What does Gran Torino suggest about the idea of 'belonging'?

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In Gran Torino , an old Korean War veteran has to confront his prejudice head-on. Walt Kowalski finds his only solace in his Gran Torino and M-1 rifle, which he has carried with him since the war. His wife has passed, and we see a lonely man living mostly in...

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In Gran Torino, an old Korean War veteran has to confront his prejudice head-on. Walt Kowalski finds his only solace in his Gran Torino and M-1 rifle, which he has carried with him since the war. His wife has passed, and we see a lonely man living mostly in solitude until his life is disrupted by his Hmong neighbors' teenage son, Thao. As Thao seeks forgiveness for attempting to steal Kowalski's Gran Torino, they form an unlikely bond. Kowalski is drawn into his neighbor's life, and he begins to realize many things he has in common with them. Kowalski is challenged to seek community outside the confines of his own home and estranged kids. The idea of belonging is presented as Kowalski finds common ground with an unexpected neighbor. His non-existent relationship with his kids also highlights the idea that family isn't always where one finds belonging.

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Walt's initial idea of belonging relates to blood relations and ethnic sameness. He believes he only really belongs with people of his own race and culture, as well as his own family. But the issue is that his family is rude and distant; they don't care a whit about him. His granddaughter, in particular, seems to be waiting for him to die so she can inherit his beloved car. His wife is also dead, leaving him without anyone to love and without his former Catholic faith.

When Walt first meets the Hmong Lor family, he sees them as alien to him: yet another sign of the invasion of his all-white neighborhood by ethnic outsiders. But he overcomes his prejudice by getting close to the Lors, seeing them as more his family than his own blood relations.

Gran Torino presents true belonging as having more to do with mutual caring and trust than anything else. While there are cultural and racial differences between Walt and the Lors, their love for one another transcends this. In the end, Walt's leaving his beloved Gran Torino to Thao rather than his blood granddaughter is a sign of his great change in perspective.

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When Walt is hit with a major epiphany about his own life, his relationship with the Hmong people, and his own family, it reflects his understanding of belonging and how the theme is important in the film.  The Hmong priest has offered to do " a reading" for Walt and diagnoses his life as one where there is realities of sin, penance, and the loss felt at being emotionally estranged.  Walt begins to cough up blood and runs to the bathroom, washes his face, and stares in the mirror:

Jesus!  I have more in common with these gouks than I do with my own damn family!

It is an instant where Walt begins to understand that the belonging he felt with his wife, and the lack of it following her death, are realities with which he must wrestle.  His desire to become closer to Sue and Thao is motivated by a need to belong to something in the absence of his wife.  Not much is known about Walt's life with his wife, but it is evident that there was a feeling of belonging evident.  This is something that drives Walt to befriend Thao and Sue, helping them and their family.  It is this desire to belong that motivates him to challenge the gang in front of others and sacrifice his life for them.  Belonging becomes central to the ideas of the film, suggesting that blood and family lines do not define belonging, but rather can be forged with people of common interests and defined by mutual and shared trust.  In this, the idea of belonging plays a large role in Eastwood's film.

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