This study guide will help you analyze the film Gran Torino (2008) directed by Clint Eastwood. You can also find a summary of the film, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Presentation of the text
Clint Eastwood is an American actor, director, and producer. He is best known for starring in traditionally masculine “tough-guy” roles in Westerns or as a police officer. Eastwood has also directed several films, many of which he also starred in, such as Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Unforgiven (1992). Eastwood won numerous awards for both his acting and directorial efforts, including four Academy Awards and two lifetime achievements from AFI and the Venice film festival.
The drama film Gran Torino which Eastwood both starred in and directed was the first mainstream American film to feature Hmong Americans and was Eastwood’s second most profitable film after American Sniper (2014). The film was generally praised by critics but received mixed reviews from the Hmong community because of its cultural inaccuracies.
Excerpt from the study guide:
Life and death
Life and death is a motif that shows up throughout the movie in Walt and Father Janovich’s conversations. The priest’s main goal is to honor the promise he made Dorothy Kowalski before she died and to get Walt to confess his sins so that he may not be haunted by his past anymore and die in peace. Father Janovich finds this difficult, however, mainly because Walt has no respect for the young priest and believes he has no real understanding of death.
As they meet and discuss this, the Father begins to understand Walt’s experience with death in the war and accepts the idea that he himself does not know what death truly means. At the same time, the priest challenges Walt and tells him that though he may understand death, it seems that Walt does not have much experience with really living. Walt’s confession not only to Father Janovich (01:37:01) but also to Thao (01:40:43) and the decision he takes when confronting the Hmong gang, as informed by Father Janovich’s advice suggests the idea that the priest has fulfilled his quest. While Father Janovich learned about the realities of death, Walt has learned about what makes life worth living.
The motif of life and death is highlighted at the beginning of the film by the two contrasting ceremonies that take place in Walt and Thao’s lives. While people are gathered in Walt’s house to observe a funeral, the Hmong community is celebrating the birth of a new member of their family (00:10:50). This same contrast is also loosely mirrored at the end of the film. While Walt’s life has ended, and he has been buried, Thao is metaphorically beginning a new life where he is free from the threat of the Hmong gang.