Friday, June 26, 2009

Layers

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog posted by Cynthia, (Oasis Writing Link) in regards to Clint Eastwood's movie, Gran Torino. At the time I had not seen the movie, but from the short clip Cynthia had embedded and seeing ads on the movie, I decided to check it out. I watched it late Saturday night and let the imagery and story line sink in. On the rental version, the 'Bonus Features' focused on men and their relationship with vintage and muscle type cars such as the 1972 Gran Torino. One of my first cars was a 1973 Cutlass S 350 so I can kind of relate. I was actually a little disappointed, perhaps expecting a little more discussion on the theme of the movie and the behind the scenes concept. But there were none. When I first read Cynthia's piece, I did not want to read too many of the comments left there just in case more of the storyline was revealed. If you are planning on seeing the movie then you better stop here. Although I don't reveal too much here, I do reveal some scenes that had an impact on me. Anyways, the next morning, I watched the movie again and began taking the movie apart in layers. At least in layers the way I saw the movie. Tonight I reread the original post and every one of the comments that were left behind to see how many others saw what I saw. This in itself interested me.

I've always liked Clint Eastwood's movies, both as an actor and as a director. As an actor, his presence more than makes up for the minimal amount of dialogue that he generally has in his films. But as a director, and based partly on the comments I read, plus my own perception, he probably says more than even he realizes. There were so many subtle little stories and relationships within the film that seeing it just once would never do. But right from the get go, you can see that this was going to be something different and special. If you want to get a quick synopsis of the movie, you can go
here.

Now, back to peeling away the layers. My first thought of Clint's character, Walt Kowalski was that of Archie Bunker to the nth Degree. His blatant bigotry and his acerbic tongue conflicted the fact that he was a Korean War Veteran whose duty it was to help the very kind of people he was now grumbling about. But to me, that was just a layer of the character that we were about to see so I quickly discarded it for what it was, a character. His disdain for his family, sons and grandchildren, was also very evident. And to some extremes, understandable, due to the total lack of respect shown at his wife's funeral. His disappointment in his kids appeared to have developed over a long period of time but that was just window dressing and was never developed in the film. It was the Ying to the impending cultural Yang that was about to develop.

The clash began, of course, over the attempted theft of his prized, cherry 1972 Gran Torino. The car became symbolic for various reasons. First, Walt himself worked at the assembly plant where the car was manufactured and installed the steering column. Combine this with the current trouble that the North American auto industry now finds itself in; plus the increasing numbers of import cars and one could easily see why Good ol' Walt's fuse is just a little short. Needless to say, when the battlefront moved to his front lawn, Walt resorted to a very fundamental need to protect what was his. In the ensuing confrontation however, he unknowingly opened the lid to something a little more violent and tragic.

Now here is where the movie started to get a little deeper. It took the focus off of the violence for a short time and showed us a glimpse of how other cultures dealt with family members who shamed them with their actions. It wasn't so much that Walt mentored his young neighbour Thao, in as much as the family gave Walt his services in order to make amends for his actions. The bonding came during this part of their relationship and perhaps Walt recognized something that he had missed in his relationship with his own sons when they were that age. I wonder what the reaction would be from some of today's youth if this was how they had to pay for some of their juvenile transgressions. Interesting thought anyways.
There is one scene where this makes a little more sense to me when you see Walt sitting on his porch, nursing a beer and reading his horoscope which says:

“This year you have to make a choice between two life paths. Second chances come
your way. Extraordinary events culminate in what might seem to be an anticlimax.”

Of course, at the time, Walt shrugs this off as utter nonsense. Just another layer really. However, throughout the movie, we capture glimpses of his health as it begins to deteriorate and wonder what is going through his mind. Again, this becomes more evident during a celebration at his neighbours house. When Sue, the neighbours daughter, tells Walt that the elderly Monk wants to "read" him. Sue translates the reading and you can tell the Monk starts hitting home with some of his observations. Especially when he says, “...you're worried about your life. You made a mistake in your past life; like a mistake that you did. That you're not satisfied with. He says you have no happiness in your life. It's like you're not at peace.”

The reality hits home to Walt when he rushes up to the bathroom to wash blood from his mouth. He looks at his image in the mirror and groans, “God, I've got more in common with these gooks than I do with my own spoiled rotten family.”

So, when I peeled away the layers of this movie, it had little to do with an angry, bitter Bigot. Or even about the gangs and the all too familiar violence of today's society. Too me, it was about a man, watching the last granules of sand, quickly tumble from his life's hourglass. Haunted by his own life, his failures, his misery's and his joys. Recognizing, just in time, that he too has to make amends for his past transgressions.

