R, 2008, Drama, 1h 56m
Clint Eastwood’s character Walt is a very unlikeable protagonist: a racist, opinionated, intolerant, hard drinking, angry man who seems to scowl at everyone, even his own children. He’s suspicious of all things new and seems to predict the worst will always happen. After his wife dies, he’s left to his own devices, and we are presented a character who seems to be masking some deep pain that will now ruin him. When a Hmong family (an ethnic group in China and Southeast Asia) moves in next door, Walt seems to have found the perfect antagonist that justifies all of his ethnocentric fears about race.
What is Vincentian about this film is the transformative power of ‘encounter.’ Through a series of events, Walt is soon forced—he would not have chosen it—to spend time with this Hmong family. Through this encounter, the stranger becomes a neighbor in the truest sense of the word. Because he breaks bread with them and converses with them and celebrates with them, Walt stops seeing this family as the ‘other’ and instead begins to realize that all people are part of one human family. What divides us, Walt discovers, is superficial compared to what unites us. In the Vincentian tradition, we know that encounters with the other—especially those on the margins of society—changes our conception of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ In fact, encounter eliminates the concept of other and replaces it with a reality of shared humanity. By sharing our lives with people of other cultures and traditions and economic realities, we are acknowledging the one true reality—we are all children of God. Once we recognize that reality, we have no choice but to follow Saint Vincent in working to elevate our neighbor. Gran Torino demonstrates this truth nicely, and leaves the viewer finding hope through a character once seen as hopeless.
Information on the film can be found HERE.