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Gran Torino - Clint Eastwood

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'Sometimes, the most unexpected events enable individuals to grow.' How is this shown in Gran Torino?
The key point in Clint Eastwood’s film, “Gran Torino” is all about the necessities of becoming a man and being important to society. The characters in “Gran Torino” undergo changes within the film that were caused by traumatic events that occur in the film. Thao gains confidence and becomes a man, finally realising his usefulness in the world. Walt gains new views and perceptions of the world around him and even learns to let go of his past. However, character development doesn’t extend out to all characters within the film, but situates on the most important individuals within the movie.
Thao Vang Lor isn’t the protagonist of “Gran Torino” but he is the most important when it comes to character development. Thao is an American-born Asian who feels he doesn’t quite belong with his family. Intelligent as he is; Thao starts as a scrawny, hunched-over and his Hmong family don’t consider him a man. His Grandmother even tells one of the family members; "He does whatever his sister tells him to do. How could he ever become man of the house?” Thao is constantly being told what to do and does all the chores that the Hmong people see as ‘Women’s chores’, such as the dishes, or gardening. When Thao first meets Walt Kowalski at the start of the film, he asks for jumper cables to help start up a car. But he is shy and Walt immediately dislikes Thao and doesn't even give him the chance to speak, butting in and trying to push him to cut to the chase. In this scene, a high view is shot from above Walt, looking down on Thao. This symbolises the superiority that Walt has over Thao at this point.
As the two begin to warm up to each other they begin to form a bond unlike any other. They become the best of friends. Walt gives Thao the physical and metaphorical tools of being a man, by lending Thao tools from his garage and buying him some from a hardware store. Thao is taken to the Barber’s store to learn how to talk appropriately to other men, by doing this, Walt aids Thao in getting a part-time job in construction work. Before the interview for Thao’s job, Walt gives him one last piece of advice; “A man can tell a lot by his handshake.” This is used later in the hardware store whilst Walt is getting Thao a tool-belt, the scene ends with a strong handshake between the two, both showing respect and showing a mutual likeness between the two. Fong, Thao's cousin and main character from the Hmong 'gangbangers', bullies Thao throughout the movie and each time, Thao's confidence wavers, he used to be weak and accept the violence and criticism like it was fine but he learns to grow a back-bone thanks to Walt, who always made fun of his shy personality. Thao is always trapped in their confrontations and each time, Walt pulls him back on track and guides him on to a brighter future.
Haunted by his past and devastated by the loss of his wife, Walt realises that his family don't really want anything to do with him and he doesn't know them at all. When he meets the Hmong people, he sees that their lives are the complete opposite to his. Walt's house may be refined and new and neat. But it seemed that the inside of his house was dark and gloomy, like his past and his present life. Wandering through his house on the Wake of his wife's funeral, Walt is like a ghost, trying to find a place where he belongs. Upon getting to know the local Hmong people, Walt begins to embrace their culture and sees that they're vibrant. The food, the brightness of the house, they even mingled and spoke to others, treating each other like family. Walt mentions on the day of his birthday that all he really eats is his beloved beef jerky. This kind of food symbolises his life; dry, flavorless and generally lasting for quite a long time, that is, until the Hmong people started to walk up to his house and give him bountiful food, full of colours and many different tastes. Racism was something Kowalski liked to throw around, casually calling the Hmong people things like; “Gooks” “Zipper heads” (Zips) “Swamp Rats” and many more. Walt uses these racial slurs in a mean way at first, constantly criticising the Hmong people. An example would be when the Hmong people first congregate at the Vang Lors’ house for the birth of a child and Walt sees them all walk into the house with all kinds of Hmong food. His comment is “How many swamp rats can you get in one place anyways?” he then spits on the ground in disgust and walks off. This refers to the times he uses racial slurs in a mean demeanor. After getting to know the Hmong people, Walt uses racial slurs in a friendly manner. An example of this would be during the Hmong barbecue that Walt was invited to. After the psychic reading, he says; “Why don’t we go down and get some of that good gook food? I’m starving” this is one of the times where he didn’t mean for the term to be used in a cruel way at all. After the terrifying, psychic reading, Walt sees the full truth; "I've got more in common with these gooks than my spoilt, rotten family." Walt's future was fore-shadowed in the film. He read his local paper on his birthday and read his horoscope; "This year you'll have to make a choice between two like paths. Second chances come your way. Extraordinary events culminate in what might seem to be an anti-climax." Boy was it right, Walt learns to let go of his past and begins to love the Hmong community, embracing his new identity. This new change for Walt was the turning point in his life and his guideline to a healthier future.

The bittersweet music is a nice way to end Thao's journey, with Walt's funeral, one question remains; what happens to the Gran Torino? It becomes a symbol of manhood, the final tool to growing up and becoming a man. Thao receives Walt's special car and drives off towards a city and a bright future for himself. The lines; "So tenderly, your story, nothing more than what you see or what you've done, or will become, standing strong, do you belong, in your skin, just wondering." These words are sung by Walt, along with the song "Gran Torino" for the end credits. These starting lines can be seen as words towards Thao while he is driving or they can relate to his Gran Torino, as that's what the movie was all about. But towards Thao, this could almost be like Walt is watching over him, telling to continue on and be the man he was meant to be.
This film is all about growing up and being useful to society, Eastwood expands on this through Walt’s death, and Thao’s brighter future, one life ends, another begins. Each character in the film had their own part to play, whether the contention was evil or not, everyone had changed at least a little bit, some more than others, the events that occurred helped them all to grow in their own way.

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