January 23, 2009


'Gran Torino' and the Drive Toward Liberty (Paulette Chu Miniter, January 24, 2009, Far Eastern Economic Review)

Most Americans can’t pronounce “Hmong,” let alone know what Hmong is. So it’s interesting that Clint Eastwood’s new film, "Gran Torino," is about the journey of Hmong immigrants in America.

The story of immigration in America is usually told as one of hard work and eventual success. But Mr. Eastwood’s "Gran Torino" is a much more cutting commentary with lots of rough language to boot. The film evokes the unfinished business of the Vietnam War to get its message across. Unfinished because America left Vietnam, and the people who fought alongside for their freedom, before the job was done. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees myself, the message I took from the film has little do to with its racial stereotypes or slurs. Instead it’s about what happens when America abandons the ideals that so many people come here for. It abandoned “the freedom agenda” in Vietnam and then abandoned it again here. [...]

What becomes of these Hmong is at the center of "Gran Torino." Like many children of immigrants, Sue and her brother Thao are largely on their own in America. Their family lost everything, don’t speak English and are isolated from American culture. Their father is gone, perhaps dead. They live with their mom and grandmother in a blighted neighborhood of similarly poor Hmong. Street gangs have formed along Latin, black and most important to the film, Hmong lines.

Since thugs are at bottom cowards, they inevitably turn on their own people. The moral question for the rest of us is whether to look the other way and mind our own business, or not. In "Gran Torino," we watch the hero sacrifice all to choose the latter. Walt doesn’t flee the ghettoized ‘hood. He doesn’t call the police. Instead, he wages war.

Walt wages this war because he understands that peace can’t exist without freedom.

People on the far Right and the Left who talk about abandoning George W. Bush's freedom agenda are actually talking about abandoning America. But a Nixon/Ford/Carter episode of withdrawal tends to bring us back around to Reagan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2009 5:44 PM
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