Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy week at the movies: Gran Torino on Wednesday

The fact that popular media culture is an imaginative palette for faith … the church has to take that imaginative palette seriously… if part of the pastoral task of the church is to communicate God’s mercy and God’s freedom in a way that people understand then you have to use the language that they’re using, you have to use the metaphors and forms of experience that are already familiar to them. Tom Beaudoin

A central figure in Holy week is Caiphas, the Jewish high priest, who announces that it is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (John 11:50). Such understandings, of the power of sacrifice to ensure community transformation, are ingrained in Christian faith and are powerfully explored in Gran Torino (2008).

Gran Torino is directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars as the main character, Walt Kowalski, an embittered veteran of the Korean war. Walt finds himself recently widowed, yet happily alienated from his family. From his front porch and down quiet Detroit suburban streets Walt growls over his changing neighbourhood and the growing presence of Hmong refugees. Like Walt, they too are struggling to cope with the evolving face of contemporary America, in which white picket fences serve as the battle lines for unresolved racism and unreconciled prejudice.

The silent star of this movie is Walt’s pride and joy, his 1972 mint condition Gran Torino car. Walt’s neighbour, Hmong teenager Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang) is bullied into stealing the car in order to gain initiation into the local Hmong gang. Caught by Walt, an unlikely friendship develops, one that will change Walt, Thao and his neighbourhood for ever.

The ending provides one image of atonement. Clint, arms spread in the crucifix position, offers his life. His act of sacrifice lances a boil, exposing injustice on the streets of his community.

A subtle, yet more image of atonement is provided by Thao’s sister, Sue Lor (Ahney Her). She is the person of peace who steps over barriers to embrace Walt into his changing neighbourhood. It is her sacrifice that becomes a catalyst for community change. Viewed with Easter eyes, Sue becomes a female Christ figure.

Gran Torino is never a great film. The opening 45 minutes meander. Some scenes deserve a decent edit and the constant racism is hard to stomach. Despite these shortcomings, the plot themes of sacrifice, and their location in the grit of multi-cultural urban America make Gran Torino a disturbing, yet powerful, way to appreciate Easter.

John 12:23-14 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Posted by steve at 01:44 PM

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