Monday, 23 March 2009

gran torino [d. eastwood]

Clint. They love him here as much as anywhere. The 10.45 showing at Cine Punta Carretas is sold out, as was the screening before. When we leave the cinema, Ana asks me if I like Clint. And I genuinely can’t answer. I don’t know what I think. Clint is like the Grand Canyon, I say. He’s there. You can’t like or dislike him anymore than you can like or dislike the Grand Canyon. Ana says she’s never been to the Grand Canyon, and I acknowledge that neither have I. She doesn’t seem to think my theory makes much sense, but it’s the only one I have.

What you can say about Clint is that he knows how to make a film. He knows what you need, what you don’t need. You need a sympathetic if flawed hero with a journey to go on. You need others to learn from that journey. You need bad guys who will be overcome. You need lashings of Vietnamese food, men talking like men, and a shoot-out at the end. OK the last three aren’t essential. Gran Torino is both an affectionate paean to the fading frontier values of the United States, and a jaundiced side swipe at the way those values have become corroded by its consumer culture. In a way it’s a film that’s all about neighbourliness, and society, with the Huong Vietnamese community that has moved into Clint’s barrio possessing these virtues which his own white community has neglected. I could go on a tangent about child rearing in the affluent West in comparison to other, poorer parts of the world, but it’s not strictly speaking relevant.

At the heart of the film, as ever, is Clint, a figure who has become symbolic of something of which no-one’s entirely sure what. A kind of individualistic, libertarian icon, gun-toting, unafraid to use violence if he feels the need is there. And yet even this apparently self-evident image is undercut by the film’s closing sequence, where Walt rejects the way of the gun, and the audience isn’t given what they expect. Which could be construed as something of a betrayal by those who have bought into the image Clint has been steadfastly cultivating over decades (with the help of Leone).

Maybe Clint himself doesn’t know what to make of Clint, as he ages, a journey shared by his character Walt. When Walt talks about killing lots of men in the war, it could be Clint talking about the trail of bodies in his cinematic career. The way of the gun is seductive and efficacious, as well as being crowd pleasing, but is there a hint of regret for a career chiselled from the eyes of a figure who’s unafraid to kill?

No comments: