Gran Torino – Prejudice

Plot Summary from Wikipedia:

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a retired Polish American Ford factory worker and Korean War veteran, has recently been widowed after his wife of 50 years, Dorothy, passed away. He is a difficult man, unloved by his two sons and their families, which causes problems after his wife’s death. His neighborhood in Highland Park, Michigan, formerly populated by working-class white families, is now dominated by poor Asian immigrants, and gang violence is commonplace. He vehemently turns down a suggestion to move to a retirement community, and lives alone with his labrador retriever, Daisy. Father Janovich, the young Catholic priest in whom his wife had confided, tries to comfort him with empty platitudes, but Walt openly disdains the much younger, inexperienced man.

The Hmong Vang Lor family moves in next door. Initially, Walt wants nothing to do with his new neighbors, but slowly he does get involved in Sue and her shy brother Thao’s lives. Thao’s cousin coerces him into stealing Walt’s beloved 1972 Gran Torino as an initiation into his Hmong gang, though Thao does not want to join. Thao fails in the attempt to steal the prized automobile and to atone for his crime, Thao’s mother makes him work for Walt (against both Thao’s and Walt’s wishes). Walt has him do odd jobs around the neighborhood. When Thao has finished, Walt gets him a construction job. Walt observes that a popular Hmong girl, Youa, appears to be attracted to Thao. Thao likes her as well, but is too shy to do anything. Walt pressures him into asking her out and usually refers to her as “Yum Yum”.

Walt is troubled by occasional coughing fits and soon begins spitting up blood. He goes for a medical checkup and receives the results. Although never explicitly stated, it is implied he is dying from a form of lung cancer.

One day, Thao is physically assaulted by the gang on the way home from work for his failure to steal the Gran Torino. Angered, Walt confronts one of the gang members with his M1911A1 pistol, bashing and threatening to kill him if the gang does not leave Thao alone. While driving home, Walt starts to feel chest pains and has a hard time breathing. He knows there is not much time. Walt allows Thao to take the Gran Torino on a date with Youa. The gang retaliates with a drive-by shooting on the Vang Lor home, injuring Thao, as well as by raping Sue. Filled with self-anger at having escalated the feud, Walt goes home and punches out his glass kitchen cabinets until his knuckles bleed. The next morning he talks to Father Janovich and observes that the Vang Lor family will never be safe while the gang is around.

The next day, Thao seeks Walt’s help to get revenge. Walt tells him to calm down and return later in the afternoon. In the meantime, Walt makes preparations, by getting a fitted suit, and confessing to Father Janovich. He tells him that he was never close to either of his sons (because he didn’t know how to be), that he kissed another woman at a Christmas party while his wife was talking to friends and he didn’t pay tax on the $900 profit he made on the sale of a boat. When Thao returns, Walt takes him to the basement and gives him his Silver Star. Walt locks him in the basement, telling him that he is too young to kill and that killing a man is the worst thing that ever happened to him.

Walt drives to the house of the gang members. When they spot him, they draw their weapons. Walt talks loudly, drawing the attention of the neighbors. He puts a cigarette in his mouth and asks for a light. He then slowly puts his hand in his jacket and whips his hand out quickly. The gang members all begin firing and kill him.

Sue frees Thao and they drive to the crime scene in Walt’s Gran Torino. It turns out that Walt was not armed and was actually reaching for his old military lighter to trick the gang members into killing him. The Hmong police officer tells them the gang will be imprisoned for a long time for murder due to the number of willing witnesses.

Walt’s funeral is attended not only by his family, but also by Thao, Sue, and many of the Hmong community with Father Janovich officiating. He says that Walt called him “an over-educated 27-year-old virgin that never knew the difference between life and death,” and the last bit was true until he met Walt. Afterward, Walt’s last will and testament is read. Snubbing his selfish and uncaring family, Walt leaves his house to the church and his cherished Gran Torino to Thao with certain conditions – that he take care of it, and not add any spoilers or flame drawings to it. As the film ends, Thao is seen driving the car along West Jefferson with Walt’s dog, Daisy.

Discussion Questions

1) What sort of prejudices does Walt have?

2) Why do you think Walt has the prejudices he does?

3) What do you think causes people to become prejudiced in general?

4) Walt’s prejudices change during the course of the movie. How so and why?

5) What are some types of prejudice besides racism?

6) What images spring to mind when you hear the word ‘prejudice’?

7) What kinds of prejudice exist in your country?

8) Why does prejudice occur?

9) What does your government do to fight prejudice?

10) What is the answer to prejudice?

11) What’s the worst form of prejudice you know of?

12) Have you ever suffered because of prejudice?

13) What would you do if prejudice was directed against you?

14) Would you act if you saw cases of prejudice?


Gran Torino Worksheet

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One response to “Gran Torino – Prejudice

  1. Stupid emotional (propagandistic) questions at the end; intentionally directed towards criticism of healthy human judgments. It’s not “prejudice” if you have a life time of experience to judge from. It’s called wisdom.

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