Growing old and/or aging are notions many find difficult to tolerate and the prejudices
this age group faces are complex. Nevertheless, despite a negative representation of the elderly in
film, they do serve a purpose. On the big screen we continue to see many adverse principles of
ageism yet in reality many of the characters are solid figures that ‘Still have the Right Stuff” as
lectured by Professor Gleberzon, PHD . Clint Eastwood dispels the myth of ageism and
illustrates he still has the right stuff in the movie, Gran Torino (2008).
The smash-hit at the box office, Gran Torino (2008) exposes and defends against ageism
conventions although many believe the underlying themes are those of racism, bigotry and
redemption. We see an older man, Walt Kowalski, (Eastwood) who has lost his wife, and rather
than shutting down, manages to grow throughout the movie due to his relationship with a
boy. When the neighbour Thao comes into his life, Walt learns to appreciate life again and
counter acts the disengagement theory common when retirement begins to set in.
Throughout the film we see signs of Walt’s need for reverence and recognition of the
American dream he fought so hard for during the Vietnam War. And for someone like Walt, he
has the right stuff to honour it. With old age, various expectations from our adolescent youth is
anticipated, including respect and proper behaviour. The opening scene at his wife’s funeral,
Walt displays his loathing of the disrespectful behaviour of his grandchildren and the lack of
concern from his two sons and daughters-in-laws. Many are quick to judge older people as
miserable and difficult to deal with but if we observed it from Walt’s perspective; we might see
this as a time for worship and his character captures this perfectly. Walt’s distaste for his son
driving a Toyota and his pride in his ownership of a 1972 Ford Gran Torino continues to
strengthen his patriotic pride as well as showing his aging side that will not accept anything un-
In contrast, Walt’s snubbing the Priest’s age and marginal life experience, shows his lack
of admiration for the Catholic Church. Walt lacks confidence in Father Janovich mainly
because of his age, being fresh out of the seminary and having little practice. He feels the
Priest does not have the necessary skill set to assist him in his own journey however as the movie
progresses, we see his perspective alter in regards to the priest.
In the beginning, we see signs of physical aging, but as the movie evolves, we see
Walt did have the right stuff. When Thao or “Toad” as Walt calls him, must steal Walt’s pride
and joy, “The Gran Torino”, we see Walt’s vulnerable side. Physical signs of aging include a
decline in flexibility and endurance and we see this in Walt’s encounter with Thao in the garage.
In contrast, with the chance meeting with Sue, his heroism, powerful strength and persona is