Thursday, June 11, 2009

Protection: Clint Drives the Gran Torino

I have just finished watching the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino, and find myself in a conflict. Living in Puerto Rico where homeowners with guns are not common, I see this vigilante figure in a comforting light. I know it's surprising because I am a known peace lover and I strongly resist the illegitimate use power. And yet my character has a conflict; I discovered this years ago when I was in the Navy. I realized that many people need protection because of various reasons- lack of education on the offender or offended side, misunderstood cultural and social differences, and many other reasons...the truth is that some people who have power are power-drunk.
[Photo note: Aunt Wynoka Hicks (Dad's sister), Richard A. Pittmann, Sr. (Dad), Susan G. Pittmann Doleto (Mom). Aunt Wynoka has a black eye from her husband. Dad feels protective here with his arms around both women during a seasonal visit to Dad's family (back home) in Banner Springs,Tennessee. You can see the little bit of Cherokee that runs in our family on on the faces of Aunt W. and Dad-especially the eyes.]

These individuals (and sometimes groups) haven't developed their ability to have compassion for unknown (or know) others. I've seen strangers, friends, and families in this powerful vs. powerless dynamic. Sometimes, it's expressed as a harmful act of will, a compassionate-less decision, or violence.

Have you seen this film, Gran Torino? Confession: I'm suffering from both projection and transference (forgive my psycho- babble) when it comes to this icon like man and this character, Walt; he shares a lot of behavior, and attitude traits with my father. I read that the story has a simple (simplistic?) plot, but I cannot agree. Clint's character is realistically placed in a Midwest house on a block undergoing a population change, and in my experience it resonates as historically and socially true.

I grew up around guns and I learned to handle a rifle in my early teens, which is when I noticed my own value conflict. My father was a hunter; I was against hunting; though, I shot pumpkins carefully balanced on fence post with a 22 caliber rifle. I also shot a BB gun in the backfield with my brother and cried over the occasional bird he and our cousins would shoot. "C won't let you shoot can't even burn a spider when she's around," Richie would tell his buddies. He was both proud and amused at my 'animal protector' stance. My younger brother, Richie, "my Buddie", I sometimes called him, would occasionally hang out with me. As an outdoor type "tomboy", I valued his friendship. I think he felt a lot of pressure to be "powerful" like our dad. He was wild and controlled by his temper; and yet, he was sweet and took care of me. too. In anger, his face would turn red, and it spread all the way to his ears. I would hold him down until he promised that he wouldn't go crazy and hit the offending person -sister, usually. I would release him when his ears returned to their normal color. He hated to be teased; and being the youngest and sole boy in a family of girls, we couldn't help playing pretty girl dress-up and re-naming him "Regina Sue"-as all four girls were middle-named Sue after our mother. My brother's actual name was Richard Alfred, Jr. as he was named after our father. Do you remember that Johnny Cash song "A boy named Sue?" (video posted below) It took on a special significance in our house.

My father gave me a feeling of strength and confidence in a distant and safe manner. He was respected as a powerful authority in our home, "Just wait until your dad gets home" were the dreaded words of my childhood. When I was about 14 years old, he changed. He gave up the throne of discipline. Both social and family life had changed, it was the 70's and Mom became a "women's libber" as did her girls. I suppose the gender role shift impacted Dad, too because he did not want to be the corporal "arm of justice" in our house anymore. But the imprint of a father's power stayed with me. And this father power-surprisingly found it's way into me when my children were born. I identified with his strength and became strong in that protective manner.
Yet, I must acknowledge that my mother had that fierce fight-for-the-underdog-sense but it was directed to society more than family. In my case, my own will to forcefully protect came as an instinct after having children. Hurt my children and you will have hell to pay. Now, I know this is mostly and emotional feeling because I am law-abiding. It's just that I feel a fierceness in me, a kind of uncompromising protective quality when it comes to children, my students, my rescued dogs. I use words and will for my battles, but I see the connection with Walt's attitude. I also know that it is just this over-man attitude that was the operative emotional force that allowed our neighbor, Brooks to murder my own mother. (click on sidebar, mother's murder, if you want to read about this tragic event.) I hope that people will use words instead of violence to settle disputes but rationality is a learned thought-habit; whereas, violence is an emotional reflex. When will we as a society learn to use both judgement and compassion in our conflict negotiations?

