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Friday, January 30, 2009

Gran Torino

Spoiler alert: don’t continue reading if you don’t want to know the ending of the movie.

Plot [from The Internet Movie Database]: Disgruntled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski's prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino.

Last night I saw Gran Torino for the second time. It was just as powerful, maybe more so than the first time I saw it. Nobody wants to get up after the movie is over. They sit there in stunned silence, some wiping away tears. Others just stare. Long after the Gran Torino pulls out of view and the credits have rolled, people are still hesitant to get up.

That’s the power of redemption.

But this isn’t a review of the movie. As I often say, I don’t do reviews here. Instead, I want to talk about something that at first glance seems rather ordinary about Walt Kowalski.

On the day he knows he’s going to give up his life, he mows his grass, he goes to confession for the first time in decades, he takes a bubble bath while smoking a cigarette in the bathtub (the first time he’d smoked in the house—something he apparently refrained from doing out of respect for his wife, who is now deceased), he gets a hair cut and a clean shave, he buys a new fitted suit (to be buried in), and he gives his dog away.

Not many of us get to knowingly choose our final acts on earth. But if we did, each activity would be a reflection of who we really are and what we really believe. By watching Walt’s final actions, we learn that he’s a practical man who understands that he’s made mistakes and who finds pleasure in routine and in the simple things of life. Actually, we already know all of this by this stage of the movie, but seeing him stay true to himself in his final hours is fulfilling.

The part that really got me the second time I saw the movie, was when he gives his dog away. He puts her on a leash and takes her next door to the family with the two kids he’s about to die for, and he tells the elderly woman on the porch that his dog’s name is Daisy. The woman doesn’t speak a lick of English, so she has no idea what Walt is saying, but it seems like it is important to him to say his dog’s name one last time. Then he strokes Daisy on the head once or twice, and then he’s gone—off to face his mortality.


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