Archive for January 18th, 2013

Eastwood grapples with culture and violence in his moving ‘Gran Torino’

January 18, 2013

Two deaths bracket the 2008 movie Gran Torino, which stars and was directed by Clint Eastwood. Of the second, I shall say little to nothing other than that, like the first, it personally affects Eastwood’s character.

But the man at the beginning of the movie and the one at the end are, if you’ll forgive my pun, very different characters. As the film opens, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) stands in a Catholic church by the casket of his dead wife. The stone-faced retired automobile factory worker strains to hold back a contemptuous growl as his grandchildren — one clad in a Detroit Lions football jersey, another in a midriff-baring top — casually approach their pew and cross themselves with varying degrees of sincerity and mockery. When Father Janovich, a rosy-cheeked young priest, begins his homily, Kowalski scarcely chokes back a derisive snort.

A wake follows at Kowalski’s home. But while the house is packed with people, Kowalski hardly seems to notice the company. He callously dismisses Janovich’s attempt at conversation, his granddaughter’s offer to help him with a minor chore, and a neighbor’s request for jump cable.

The young neighbor Kowalski barks at is a gentle teenager of Hmong ethnicity named Thao. He lives with his older sister, Sue, and their mother and grandmother. (And perhaps one or two others — I may have missed something.)

This character, who barely speaks in most of his early scenes, is beloved by his immediate family but considered a non-entity. As extended family and neighbors gather for a ceremony to bless a newborn baby, an older male relative cuts in front of Thao without acknowledgment as the teenager scrubs a stack of dishes at the sink.

Kowalski seems inclined to avoid human contact with anyone other than his old war and work buddies. Thao isn’t quite as isolated, but there are people he’s eager to avoid. Specifically, he’d prefer not to be drawn into the gun-toting gang that his older cousin Spider has joined. He tries to resist but eventually agrees to an initiation that ends up going horribly wrong in a wonderfully right way.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Nuclear weapons

January 18, 2013

This one wondrous sentence, part of a fascinating contrarian take on the historical role of the atomic bomb, explains the prescription one chemist and blogger has for addressing a global danger.

No number of technical remedies will cause nations to abandon them until we make these destructive instruments fundamentally unappealing and start seeing them at the very least as outdated dinosaurs whose technological usefulness is now completely obsolete, and at best as immoral and politically useless tools whose possession taints their owner and results in international censure and disapproval.

Source: Ashutosh Jogalekar, “On the uselessness of nuclear weapons,” Scientific American, date.

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