To give a bit of an overview, the movie “Gran Torino” was directed and produced by Clint Eastwood who also starred in the movie. This movie highlights the modern conditions surrounding many aspects of intercultural communications. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowolski whose wife just died and who is a Korean War veteran. He has a difficult time getting along with people do not hold the same views or values that he does. He lives in an era that he doesn’t understand and lives close to many Hmong immigrants and in a neighborhood with a lot of violence and gangs.
Since his wife died he has no other option but to communicate with the people around him (neighbors mostly). As the book says this is considered his cultural space. “One significant type of cultural space that emerged in U. S. cities is the neighborhood, a living area defined by its own cultural identity, especially an ethnic or racial one” (Pg 190). He has a very difficult time with this at first but as the movie goes on you can see him progressively become more comfortable with this.
I think the obvious reason he isn’t comfortable communicating with his neighbors is the fact that he once fought and killed these people on the battlegrounds of Korea. The two conflicts we see throughout this movie are racial/ethnic conflicts and gender conflicts. The main conflict throughout the film would have to be the racial and ethnic conflicts which Walt seems to have to deal with on a daily basis. As we see in the movie Walt’s conflicts come from an interpersonal level, which the book states is “the perceived or real incompatibility of goals, values, or expectations between two parties from different cultures. We see throughout the movie that Walt has many internal conflicts with people who are not of the same culture as he is. Several times throughout the movie we see Walt use racial slurs such as “spooks” which is used to describe African American’s or “zipper-head” which is used to describe Asians.
We can see that Walt has rigid beliefs about groups of people. The book describes it as stereotyping. “Stereotypes are widely held beliefs about a group of people and are a form of generalization-a way of categorizing and processing information we receive about others in our daily life” (Pg. 5). I found it interesting to learn that at times these terms that he is using to insult these people can be used as a positive way to describe an African American or Asian. We also see these types of racial slurs at less intense times during the movie. For example when he goes to the barbershop, which is owned by his Italian friend, he greets him by calling him a dago, and calls his Irish friend a mick. Although he uses disrespectful language towards these guys he considers them his good friends. We see Walt use nonverbal communication at times throughout the movie as well.
According to the book, “nonverbal communication is communication through means other than language-for example, facial expression, personal space, eye contact, use of time, and conversational silence” (Pg. 170). The conflicts he has with his neighbors are clear through his verbal communication but just as clear through his non-verbal communication as we see him spitting tobacco at their feet. A second form of conflict we see in this movie has to do with gender. The book talks about Gender, Ethnicity, and Conflict.
It says “our gender and ethnicity may influence how we hand conflict. Men and women in the United States seem to have different communication styles. These different ways of communicating sometimes lead to conflict and can influence how men and women handle conflict” (Pg. 234). In Grand Torino we can see the concept of traditional male and female roles. These traditional roles are emphasized with Thao who is the Hmong boy that lives next door to Walter. Thao’s father died around the same time as Walter’s wife died, leaving Thao with no male role model in the house.
As we learn in the movie the roles of the man of the house in the Hmong culture are clearly defined and often times Thao is given a hard time by his sisters and even Walter because he often does what is considered women’s jobs (doing the dishes, gardening, etc…). Thao struggles to develop his identity because he isn’t really considered the man of the house yet and he refuses to join a gang which has become the new role of boys in the Hmong culture living in the United States. Throughout the movie we see Walt having problems with the younger generations as well.
During Walt’s wife’s funeral Walt see’s the way his granddaughter is dressed and instantly disapproves with a grunt of frustration. This is a pop culture reference and it helps us show how Walt is disconnected with those elements of culture he doesn’t agree with and shows us more internal conflict with Walt. We also see a pop culture reference with Walt and his son through interpersonal conflict. In a scene at the funeral, his son Mitch and his family, leave in a hurry. The reason being is that the car they were driving was made in Japan.
Walt did not appreciate this at all. The generation below him does not consider where the car was made but rather what kind of status the car will give them. This clearly bothers Walt because to him it is like running away from the battle. The conclusion was fitting as the meaningful ending to the movie and Walt’s life and was one that our culture don’t always seem to appreciate in the real world. When Thao’s older sister was shot and killed by a drive-by shooting Walt came up with an extreme solution.
He ended up dying to help Thao and his family get rid of a gang that has been bothering them throughout the movie. Unfortunately the way he took care of the problem not only created more gang violence but it ended up costing him his life. A better approach to resolve the conflict would have been to get a third party involved, perhaps the police, instead of handling it on his own. As we saw throughout the movie Walt began talking to a priest by the name of Father Janovich. They shared some common views of the Hmong gang members.
This would have been a good third party to come help Walt come up with a peaceful resolution between Walt, Thao and the Hmong gang members. The hard part about it was that both the Hmong gang members and Walt both had relationships with the father so it would have been difficult to maintain a truce or agreement between them in the end. Gran Torino touched on so many aspects of intercultural communication and conflict as discusses above. Although Walt had many internal and interpersonal conflicts and conflicts with faith we see how personal relations can be overcome by even the deepest divides between people.
Although Walter was a racist, crabby, old man there are a few aspects of his personality that I can identify with. I am a person that finds comfort with the traditional ways of living and I have little tolerance for nonsense. We see the character Sue deal with conflicts in the best manner in this movie. She understood both cultures, along with the understanding of reality and how to break through to Walt’s rigid traditional ways including racism and prejudice. Instead of being angry or mad with Walt Sue responded with humor which we see was the best way to get through to Walt.
The movie showed the challenges and ways to resolve culture conflicts in what seemed to be a realistic manner. Personal relationships also played a key role in resolving long lasting cultural and internal issues. In the end of the movie we see that Walt developed a friendship with Thao that seemed like it would have lasted a lifetime. He really ends up admiring and loving Thao and his sister. He realizes that his life has value in providing a safe future that is free of conflict for Thao and his family.
It is interesting to see how Walt not only changes his perspective on his own cultural conflicts, but he realizes and then symbolically fulfills one of the things preached by God and the church, which was something he always saw as just a simple superstition. According to the book there are several benefits of intercultural relationships. The book says the main benefits are: (1) Learning about the world, (2) breaking stereotypes, and (3) acquiring new skills. I think we can see how Walt learned about God and the world, broke stereotypes about Korean people, and acquired social skills as well.
As we can see Walt took advantage of all of the benefits of intercultural relationships. Walt goes from being a grumpy, old, racist man to a man full of love and admiration. I learned that the Korean culture consists of kind hearted and acceptable people and at the same time dangerous and violent people. We have the neighbors which consist of kind hearted accepting people but we also have the gang consisting of Khao’s Korean cousins and his friends. I haven’t really thought about the Korean culture too much so I did learn a little bit.
I learned that they strongly value gender and family roles. For example the man and woman have duties in the house that are usually strictly followed. My perception of this cultural group has changed a little bit. I thought of Koreans as being a peaceful, non-violent group but that obviously isn’t the case. Seeing a group involving a Korean was something I never have seen or thought of before. Obviously people of all races belong or have belonged to a gang but it was just weird for me to see.
Overall though I think I still think of Koreans as a kind hearted and understand culture. They are viewed a little different. I think we are less direct when dealing with conflict than the culture we see in this movie. We don’t really openly discuss our problems and we don’t have clearly defined gender roles like this culture, or at least not as obviously defined gender roles. It seems like they are a culture that spends most of their time together where people in my community tend to do their own thing more often than not.