3/16/15

Gran Torino . . .

Special Lady Friend and I had one of our patented "fights" the other day. We don't fight about toothpaste in the sink or dirty clothes in the hamper or hopes and dreams. No, no. Nothing that standard . . . we fight about pop culture and other things of absolute inconsequence. This particular row was about Gran Torino.

Yes. The 2008 movie from the once-bad-assed, now crazy-old-man (did you see his "Speech to An Empty Chair" in 2012 or his "Jersey Boys" farse? Dude has seen more lucid days) Clint Eastwood that deals with, essentially, change. Here is the trailer if your long-term memory needs a jog . . .



What was the fight about? Well . . . it makes very little sense by way of seque . . . but it was about whether or not while, middle aged (or older), middle class (or higher) men can or should take on diversity and sexism and racism and other policies in an artistic or explanatory way.

Now I know, I know . . . Gran Torino is more about a man losing his wife and realizing, at the end of a long life, that he is not at peace and he is not in a good place. But there is so much more to the movie that, for me, felt self-indulgent.

Clint Eastwood's "Walt" saves Sue (his young, female neighbor) from gangs of every nationality and ethnicity short of Jews and Martians. He is brave, brave, brave (which might be a real thing) in the face of every one of them and - when out-numbered, out-youthed, and out-gunned (as he always is) - he stands proud in his resolved, old, white skin. Eastwood additionally indulges his own pride to make himself a grand hero where people literally leave food and plants on his porch in honor of his bravery.

I struggle mightily with this notion that he would be so received after using racial slurs earlier in the film and showing his own multi-cultural stupidity throughout the film. Yes, yes. I know - he has other things going on that might compel his bravery and reformed mindset (no spoilers). I get that. But I don't know, as a filmmaker, if Eastwood is justified to take on the notion of ethnic neighborhoods, turf wars, and cultural evolution.

I should disclose here that I'm a white man. I grew up in a very, very white town. It was not until college (where 2% or so of the students were "of color") that I really began to see other cultures and ethnic perspective and really not until I moved in to southeast DC that I was in any way immersed in cultures that were not my own tradition. It fascinated me. In a very real, very awkward way, the same way rap music and the Malcolm X autobiography did as a teen. I wanted to learn. I wanted to understand. I wanted perspective and - in a strange way - to be of the strains and struggles that come along with being the proverbial underdog or having something to prove or trying to protect what is mine and what is threatened. I'll never really, truly have that urge met in my own life (at least not here in Kansas). The closest I come is my Jewish faith - which I adopted just a few years ago so I can't exactly claim a lifelong/ingrained/justified threat to it.

I will never be so bold as to try to tell stories of other nations or ethnicities or - heck - genders. I don't know what it is like to be a woman, to be gay, to be Korean, or Latino, Black, or all of the above. I can watch movies, read books, read articles and even blogs. I can listen to music. I can observe still art. I can maybe - MAYBE - "understand" but it would never be enough of an understanding to entitle me to tell the stories. Best, I would presume, to let someone who really does get it and has walked the walk and talked the talk to tell their own stories.

So where was the fight (between SLF and me)? In what the movie Gran Torino was about. I guess she just saw it differently. That is her perspective. I might someday understand it but I'll never try to relay it on (smile).