Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gran Torino, not the “guy” movie I expect February 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:46 AM

WHENEVER MY HUSBAND picks up a movie at the local library, he usually chooses an old war or car-chasing film that doesn’t interest me. In other words, he selects a “guy” movie.

So, when I see Clint Eastwood, and a car, on the cover of his latest selection, Gran Torino, I figure I won’t be interested.

An aging Clint Eastwood stars in Gran Torino.


Friday evening I’m snuggled into the reclining couch reading Whiskey Heart by Minnesotan Rachel L. Coyne when Randy starts watching Gran Torino. I inform him that at 8 p.m., I want to watch Kitchen Nightmares.

This, of course, reminds me that I need to whip whipping cream to serve later atop hot fudge pudding cake. So I head to the kitchen, pour the cream into a narrow bowl and switch on the hand-mixer. This, of course, means my husband cannot hear Clint. So he waits until I am done whipping the cream to restart Gran Torino.

I fully expect to delve back into my book as I settle onto the sofa. But then I am drawn to Clint. “How old is this movie?” I ask, noticing that Clint looks, well, old.

“A few years old,” Randy replies.

OK, then, this might be worth watching, I think, asking my husband what I’ve missed.

From then on in, Gran Tornino has my full attention. The film, written by Fridley, Minnesota, native Nick Schenk, tells the story of Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski whose dying wife’s final wish is for him to go to confession. Walt, played by Clint, is a man unable to face the demons of war, a man estranged from his family and a man determined to live out the rest of his life bitter, alone and drinking beer.

But Walt’s life changes when Thao Lor, the Hmong teen next door (played by Minnesotan Bee Vang), attempts to steal his neighbor’s 1972 Gran Torino. Thus begins the unlikeliest of friendships.

The depth of this movie surprises me as topics of gang violence, prejudice, cultural differences, family relationships, faith and the life-time affects of war interweave into a compelling drama.

Several times through-out the film, I find myself thinking of my dad, who fought on the front lines during the Korean War. He, like Walt in the movie, was emotionally-scarred by war. He, like Walt, had no choice but to kill, or be killed.

In one particular scene, when Walt pins a war medal onto the chest of young Thao, I am nearly in tears for thinking of my dad and the Purple Heart medal he received more than 50 years after serving in Korea.

Gran Torino is not at all what I expect. If you have not seen this 2008 film, which garnered a best original screenplay award for Schenk and a best actor award for the aging Eastwood, then check it out.

Listen beyond the excessive profanity (necessary to the character roles). Listen carefully, because Clint, in his trademark gravelly voice, imparts much wisdom through the character of Walt Kowalski.

Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(P.S. Next time I promise not to judge a movie by its cover. And, yes, my husband allowed me to watch Kitchen Nightmares, after which we finished viewing Gran Torino. And, yes, we missed most of the 10 o’clock news.)


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