As the credits begin to roll at the end of this movie, you can hear Clint's hoarse voice warbling out some of the words from the movies them song:

So tenderly your story is
nothing more than what you see
or what you've done or will become
standing strong do you belong
in your skin; just wondering
Gentle now the tender breeze blows
whispers through my Gran Torino
whistling another tired song
Engine hums and bitter dreams grow
heart locked in a Gran Torino
it beats a lonely rhythm all night long
it beats a lonely rhythm all night long
it beats a lonely rhythm all night long...



Thanks to Cynthia for letting me know of this movie. It may well have been one I would have passed on.


12 comments:

Audrey said...

Bogey, I haven't seen the film yet, but your description reminds me of the saying that we don't really know a man until we have walked a mile in his shoes. The film sounds very interesting - I am a Clint Eastwood fan, but for whatever reasons, this particular movie didn't appeal to me. I may have to rent it and take a look!

Unseen Rajasthan said...

This video is really nice!! Even i feel this is a fantastic movie !! Will watch it some day !! Great..Unseen Rajasthan

Winifred said...

This wouldn't have been a film I would have watched but your review makes it sound interesting. I'll keep an eye out for it even though I'm not a car person. Was that the same type of car used in Starsky & Hutch?

Thanks for the information.

Cynthia said...

Bogey, I enjoyed your reflections and review. What a delight to see the lyrics too. I think he wrote the song with his son, too. Your idea about layers is so appealing and true. I usually avoid movies with a lot of violence but I think this one was fine. Thank you for linking to me, you are indeed a generous blogger. Sorry that it took me so long to get to my response but blogger has been frustrating my efforts and throwing me off my blog and some of those I visit. Btw I'm not a "car person" (to Winifred) or a shoot out movie fan either...it's more of human interest story, don't you think? Love the detail in your post. <3

lakeviewer said...

I can see you're an Eastwood fan. It's noted.

smiles4u said...

I just seen this movie recently myself and loved it. I too, seen all the layers in the movie and appreciated them. I already plan on watching the movie again in the near future because I know there were things I missed. I cried a lot(because I tend to be a big baby like that :) over the different aspects of the movie. There was just so many good messages in this movie that I too had thought about writing a post about this movie but since my time is not my own I never got to it. Great post!

PS I have missed visiting you and being inspired by you. Have a good weekend!

James said...

Thanks Bogey. I'm going to put it in my Netflix queue.

ms toast burner said...

I live under a rock so it's no surprise to me that I had not heard of this movie but I've really enjoyed a lot of movies that Eastwood has directed; Letters from Iwo Jima being a favourite.

You offer a very interesting review Bogey, so this flic definitely goes on my 'flics to see' list. Thanks.

That video made me cry.

Amel's Realm said...

Interesting post. Maybe someday I'll watch this movie. :-))) Btw, I enjoyed reading this post A LOT!

Bogey said...

Audrey, I was planning on passing this movie up. I thought it was going to be nothing more than an aging Clint Eastwood throwing out some kind of a last superficial hurrah. I was so wrong. When you peel away the window dressing, there is really a good story there.

Thanks for stopping by UR. The musical clip is very nice. It's like a refelection one's life.

Winnifred, you win the prize. You are so right. Starsky & Hutch were driving a 1975 (I think)Gran Torino. The movie wasn't really about the car in as much as it represented the trinkets we collect thru our lives. Still, it is worth seeing.

Yes Cynthia, Clint did write this with his son, (who was in the movie) and Jamie Cullum, who is singing in the clip. It is kind of interesting how we view a movie if we take it apart a little bit. Mind you, I probably would have passed over it until I read your post so the Glory goes to you. Thank you kindly for your lovely comments.

Big time Rosaria.

Hi Lori, yes, this is a movie worth watching more than once. There are so many subtle things you miss when you are watching from a purely recreational viewpoint. But, when something catches my eye or my imagination, I will watch it again with a more critical eye. I know you are up to your eyeballs in life with the young one's. Just don't forget to take some you-time as well.

James, I think you will really enjoy this. I look forward to hearing what you think about the film as well.

Ms. Toast Burner, it sounds like you need help getting out from under that rock. Now would you be needing a crowbar or a stick of dynamite. The movie is really worth a watch, with an open mind of course. This was only my interpretation of course. I love the jazzy style of the song and I can understand the tears. It has the same effect on me.

Thank you Amel. I'm sure you will enjoy the movie if you get a chance to watch. I will be by your blog to catch up on your trip later. Thanks for stopping by.

Lori ann said...

Bogey,

This was an excellent review of an excellent movie.I'm not a fan of any of those things either, cars,guns and even really Clint, but i really liked the film.

Cynthia said...

Hi Bogey, just stopping by again to let you know that I gave you an award over at Oasis Writing Link (OWL)blog. I do value your friendship. <3