Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gran Torino

I love stories of redemption. Yesterday I got to see one of the most powerful movies I've seen in a long time in Gran Torino. I'm amazed at the power of a good story. As a Christian, I found this movie to be one of the best redemption stories I've ever seen. It's a story of love, of regret, and of hope in the midst of pain. Unfortunately, many Christians probably won't see this movie. To start with, it's rated R. And for good reason. It's not a family movie. The language in the movie is disturbing, from the very frequent F-bombs, to the unending racial slurs - and those from the hero! And yet, I found myself enthralled by this character, captivated by him, and wishing I was more like him. Clint Eastwood is unbelievably good. Before I go much further you should understand that while I highly recommend the movie, it won't be for everyone. Some will be unable to get past the things I've already mentioned. For others, it may be the violence in the film that is difficult. But for me, I found the film incredibly moving.

I struggle with what to say about the film, because I don't want to tell the story here. For one thing, my retelling of the story will be quite weak compared to the power of the movie. But secondly, I'd hate to ruin it for anyone who has not yet seen it, but may still. So I will try and talk in generalities here. The movie basically tells the story of a man (Clint Eastwood's character) whose wife has just died, and he finds himself alone, aging, and living in a very changing neighborhood from the one in which he raised his family. He's a Korean war veteran, who is angry and racist toward the Asians who are taking over his neighborhood. He also deals with a lot of guilt and pain from the things he did in war. Though in one amazing scene, where he goes to confession, it's his lack of any real relationship with his grown boys that bothers him the most.

Throughout the film, his relationship with his neighbors begins to change as he comes to the defense of a family intimidated by local gangs. He takes the teenage boy under his wing and ushers him into manhood - helping him get a job, talking about girls, and pushing him to succeed apart from the pressure of joining a gang. The film builds to a point where the boy next door is sucked into the belief that the only way to win is to escalate violence back toward this gang. I found myself so engrossed in this story at this point. I was rooting for love to win. I was hoping that this would not be another movie promoting the myth of redemptive violence - where revenge wins in the end. I won't give away how it ends, but I will say that it was one of the most beautiful endings I have ever seen.

One thing that struck me though - every time I see a movie like this (which isn't often!) I am amazed at how loudly our world is crying for stories like this. We want to know that a different world is possible. We want to know that in the end, love really can win. It reminds me of the important role that you and I play in this story. We have these same choices every day. They may not be as big as trying to take down a neighborhood gang, but our opportunities are there nonetheless. One of the beautiful subplots in this movie involves a priest who continues to visit Eastwood's character. He's persistent, he's loving, never judgmental, and full of grace. He longs for our hero to be free from the guilt he carries around. But he's not immune from the pain he sees. At one point he expresses his own anger about what is happening. He doesn't sugar coat it. For many of us, this is our role. We can't live as though evil isn't real. We have to call it what it is, while refusing to play by it's rules. And yet, we live lives of hope and love and grace, bringing the kingdom to life in the midst of pain. We believe that another world is possible - even already present. Love really does win in the end, and it wins today as well.


I'm very interested in seeing this movie for pretty much the same reason. I really enjoy movies like this that telling such a story. The best thing I can think of to compare it to is The Shawshank Redemption.

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