Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mutualism in the Movies

Last night I watched Clint Eastwood’s movie, Gran Torino. Here we have an old man, newly widowed, who’s once all white Midwestern neighborhood is now a community of Hmong. Walt is a retired auto worker---house-proud, foul-mouthed, bigoted, truculent, mutually estranged from his children and grandchildren and afflicted by bitter memories from the Korean War. He also has advanced lung cancer.

His teen-aged next door neighbor, Thao, as part of his gang initiation tries to steal Walt’s pride and joy---the Gran Torino. Walt stops him in the act. Later the boy’s sister comes over to explain that the boy has to work for Walt for a period of time in order to make amends. Initially Walt refuses but then agrees. His neighbors begin bringing him offerings of food and flowers which he first throws away and then accepts.

Where do we see mutualism---a relationship between individuals of different species where both individuals derive a benefit? Three scenes come to mind:

--Walt eating mostly beef jerky till his neighbors shower him with food---which he comes to accept.
--The contrast between his son bringing him a reacher (a tool used to access stuff on shelves---to avoid the dangers of getting on a step stool) and Thao’s sincere awe at Walt’s many competencies.
--Saving Thao’s life in a way that both guarantees the boy’s future safety and lifts the burden of guilt Walt has carried since the war.

None of this could have been organized in advance. It is about people whose needs exceed their self-sufficiency---pushing them to at least try to relate to each other.

Emerson’s Self-reliance meets Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village.

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