Back to the movie: A bit of a plot summary is necessary here: the unfriendly Korean Vet Walt, instinctively protects his Hmong neighbors who are threatened by a local gang, and in gratitude they make him a hero. He despises the heroic yoke but to no avail. The community continues to bring him gifts of food and flowers. Eventually, he befriends the intelligent neighbor girl and takes on her brother as his protege. He teaches the teenager how to fit into male culture in the United States. Okay, here is where many take offense but I know the exact type of person he is portraying. Factory workers who celebrate being a man's man. I was related to them. Also, I admire strength of all kinds so I have patience with this kind of person. Walt's language is peppered with racial, gender, and cultural slurs. Did I miss anything? He is offensive but in the way that I know and understand. Underneath his foul language resides a code of honor. A code that says, I will not let the underdog be violated. Walt discovers that he has more in common with the struggling neighbors than he has with his own family. We see them from his perspective: Silly, well established in the material world, and weak.

'Gran Torino' Stills - Photo Gallery on Yahoo! Movies

I am not going to ruin the conclusion because the movie is relatively new and many of you may not have seen it yet. However, I will contend that the ending is true to life. As I mentioned earlier, my father underwent a similar transformation in his attitude towards violence and prejudice. Now that both of my parents are gone, I so miss having a Protector (in the form of a person) in my life. I will leave you with Johnny Cash and "A Boy Named Sue."


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  2. A few weeks ago I saw this movie at the theater. Although I liked much about it, especially Nate's transformation, and that of the boy next door (a whole new kind of boy next door!), I did find that the portrayal of his own family was a little Hollywood stereotyped as the shallow American materialists. Since his deceased wife was remembered as a woman of depth, I guess I wonder "in real life" would the children and grandchildren turned out THAT bad? Maybe that's a trivial criticism. I don't know.

    What I like most about your post is the way the character of Nate resonated with that of your father, especially that attitude of protecting one's own family, that special strength! The questions you've posed about gun ownership, and the varying cultural attitudes towards defense are very interesting too.

  3. San, you make an interesting point about the mother in this film...I know that the movie is written in a Walt friendly perspective. Thank you for commenting and I will think more about what you wrote here. I'm sorry I wrote the character's name as Nate when it was Walt...I was going to check but my H was driving away without me!!! <3 He is Walter Kolwalski I think...going by memory again!!! Don't trust me...than you for commenting on the connections. I think that familiar way is how we respond to movie interest too. All coming from our fantasy friend is waiting...I must cut this short. Thanks again for your comment and visit. <3

  4. I haven't seen the film, but thank you for this provocative post. The archetype of warrior/protector/clan chief is ancient and pervasive in every culture I know about. It speaks to the ways our species survived for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Violence in order to protect family and clan is tricky - because what people see as a threat varies from culture to culture, and from person to person for that matter.

    Vigilante "justice" seems more streamlined in many ways that our system of justic which is so top heavy and laden with rules and regulations that it no longer seems to be focused on justice. it's more about who wins according to the technicalities.

    GREAT ideas to think about. Thank you!

  5. Haven't seen it Cynthia and since I don't like films with violence, I probably won't.Clint was never one of my heroes but he was good looking! :D

  6. Hey Cynthia, I just saw this movie the other night. It was an interesting movie. I enjoyed watching Walt come to love the family and protect them. I could see that he identified more with his neighbors than with his own family but felt perhaps his family was a bit to the extreme. Could have made them more pivotal in the storyline, how could this man have raised such a different family? I don't like violence at all but would defend my family with whatever it took and want the right to. Like a mama bear, leave my cubs alone!!! My heart goes out to you for the horrible manner in which your mother died, both my parents are gone and it's hard enough without it being from the hand of someone else. Big hug.... :)

  7. Oh yeah, totally remember the Johnny Cash funny....must have been an anthem in your home!

  8. I would like to see this movie. Clint Eastwood almost never disappoints me.
    The old 'Wait till your father gets home' is a familiar one to me to. It was an empty threat though - nothing every happened!
    Catherine x

  9. Reya, excellent connection to the clan chief, when my dad passed away I made a paper mache Indian figure that represented who he was to me. Your comments about the way law works are also so true. I imagine that is the reason people like those films where Clint takes on the bad guy.

    Also the way culture impacts perception...even the meaning of the eye gaze. Here young boys use it to say, back off respect me but also to intimidate girls...I think these meanings came over from the United States ganster culture. The elderly and some country folk still don't hold your eye gaze because it's read as disrespectful. <3

    Carol, this movie have very little visible violence...mostly it is at a distance or cut short. I'm watching the movie again now and it doesn't bother me. I also avoid movies with excessive violence. I use the hide my eyes technique when a difficult scene is going on. I didn't need to shield my eyes for this movie. I looked away once or twice but it was over so fast. I'm going to try to post a photo of my dad here. Let's see how that works. <3

