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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

Gran Torino – Forgiveness & Redemption

Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this moving drama tells the story of a racist old widower who is ultimately touched by Grace and moved to sacrifice himself for his Korean neighbors. The message that God can work even in the grumpiest of hearts is one that we can all be inspired by.

The main character of the movie “Gran Torino” is Walt’s a tobacco chewing, chain-smoking Korean War vet and a no nonsense kind of guy. His pride and joy is a 1972 Ford Gran Torino. He doesn’t do well with change, including the changes his neighborhood is going through. What used to be a white suburban Michigan neighborhood is now one filled with multi-racial gang wars and a predominantly Asian community. Walt is too stubborn to move, and now that his wife is gone, it’s just him and his dog Daisy, left to sit on the porch, drink beer, and grumble under his breath about his neighbors.

Things change, however, when Walt catches someone trying to steal his Gran Torino. That someone is next door neighbor Thao, a teenage boy who’s being initiated into a gang. It’s through this incident that Walt finally connects with those in his neighborhood. Walt takes it upon himself to keep Thao out of the gang and out of trouble. An unlikely friendship begins to develop between Thao and Walt.

From that friendship comes an inspiring, redemptive, sometimes funny, and heartfelt film by Clint Eastwood. The film chronicles a man realizing the mistakes he’s made in his life and finding his way to come to terms with them and accept forgiveness. It also does a great job of showing to viewers a realistic portrayal of the generation of Walt Kowalski: hard working, good hearted, but rough around the edges.

Gran Torino‘s first scene takes place in a church, and Walt is a Catholic. But his faith is a very reluctant faith When his priest, Father Janovich, encourages him to go to confession, Walt says, “I confess I never cared for church much.” He mocks the priest for claiming to understand life and death, and when Janovich notes that better men than Walt have been helped through confession and faith, Walt agrees—and then callously splices the f-word into the middle of “hallelujah.”

Walt does eventually go to confession, and we learn that he’s also willed his house to the Church—because, he says, that’s what his late wife would want done. After the gang attacks at the Lor house, Walt solicits advice from Janovich on what to do. And when Janovich suspects that Walt may try to violently take out the gang once and for all, the priest calls the cops and waits in front of the gang’s house for hours in an effort to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. He leaves only when the police force him to.

This movie represents sacrifice as worthwhile and alludes to the sacrifice of Christ. It affirms “traditional” values of hard work, steady character, and helping one’s neighbors. The movie also teaches us that the fundamental values do not have to change and the way “things used to be” is still a valid and valued way of living. Cherishing old cars, home ownership and upkeep, taking care of things—fixing them instead of abandoning and buying new is, in many respects, an anti-consumerist message which fits well with a Gospel call to stewardship.

Finally, this film also affirms a worldview that sees sin in everyone yet offers hope of redemption. That a life of guilty self-indulgence on Walt’s part can be redeemed in giving to and for others, in sacrificing even his life, is a hopeful message.

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