Friday, January 02, 2009

"Gran Torino" Reminds of the Need for Purpose

I’m a long time Clint Eastwood fan. Yep, I like the tough guy, blood and guts stuff. So, when “Gran Torino” came out I knew I would have to see it. When several critics opined that it might be Eastwood’s best work I was all the more intrigued.

New Year’s Day my wife and I sandwiched our way into a sold out theater and took in the story. I’m not giving any spoilers to comment on Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, because you can pick up 80% of what I’m going to say with the trailers or movie reviews.

Walt was a lifetime employee and assembly line worker in a Ford factory. The movie begins with the passing of Walt’s wife and the setting up of his life as a retired widower in his longtime neighborhood that has gone through a complete ethnic and economic transition. Walt is crusty and perpetually grumpy. Though he has some kind of respect for God he has virtually no tolerance for religious game-playing or churchiness.

Like the 1972 Gran Torino that Walt helped assemble and keeps in mint condition, Walt is from another time and is totally insensitive to contemporary political correctness. He is almost always cursing and using offensive ethnic slurs. Still, for the person that is not immediately repelled by Walt’s tough exterior there is something compassionate and tender about Walt.

Surrounded by homes that are now unkempt and deteriorating, Walt’s home still features a manicured lawn and fresh paint. Walt spends most afternoons on his front porch drinking a six-pack of beer and grumbling as he watches the world go to hell around him.

Walt accidentally becomes heroic to his neighbors with whom he constantly claims he just wants to be left alone. Had Walt gotten his wish and been left alone he would have at some time died with little contribution to this world or the lives around him.

I know “Walt”. I’ve met him dozens of times. American suburbs are filled with “Walts” who were hard working, mostly honest guys who raised a family and retired to a life of somewhat meaningless meandering in their garage workshop or to insignificant hobbies of woodworking, and model train building, or to ridiculous amounts of golf.

The movie portrays an interesting story of Walt’s inadvertent benevolence toward his neighbors but since leaving the theater I’ve not been able to stop thinking about the real life “Walts” I’ve known through the years. It seems to me that the most common and tragic factor in each of these lives is an unclear sense of purpose for life.

My friend, life is eternally more than working hard at a job, making a living and raising a family. God has a plan for our lives. Our lives are born with innate significance. In the cosmic drama our “character” plays an essential role for which God endows us with gifts, talents and opportunities. Before Walt’s unintentional engagement of life at a deeper level he was wasting his life and so it is for many of us today.

“Gran Torino” reminds us of the need for purpose. Are you knowing and living yours?

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