This movie is surprisingly realistic, and in that it is heart-breaking and almost hopeless. For example:
- One of the most likeable and most positive characters is raped and beaten; her intelligence, kindness, and courage are to little avail in the face the of violence and cruelty of her environment.
- "Doing the right thing" (staying in school, working, supporting family) isn't just ignored by people who don't follow that path -- a young man's peers seek out ways to disrespect and devalue him for making those good decisions.
- A priest who loves God is ineffective in his service and outreach amongst gangbangers.
- A father's failure to be close to his children begets a new generation of dysfunctional families.
This film draws out many serious elements of real life that are pervasive in humans regardless of environment: the racism and cross-cultural suspicion that are at the heart of all of us - our thirst for revenge and retribution - the desire not to be alone - what it means to be a man - the confusion caused by changing times - the burden of guilt from past mistakes - the refugee/immigrant experience - the role of religion.
This movie can help to start conversations on all of these themes; it is worth looking for applications to our own lives, whether they are similar to or completely different from what we see in the movie. It is also challenging to talk about greater perspective and higher power that might have changed the outcome of the story, or to wonder what else could have resolved or affected the conflicts and problems. Families, friends, churches, service groups, community organizations, and other networks would find good fruit in watching this movie and talking about how it relates to both their personal experience as well as their life in community.
That said, it's hard to take in the dozens of racial slurs (some I had never even heard before) and the images of being shot or post-rape/beating. The film also paints a very complicated picture of what it means to be a man; perhaps the Clint Eastwood character's manhood is old and outdated like his 1970s Gran Torino, but it is still appealing despite its obsolescence and problems. It's a film that calls for a mature response, a critical look from a person who can see the shades of gray in life yet also perceive that there is something better out there than the reality of this film's story, and so I don't recommend it for youth.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking