Being one of my favorite directors, Clint Eastwood knows how to make memorable films. Gran Torino, named after the main characters old Ford, is a film where Eastwood plays the main character, directs and produces. As a drama set in a multicultural neighborhood, the film captures both the differences and the similarities between two cultures, showing how communication is required to better a relationship.
As a Norwegian rap band, Karpe Diem, once said: “You’re not afraid because it’s unknown, you are afraid because you think you know me, and I am unsound”. In the beginning of the film, Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran, has many prejudices about his neighbors, the Hmong people. At several occasions, he offends them by calling them names, as well as blaming them for destroying his neighborhood. However, it is not only Mr. Kowalski who have something against his neighbor, the old Hmong lady next door feels the same way, asking herself why he will not leave. A reason for that might be that they both think they know how the other person is, feeling, therefore, no need to get to know each other. However, being a dynamic character, Mr. Kowalski changes during the course of the film, mostly due to communication.
In fact, Mr. Kowalski realizes at one point that he has more in common with his neighbors, than with his own family. That realization comes after Sue invites him to a dinner party, forcing him to talk to the Hmong people. Despite coming from two separate cultures, they are not as different as one might expect. What Mr. Kowalski learns, is that it is not only where people are from, and their culture, that defines them, it is how they act around others. As a result, it turns out that there is more to the people next door than a just strange language, they are kind and loyal, taking care of Mr. Kowalski as if he was one of their own. His family, on the other hand, tries their best to stay away from the old widower. Focusing, therefore, on the similarities (such as sense of humor) between himself and the Hmong people, Kowalski learn to like his neighbors, and consequently conquer his former racial prejudices.
The sense of belonging to a family leads Walt Kowalski to make the greatest sacrifice in the end of the film. For the best of his neighborhood, and the teenagers Sue and Thao, he gets himself killed, so that the local gang can be imprisoned. A sacrifice, such as the one Kowalski did, takes not only a lot of courage, but also a strong connection to the person/people who will benefit from it. The local gang had to be imprisoned, Mr. Kowalsi believed, for the teenagers to live a normal life, and the only way was to have someone witness their crime. A reason for why he sacrificed himself might be that he had a fatal disease, and therefore, thought it was better to “leave the world” helping someone close to him. For instance, he was determined that it was only he who should visit the local gang, locking Thao in the basement so that he would not ruin is life by killing. However, it could also be that Mr. Kowalski felt so strongly about his neighbors and the teenagers, that, if the gang kept on ruining their, he would have little to live for.
To summarize, Gran Torino is a film about relations in a multicultural neighborhood. Showing how communication is essential when it comes to proving prejudice wrong, the film encourages people to talk to their surroundings with an open mind, because one can be surprised. When a person, such as Walt Kowalski learns to like his neighbors, despite of them having different cultures, and ends up sacrificing himself for their best, there is hope for everybody. “You’re not afraid because it’s unknown, you’re afraid because you think you know me and I am unsound”. Do not let prejudice stop you from getting to know people, you might have more in common than you initially thought.