Manhood in ‘Gran Torino’
The film ‘Gran Torino’ is one of Clint Eastwood’s renowned films released in 2018. The famous and acclaimed actor directed and starred in the film. Eastwood plays the character Walt Kowalski, a racist old man uncomfortable with the influx of Asian residents in his formerly all-white neighborhood. ‘Gran Torino’ explores several themes such as racism, gang violence, masculinity, and sacrifice. Although Walt starts out as a bitter, angry old man mourning the death of his wife, the film ends with him having reformed and sacrificing his life to end gang activity in his neighborhood. Some people have criticized the toxic masculinity traits depicted in the movie, but the evolution of characters shows how people can learn from their mistakes and learn to be better. Some of the traits that characterize manhood in the film include the love of cars, vulgar language, love of guns, assertiveness, gang activities, and self-reliance.
The title of ‘Gran Torino’ comes from Walt’s 1972 vintage car, a Gran Torino. Walt kept his car in pristine condition, showing that it was one of his most prized possession. Walt’s relationship with Thao is based on this car. Thao’s cousins, who were in a gang, forced him to steal Walt’s car. Thao’s efforts were foiled by Walt himself and eventually led to a positive relationship between the two, as well as improved relations between Walt and his neighbors. The men in the film share a love for cars. Walt kept his car in perfect condition over the years he owned it, and his granddaughter was surprised that her grandfather owned such a fancy car. The area gang also wanted to steal the car as part of Thao’s initiation due to its high value. A lot of people assume that men love cars, and this is idea is widely used in the film.
Assertiveness is yet another masculine trait shown in the film. Walt is known for his assertiveness which makes everyone, including his own children, fear him a little. Walt would never back down from any challenge or show weakness in any situation (Redding 13). This trait is negative when Walt’s wife dies. During the events around her funeral, Walt remained stoic and did not show any emotion. For example, when his son offered to help him with the chairs, he refused and carried them up from the basement by himself. Additionally, Walt was never afraid of the gang members. He knew them to be armed and dangerous yet never flinched in his interactions with them. One night when the gang harasses Thao and Sue, Walt emerges from his house, menacingly pointing a gun and telling the gang to get off his lawn. Spider, one of the gang members, tried to threaten Walt, but he never backs off, threatening to kill the gang members. Walt remained assertive and never caved in to threats in all his interactions.
Gang activity is one of the ways that some men in the film use to prove their manhood. For people who are part of gangs, members must participate in some violent activity to show that they are masculine enough. The Spider gang in Walt’s neighborhood shared this toxic belief and tried to initiate Thao into their gang to make him a man. Thao never wanted to be in a gang, although he wondered if it was the only way to prove his manhood (Sierra & Martín-Alonso 5). His sister Sue warned him against engaging in gang activity. The gang terrorized the neighborhood and enjoyed making other people feel powerless. When the gang wanted to recruit Thao, they told him, “Is you a boy or is you a girl man, I can’t tell” (Gran Torino, 28:51). This scene shows that since Thao was not in the gang, he was considered a girl, a sign of weakness and femininity. Men had to show some traits of violence to be considered masculine.
Vulgar language is another common trait that the male characters in ‘Gran Torino’ share. There is the use of explicit violent language in many scenes during the film. For example, during the gang recruitment scene, the gangs attack Thao with obscene language when he refused to join them or talk to them. Walt uses vulgar language in the film as well. When he takes Thao to the barber to teach him how guys talk, there is a lot of vulgar language in the scene. For example, Walt begins with, “How are you doing Martin you crazy old Italian prick?” To which Martin replies, “Well you bastard I should’ve known you’d come in, I was having such a pleasant day” (Gran Torino 1:17:02). Their conversation goes on in the same tone, all so that Thao can learn how to talk like a guy. Vulgar language is associated with manhood.
In summary, most of the characters in ‘Gran Torino’ are male, which is why the film has a lot of male stereotypes. Some of these characteristics include the use of vulgar language, a love of cars and guns, assertiveness, and gang activity. All of these are traits that define manhood. Any male who does not conform to this is convinced to do so so that they can become manly. That is a perfect example of a male who is seen as not manly enough, and the other male characters try to initiate him into violence and vulgar language. ‘Gran Torino’ has a tragic ending when Walt dies to save Thao and his family. He also ended up getting along with his Asian neighbor despite his earlier racist tendencies. Showing his evolution as a person.
Gran Torino. Directed by Clint Eastwood, Performances by Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Christopher Carely, Ahney Her, Warner Brother, 2008.
Redding, Art. “A Finish Worthy of the Start: The Poetics of Age and Masculinity in Clint Eastwood’s” Gran Torino”.” Film Criticism 38.3 (2014): 2-23.
Sierra, Eduardo, and Diego Martín-Alonso. “Intergenerational relationships and construction of masculinities. Thinking with” Gran Torino” and” Million Dollar Baby”.” Géneros: Multidisciplinary Journal of Gender Studies 8.2 (2019).