Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gran Torino

The Grand Torino is a car but the movie is not about this car. It is about why the hero has to die - that being the question a teenager who saw the show with me asked. To a young person, heroes never die because they represent the hope on which aspirations and dreams are pinned. From the perspective of a person who is the mother of a teenager, heroes are not necessarily invulnerable nor do they always have to be there like Batman, Spiderman and Superman.

The hero of the movie is a grumpy, grouchy old man who found out he was gravely ill after his retirement and after his wife died leaving him alone amongst a neighbourhood of immigrants whom he could not stand at first. Against his will, he became their hero when he was seen to be their defender against the neighbourhood thugs.

In the end, he died not because of his illness but because he was machine-gunned by the thugs, the way he had planned for them to do so. I had expected a pretty violent show with lots of action when I saw the trailers a few weeks ago. Instead, the movie is heavy on dialogues, rich in emotions, humour and was propelled along without a boring moment by these unlikely elements in these days when people's attention span is pretty much hinged on action.

So what did I like about the story? It is sad that the hero died like the one in The Shinjuku Incident. You could say that they died to pay for their wrongdoings - one carried out during World War II and one in gangland wars. Contrary to expectation, they did not fight to the death as is usually the case in movies of this type.

Steelhead in The Shinjuku Incident was defenceless against the knife wielding gangsters and Clint Eastwood in Grand Toreno only had a lighter which was meant to trick the thugs into pumping endless rounds of bullets into him. The self-sacrifices of the heroes allowed justice to prevail. Good always triumphs over evil. That is the message I guess. So unlike my young friend, I see the demise of the hero in each of these movies as the reality of life. Death does not indicate the end of dreams and ideals. In each of the two situations, death allows life to be led with dignity and pride (Grand Torino) and points out the senselessness of greed and violence (Shinjuku Incident).

The Grand Torino was a gleaming 1970s beauty that was kept by the hero as a reminder of the good things that humans represent and its preservation despite attempts to steal it by the bad guys represent the hope for human kind. The thumb drive that Steelhead gave to the police with incriminating evidence probably shows that evil has been fought with weapons of technology but in the end, technology is a double-edged sword. There are always checks and balances in life. We have to account for our deeds and our past always catches up with us. The important thing is to live life honestly and with dignity. This way we can die with no regrets.

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