Gran Torino is a film directed by Clint Eastwood, who also plays the main character Walt Kowalski. Mr. Kowalski is an old-fashioned man who have lost his wife recently, and his neighborhood is practically packed with Hmong residents. This leads to him meeting one of the neighbor-kids, Thao, and developing a father-son-like relationship with him. I will be answering question number 2 and 4 from our handout about the movie.
“2. How do we see oppression of the Hmong people in this film? What has the film taught you about the Hmong people in the USA?”
The Hmong people are, especially by Walt, treated with brutal racism. In other words; they are heavily misunderstood. They have very specific traditions and ways to behave against others in different settings. For example, it is very rude to have eye-contact with a guest, and it is seen as very polite if you feed your guest a lot. And I mean a lot. When Walt visited Thao’s family during their barbeque, he gets confused by this, and a little shocked. When observing the way that he was received, and the way that the Hmong was received by him, I noticed my own reactions being a little similar to Walt’s. I would very likely be just as confused as he was at that barbeque if none of the Hmong people would look me in the eye. Except I would watch my language. This is a good example of cultures colliding. And this taught me a lot about myself, and how easy it is to end up with misunderstanding others. After the movie I have thought of the Hmong as very polite, strict and charitable. This is not necessarily negative, but it is quite easy to misunderstand.
“4. What experiences does Walt have with living in a multicultural neighborhood? Use examples from the film and discuss to what extent Walt develops/changes through the movie.”
Walt has always been a man who follow his morals without caring about what others might think of it. I mean try counting all the times he pulls up a gun or a fake gun to intimidate others! He is a very cold and isolated man, but meeting Thao definitely changed him significantly. I noticed right away him being more prone to ask for help when he needed it, instead of waiting for Thao to come over to work his moral debt off. And he talked little by little more about his past life. Living besides the Hmong taught him a lot about how different does not always mean “scary” or “bad”. When he saved Thao from being taken by his cousin to do illegal activities, Thao’s family was so grateful they brought over all that they could in order to repay. After a while you see Walt finally accepting their gifts and not being as overwhelmed by them. He even develops friendship, instead of skepticism, with Thao’s sister. Walt softens up as much as an old man like him could ever soften up throughout the movie, but he will always be a certain degree of a bad ass.
The movie did not only show that people like Walt can change, despite a lot of prejudice being worked into their system, but so can people like the Hmong. Walt learned that the Hmong was not so bad after all, and the Hmong learned that Walt was better than he seemed. In conclusion, this movie is a symbol of hope and change, even if the odds make it seem impossible to be achieved.