  10. Mama Bear (Artist Unplugged), you know about the protective vib that comes out when someone harms your children. About the movie story-line...I think Walt didn't spend much time at home with his children...always working. And his wife (absent in the film)D., was a devout Catholic, probably very nurturing but not expressing authority. I know families like this one...the children can't relate and their children seem spoiled. But the movie was expressing Walt's view...the way he saw his I don't think we saw the round perspective of character. Since the movie focused on the interpersonal relationships between Clint and the Hmong...this is the location of change and transformation. It's the emphasis of the movie...if Walt had a wife there...or too much family intrusion, the story would veer away from racist sexist discourse and how "Wally" could undergo the profound transformation and change. Thanks for your cmments here, you got me thinking. Also thank you for the compassion and big Mama bear hug...I'm sorry that both of your parents are gone. but we're parented from afar. Love to you. <3

    Catherine, so glad that the threat was empty in your house-it wasn't in ours. If you like Clint E., you will appreciate this film because it is the role that brings all of the others to closure. ...all connected here to Clint's -make-my-day- ethos. Love to you, Miss Creative Catherine.

  11. Cynthia, I just finished watching this move. The ending surprised me and made me tearful. I won't spoil what happened for others who've not seen this film.

    It was filmed in Highland Park/Hamtramck and parts of Detroit. The very last shot in the movie is Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe Farms. The scenes were special to me from that point of view and the streets and homes appeared authentic, right down to the large population of Hmong families.

    I was touched by the fact that although gruff and stern, his own family found him useless. Nothing hurts an aging person more than uselessness. While standing in their home, Walt said, "I have more in common with this family than I do with my own." I think it was the respect the Hmong showed their elders; something he didn't get from his own family.

    As far as the racial slurs, I know plenty of people who are exactly what he was like, although most would not say so to your face. I think the fact that he was offensive to everyone, no matter their heritage, kind of softened his character and made us like him.

    Although I could go on and on, I won't. I'm off to continue my stuck at home alone on a Saturday night movie-fest. Up next, Slum Dog Millionaire.

  12. Rudee, I'm glad to read that the movie rang true for you. I also could relate to the setting: homes, location, atmosphere. My own father worked at Volcan Mold for most of his electrican/electronics career. I grew up around people who knew about cars...and it was not okay to be ignorant. The fix things person was also my dad, though my mom was like that too...and I learned how to troubleshoot and repair stuff too. It was considered a basic skill. Now I'm a bit lazy about all of that...I have other work that takes my time. (At least that is what I tell myself.) I agree that Walt's even use of prejoratives makes it less harsh...and even funny. (I read he was an Archie Bunker like character.) I appreciate the comment about age and usefulness. It is true that many people (most) find their life validation and self esteem tied into what they can do. It's particularly true for someone who has been useful their entire live...and what he knew how to do "fix" was not needed or wanted by his was almost as if they had a class difference...and that education is what separated them. I hope you enjoyed SDM...I love the last's peppy and funny. <3

  13. I almost rented this movie Friday night, knowing I would find it as interesting and provocative as all Clint's films (oh, I was never wild about the ones with the "monkey" though).

    You are both strong and caring to watch this film, which brings violence so close to home. I think that is why I shied away from it, but will put it in my list to watch, maybe with a friend.

  14. thanks C for passsg by and as usual the motivating comment..sorry i used a wrong word "medicine" i was wondering what to use for the pest control poison..haha..cheers and best wishes

  15. I thoroughly enjoyed Gran Torino and thought Clint Eastwood's performance was excellent. I will definitely re-watch it after reading your post Cynthia and all the comments, xv.

  16. Cynthia,
    Very interesting post. I've not seen the movie yet but after reading your comments I may just do that. Even though we are against violence we do become protective, I think a natural instinct. Your posts are always interesting and I like how you often use music (like I do). I've always loved Johnny Cash and "Boy named Sue." Thanks for sharing.

    And thanks for your comment on my blog today.

  17. Teri, wonderful idea! Watch the movie with a friend...and focus on the story. Your are brave, too, I think that you keep your heart so open to others...and your little kitties!Thanks for reading and letting me know how you feel. Tell me it the movie is too much...I think it's not too difficult...I watched it twice. <3

    R.Ramesh,thanks for reading. I'm sorry about the medicine...I didn't mean to correct-I thought it was a way to know like Indian-English...maybe that's the best way to express the idea where you are...take care and I hope nothing is "bugging" you. <3

    Vicki, I so enjoy your visits...I know that you are busy. :-) I watched the movie twice in a few days and I liked it both times. I think it merits thorough consideration. <3

    Linda P.,yes, I liked your Elvis Youtube today...great song about dreaming and vision...that song makes me remember that we have been dreaming of a peaceful world for a long time. Thanks for your compliments about (OWL)blog. I appreciate your visits and the insight you offer on your blog. Love to you <3

  18. Fascinating post, Cynthia. The connection between your father's fierce protective instinct and Kowalski’s so-called xenophobic behavior is interesting. (What an immensely attractive threesome in the photograph!)

