missed the whole point.

Have you seen any good films lately?

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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3 Responses to It’s the weekend; let’s go to the movies!

  1. Cecy says:

    A story about redemption, and deeper meaning. Helpful in figuring out why my Lit. prof saw Fante’s “Ask the Dust” a story of ‘redemption through writing’ – and why I didn’t see it that way at all! Thanks once again, Carlene.

  2. Pingback: Get off my lawn!

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