Monday, May 17, 2010

Gran Torino - [Spoiler alert] Can Hollywood do religion?

Does Hollywood get religion?

I just saw, Gran Torino, with Clint Eastwood for the first time.  It kept me interested, had suspenseful moments, humorous moments, and everything else one comes to expect from a Clint Eastwood movie.  But I'm confused about what the film said about religion.

There were two religious leaders portrayed in the film: a Roman Catholic priest, and a Hmong shaman.  The priest is portrayed as naive, " a 27 year old over-educated virgin" according to Walt (Eastwood).  Whereas the shaman is given a somewhat more positive role.  The Shaman is spot on with his "reading" of Walt, to which Walt says to himself, "I have more in common with these... (racial slander for Hmong) than my own people."

The main conflict in the movie is a gang of Hmong young men seeking to initiate another young man: Thao, who is Walt's neighbor.  Walt uses guns and tough talk to defend the neighborhood - classic Eastwood.  The role of the priest is further complicated by the fact that he works with the Hmong gang and condemns Walt for using arms to defend himself and the neighbors from the gang.  However, the Hmong neighbors pour out gratitude to the gun wielding Walt.

[Here comes the spoiler]
At the end of the movie Walt offers himself as a sacrifice.  The result is that a community and one family in particular is "safe" from gang violence, and the gang will likely go to prison for a long time.

At Walt's funeral, the priest comments on how he learned form Walt about life and death.  But what of the priest's efforts to work with the gang before violence was perpetrated and perpetuated?  In this fictionalized account of inner city struggles it seems like the role of a priest is quite insignificant.  What would the real life clergy persons who work day in and day out with gang members make of this movie?  What would Father Gregory Boyle of Los Angeles have to say who created Homeboy Industries?

Does anyone out there recommend movies that deal with inner city issues that have a more nuanced and realistic representation of both the shortcomings and contributions of religion and religious leaders?


Marian said...

nuanced? realistic? not spectacle and a heavy hand. I will let you know if I think of any.

Wesley Menke said...

Sound like your not too optimistic about finding any. I know the feeling. But maybe I'm wrong.