    I, too, was riveted by Gran Torino. A deft and unpretenious film about a situation which could so easily be transplanted to a city/suburb in the UK, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa - in fact, any western country.

    Oh, what a lovely time I've had catching up with all your recent posts, all of which I missed while we were on our Turkish sojourn. I do so love your blog, Cynthia, it is such a pleasure spending time here....and I never fail to come away feeling refreshed and inspired.

  19. PS. I've corrected the silly typo (bridges with a double ss!) on the Reach Out award so if you'd like to change the one you have now for the revised one, it's up on my blog. But only if you want to, of course!

  20. Cynthia, I left this answer (pasted below) on my blog for you. It ocurred to me that you may not see it, so I thought I'd leave it here for you...

    Thanks for your kind comment, Cynthia. Morganne is nearly 8 now. This blog is about my book 'Sunday's Child' which is a memoir written about my younger life back in Guyana (South America). Sometimes, though, I write about stuff happening right now, (like this latest post about my daughter). This is not a part of my book.

    If you would like to read some chapters of Sunday's Child you will find a link to it on the top, right hand side of this blog.

    Thanks again for dropping by. Please visit again.

  21. My brother and I were always the ones to stand up for underdogs - rather then ourselves... We always tended to be soft hearted suckers! Sounds like your chilhood made you strong?

  22. As is the usual case Cynthia, you have captivated me with this post. I have yet to see this film but now, of course, I will have to and see it or rent it. Before I touch on the movie though, I will speak a little about the father dynamic, if I may.

    Being raised in a foster home, I did not have the benefit of being reared by my father. During much of my childhood, and why we were probably put in the foster home to begin with, was that my father spent a good portion of that time in jail. Which kind of makes me glad that he didn't raise me, or quite possibly I would have been name Sue! But that's a post for another day.

    When I watched the clip of Torino, I have to admit that my body tensed up. Ever since I was old enough to remember, every time I have witnessed bullying in any sense of the word, that same feeling courses thru my body. There have been a few occasions in my life where I have stepped into the ring, so to speak, to help even out the odds. While others stood by becoming spectators, I watched people being beaten black and blue. During those times, I did not stop to ask questions. All I knew was that somebody was getting hurt and I couldn't stand it. After the fact, I wondered why the others just stood by and watched. It was like, if it wasn't on their doorstep, it was none of their business. A small clip, but a huge impact...on me anyways. Thanks for this.

  23. Hello again Cynthia, just a quick hello and a note letting you know that there is a little something over at my blog if you care to pick it up.

  24. My father was a gun lover to the point that our living room was surrounded with more than 40 rifles mounted in glass cases, he always carried a loaded revolver with him. I think I understand that duality in you. I often felt that I became to be a peaceful warrior of sorts.

  25. I have watched very few Clint movies...ugh. So sorry. Although I have found him to be a very inspiring individual. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Fascinating to find out so much more about your background, Cynthia. Not sure whether or not to see this film.


  27. Hey sweet lady....what a wonderful way you have with words...that ability to put your thoughts on paper and to bring insight through them...and how I identify with your protectiveness towards your family (and anybody who's being victimised)...and the utter frustration that humanity continues to resort to violence...

  28. Cynthia, So we are both posting on film today?! I have been having some kind of hiccup with my blog too, when trying to edit a post I want to publish in July - It allowed me to save it for 2010 but not for 2009! Sometimes I think Blogger just likes to misbehave - It's such a nuisance sometimes...

    As for your lovely award, sorry it took me ages to post it (owing to being technically challenged about weaving the image into the writing of the blog itself, rather than in the side-bar, if that makes sense...) - I am blogging about it next week, and passing it on, as requested... I am very grateful for it, and please watch out for something winging its way back to you too...

    I shall look out for Gran Torino - I have heard good things about it, and your recommendation makes it doubly unmissable!

    I have no experience of growing up around guns, I am glad to say, but always enjoy hearing about your wonderful life, Cynthia - Sending you blessings for a fine weekend, my friend x

  29. Cynthia, I'M IN!! my son just downloaded Mozilla firefox. so he had me check a place that i couldn't get in before. I have to go let him finish here and go rest. i'll email you later.
    oh, and i'll be back to read later too.

  30. I think being "intimate" with the air sounds lovely. Hope you have a great (worry free) weekend. xo S & les Gang

  31. I have not seen the movie yet- hell, i can barely get all the laundry done!!

    However, I DO love Johnny..........

  32. I've written like 4 messages and they don't seem to go through, I told you that your dad was handsome, you look a lot like your mom, I found out about the pink cowboy's father's love for guns within the last 5 years and I've known him for 25 years.
    Mac saw the movie and he liked it, I want to rent it


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