My dad started talking about this movie a few weeks ago and I've been trying to find the time to sit down and watch it ever since. He said he could relate to the character and that it was the hardest he's laughed in a long time. He doesn't often rave about movies, so not only was I excited for a good movie was also quite curious.
I was finally able to curl up at home tonight to take it in while nursing a nasty midwinter cold and eating leftover stir fry. It was fantastic. The film stars an old crotchety Clint Eastwood as Walk Kowalski, a Koren war veteran fresh from his wife's funeral.
We are introduced to Walt as a mean, bitter old man who doesn't care about his family and hates the world. He scowls at his Hmong neighbors and nearly growls with each word he speaks. A young priest tries to reach out upon his late wife's request but to no avail. Walt wants to be left alone, wants to be left in peace. So why would my dear father relate to this character? I know, it confused me at first too.
The story turns when Walt accidentally saves his young neighbor and becomes directly involved in Hmong gang activity in his ever changing neighborhood. He does his best to avoid it but finds his shotgun in the nose of one too many bad guys to not turn into a hero. He opens his door to his front stoop filled with bouquets flowers and crocks of food and kind smiles in gratitude for saving a life. And from there we find our story.
What rang true in this film was a basic understanding of human connection. We hated how narrowly Walt's sons understood him. The was of course an aftermath of his fathering but I am a firm believer in never talking down to another human, no matter the circumstance. They treated him like a child and expected cooperation. Even if he were a child, that was no way to talk to someone. Children and elderly are not idiots. Don't talk to them as if they are.
In contrast, a teenaged Hmong girl from next door spoke to him not with respect, exactly, but as his equal. She talked back to his growling commands and smiled at his terrible racial slurs and opened her heart to the mean man next door. And Walt, dear friends, slowly began to melt. He started to connect to people and ask questions and slowly (slowly!) understand their differences. It was nothing short of beautiful.
I know why my dad laughed, I could hear the familiar sound in the back of my head, especially during the 'man lesson' scenes at the barber and the construction site. They are men of a certain generation and of certain circumstance. They own shotguns and hang out as buddies at the VFW. They lived through a war and talk like it. It was funny. Well, once you could get past the intense racism and harsh standards. But yes, it was funny.
Walt represents an aging generation of the old American Dream. He gains pride from the upkeep of his nuclear home and American made car. He does everything himself and spends his days fixing loose ends. He mows his lawn with an old push lawnmower and keeps his gutters clean and his car waxed. The irony stings when his son and daughter in law suggest a retirement community and tools to make life easier. Can't they see that his home has become his vocation? That fixing things keeps him sane, keeps him busy? I love that he threw them out.
Did he remind me of my dad? Ummm... not really. My dad is much more sensitive and moral and inquisitive than he gives himself credit for. He likes learning new things, gets excited about change, and never ends a phone call without telling me he loves me. He did a fantastic job raising his three girls and was very much a part of our lives. He will never end up alone like Walt did.
The one blaring similarity between Walt Kowalski and Blake Butler is that he will always, without exception, do the right thing in the end. Its a difficult standard to live up to, but I welcome the challenge.
Did I cry at the end? Of course I did, that's just who I am. I hurt for Walt and for his new friends and even for the dog, Daisy. It all added up... the Hmong gang in handcuffs, Tao with the Gran Torino, and Walt as a crucifix, ending his life with honor.
Thanks, Dad, for the rec. I really enjoyed this movie.