The Character if Walt Kowalski in the Movie Gran Torino
The movie “Gran Torino” directed by and starring Clint Eastwood can best be seen as a
study of how one man learns to let go of his prejudices and find peace and happiness within him.
Clint Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski is introduced as a cantankerous and miserable
newly widowed man who has emotionally isolated himself from his family who in turn show little to no respect for him and are only looking forward to sending him away to a retirement village so they can inherit his personal belongings. He is also haunted by the memories of something that he was not ordered to do when he served in the Korean War that has left him with deep feelings of self-hatred and guilt and because of this, he uses very racist language toward his new neighbors because they are of Asian descent, more specifically Hmong. Despite the racist language he uses, he is not necessarily racist himself partially because of his self-hatred and that he does have a group of friends and they use racist language to each other all the time, albeit in a sarcastic manner.
His prejudice against his neighbors starts to break down when he unwittingly rescues their son Thao from his older cousin, who happens to be in a gang that has been pressuring Thao for some time. After that night, his neighbors start leaving flowers and food on his doorstep as a sign of respect and gratitude. Walt however refuses the tributes at first because of his prejudice and also because Thao tried to steal his most prized possession, his Ford Grand Torino, in an attempt to get initiated into his older cousin’s gang.
Later on, he gains respect for Thao’s sister Sue after he pulled a gun on black gang members who were harassing her. This also shows that he is not necessarily racist because, if he actually were racist, he would have driven past the incident. She later invites him to a party at her house on his birthday where he begins interacting with her family and starts to develop a genuine interest in learning more about her family’s culture and customary traditions, even though he unintentionally performed some gestures that her family considered offensive. He even has the family’s shaman read him. It is here that the shaman tells Walt that people have no respect for him, he is not happy, and not at peace.
As penance for trying to steal Walt’s Grand Torino, Thao’s family sends him away to do small tasks for Walt and the rest of his neighbors. During this time, the two begin to form a mutual respect for one another with Walt beginning to become impressed with how hard Thao works. He soon helps Thao get a job at a construction site and gives Thao dating advice, which subsequently keeps him from going down the wrong path.
Throughout the film, Walt occasionally coughs up blood as a result of being a chronic smoker. This is something that he tries to hide from his family and his neighbors even though Thao eventually finds out.
One night, Thao’s cousin’s gang open fire at Thao’s house, kidnaps Sue, and rape her.
Walt decides to take down the gang himself even though Thao is persistent to let him help. It is here that we learn Walt shot and killed an enemy soldier who was trying to surrender and he doesn’t want Thao to live through the guilt he’s been living through. He then goes through his own rites, which include a bath, a fitted suit, and he even goes to Confession, which is something he’s always hated to do.
He then pulls up to the gang’s house and starts to berate them for all of the crimes they’ve committed. He then appears to be reaching for a gun so the gang fires several shots at him, killing him. In fact, he had actually been reaching for a lighter he had since he was in the Korean War. If Walt had still had his prejudices, he would have killed the gang, but in this scenario, we see that he is a changed man and he sacrificed himself to protect Thao, his family, and his future. After Walt’s funeral, we learn that because of his family’s selfish ways, he has not left them anything in his will. He left his house to the church and the Grand Torino to Thao on the grounds that he must not modify it in anyway.
In conclusion, even though Walt Kowalski appeared to hate everyone around him, deep inside, he had actually hated himself. Throughout the film, Walt Kowalski over came his
prejudices and learned to find peace and happiness within him and to respect other people no matter what ethnic background they might come from.