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The Film “Gran Torino” by Clinton Eastwood


“Gran Torino” is a unique picture in its genre, giving a certain “food for the mind”. This is a story about a cruel fate, turning points within the country, losses, gains, friendship, hatred, freedom, and independence. In addition, the film serves as an excellent source for studying forensic and criminal moments. This essay will present an analysis of the film “Gran Torino” within the framework of criminological theories.

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A Summary

The film discussed in this paper is “Gran Torino” by Clinton “Clint” Eastwood, released in 2008. This movie tells about the life of a lonely man, Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran, who ironically lives surrounded by Asians. His wife died, his children rarely remember, and his granddaughter only looks at his grandfather’s car at all. The only close creature for the older man was his dog Daisy. The man lives his “remaining days,” enjoys every moment, and will not change anything in life. However, the usual way of life ends when someone tries to steal his rare 1972 Gran Torino car.

The Main Theme

The movie’s main themes are self-confidence and independence, acceptance of death, masculinity and pride, friendship and hatred, the consequences of violence and deindustrialization, racism, and reflection of Hmong culture, and many others. Definitely, “Gran Torino” teaches one to change – to change personality, life, and environment. There is always a place for new moments in life; the main thing is not to miss this time. The relevant subplots that will be discussed in this paper are labeling and prejudice, the relationship of the structure of society with a certain era and culture, and the number of several social phenomena.

The Theories

The theories that will be used to analyze the film are Label Theory, Anomie & Strain Theories, and Social Disorganization Theory. For instance, Label Theory by Howard S. Becker explains deviant behavior in terms of the legal capacity of influential groups to label “deviants” to members of less influential groups. People may be treated as if they have violated a rule because others claim that this “law” has been violated. Hence, from the point of view of theory, no action is criminal in essence, and accordingly, no one is a criminal initially. The authorities establish definitions of crime by formulating laws and their interpretation by the police, courts, and correctional institutions. Thus, deviance is not a set of characteristics of individuals or groups but the process of interaction between deviants and non-deviants and the context in which crime is interpreted.

Anomie & Strain Theories by Robert Merton have the following essential aspects. For example, deviant behavior manifests itself in the case of the inevitable result of stress that people experience when they are deprived of the opportunity to achieve culturally valued goals. For example, a certain society values economic success. However, wealth is available to only a small percentage of people, and, as practice shows, some people exhibit deviant behavior and resort to crime. There would be no problems if, for example, all Americans had the same access to the means of achieving material success. However, they are often inaccessible to the poor and representatives of national minorities. Therefore, it is representatives of such social groups who try to achieve prestigious goals by any means, including vicious and criminal ones. Consequently, the creator of the theory assumed that the reason for the deviation is the gap between the cultural goals of society and the socially approved means of achieving them.

Social Disorganization Theory by Émile Durkheim explains crime at the social level, making the psychology of the criminal dependent on the processes of functioning of society as a whole. Emile Durkheim believed that society would not be able to live in the absence of “misconduct.” Offenses are necessary because this phenomenon is connected with social life. Consequently, violations and offenses are reproduced in society due to the connection of individuals or groups with patterns of criminal behavior. The more frequent and stable these connections are, the more likely an individual will become a criminal. In addition, according to the theory, the crime may be related to social reasons, not to the offender’s individual traits. The crime itself, in this vein, is a kind of natural phenomenon that maintains balance and balance in society. During the period of stability, the law is not a rough pressure of the material environment for the individual but an image of the higher collective consciousness.

The Film’s Analysis

Primarily, the film clearly shows the tendency of hanging “labels” and designations for individuals, groups, and categories of citizens. From the point of view of the Label Theory, in a larger sense, “Gran Torino” clearly reveals such social phenomena and situations as stigmatization, discrimination, and biased attitudes. Native residents do not recognize the “newcomers” from Latin America and Asia in every possible way shutting them off, avoiding and seeing their actions and deeds through the prism of negativity, fear, and apprehension. At the same time, it is customary and commonplace for the regional police to interrogate and detain local “foreign” youth without even having strong evidence and arguments for that. Consequently, it is the community and the criminal justice system that, at the initial stages, “sow the seed” of hatred for “subhumans”-Hmnongs and “second-rate” Mexicans, imposing stigma and “branding.” Perhaps, that is why various criminal groups and gangs consisting mainly of immigrants are growing at a high rate in “Gran Torino”. People are law-abiding and honest, but, however, it is external pressure from society pushes some of them to accomplish something forbidden and contrary to the social norms.

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As for the more “mundane” and everyday level of development of events in the movie, it is worth noting the following points of Label Theory. For instance, the main character initially treats his Hmong neighbors with contempt, but over time his views change. For example, a shy young man, Tao, tries to steal Walt’s car, but the attempt is unsuccessful (Eastwood, 2008). This case, perhaps, could be recognized as an unintentional result of boastful behavior in front of the cousin and his gang – Tao sought to become respected among his peers. However, the young man cannot accept the stigma of a criminal and subsequently confesses to his neighbor, Walt, trying in every way to make amends. Hence, an unsuccessful attempt to steal a car, Gran Torino, remained at the level of primary deviation. Tao looks like a good guy, and his act was perceived as reckless, unintentional. On the contrary, if the police had intervened in this situation and the court had imposed a suspended sentence for the guy, this incident could have been the first step towards a secondary deviation. Most probably, in the future, Tao would have become like his cousin-bandit.

There is also the presence of Anomie & Strain Theories in “Gran Torino.” Clint Eastwood’s world illustrates the imbalance between cultural goals and institutional means is clearly emphasized – a manifestation of an unnatural correlation between “opportunities” and “reality” that generate unsatisfied aspirations. Hence, migrants do not have enough money for decent provision and satisfaction of their needs and desires. Local authorities do not seek to provide comprehensive support and assistance to such people. On the contrary, they discredit and infringe on their rights in every possible way. Tension and discontent among Asians and Mexicans are growing due to harassment by authentic Americans. Accordingly, it is extremely difficult to survive in such conditions, not to mention finding a decent job. Thus, these “foreigners” are gradually resorting to illegal tricks and tricks that will help at least a small fraction improve the situation. In addition, “Gran Torino” also traces a kind of internal war for dominance and power over the regions between gangs consisting of representatives of different nationalities.

Moreover, the gang of juvenile delinquents represented in the movie is from the “lower social strata.” Thus, the “American dream” has become an ideology masking that legitimate opportunities are not available to everyone. The only chance presented to somehow move “into the people” and get out of poverty are crimes. Through their “intermediary,” Tao, the Spider gang is trying to get a valuable car, Gran Torino, and at the same time, “get away with this” (Eastwood, 2008). Hence, with a successful hijacking, the blame would fall on the particular young man.

Actually, the surrounding atmosphere of the film is based on social, economic, and cultural changes – the process of deindustrialization. The area’s main population is Asian and Mexicans, and armed youth gangs, from representatives of different nationalities, like blacks, are operating on the streets (Eastwood, 2008). Indeed, each of the representatives of these organizations strives to achieve certain respect, reverence, wealth, and prosperity. In this key, the reflection of Social Disorganization Theory is visible. For example, an attempt to steal Walt’s car by his neighbor is a manifestation of the weakened social integration of the districts due to the lack of self-regulation mechanisms described by É. Durkheim. Thus, such processes define disorganization as a reflection of the low level of social control generated by the unfavorable socio-economic situation, turnover, and population heterogeneity. A convergence of conflicting cultural standards in poor neighborhoods and group behavior associated with a crime appears.

Crime Prevention and Policy Implications

Unfortunately, solving the crime problem is a difficult and extremely ambitious task. According to the concepts of É. Durkheim, crimes and various offenses are a natural process of formation and development of society. All people are different by nature, and accordingly, there will always be someone who does not agree with certain norms of behavior. Additionally, the film shows the “wrong side” of American society, and in colors, demonstrates the phenomena experienced by most of the country’s population. Therefore, poor people are forced to turn to crime for lack of proper means or tools, seeing this as the only way to provide for their own needs and get closer to the “American dream.”

Moreover, the prevention of juvenile delinquency within the film’s framework at the local level begins with adults who should warn the younger generation against wrong steps and fatal mistakes. Local authorities located in the region where the film’s main character also lives can create special conditions that reduce deviant behavior among teenagers. The introduction of individual work with minors in educational institutions, monitoring children’s activities, and the introduction of training seminars for parents and teachers will contribute to improving a “deplorable” situation.


In conclusion, the movie “Gran Torino” is a multifaceted, complex, and unique work in the film industry. It combines many social, economic, and cultural aspects, including those related to crimes and malicious actions. Thus, the concepts that the director demonstrated to the audience can be explained using three theories. Each of them reveals in its way one or another presented moment, phenomenon, and event from different sides, angles, and points of view.

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Eastwood, C. (2008). Gran Torino [Film]. Warner Bros.

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