Gran Torino (2008 film directed by, and starring, Clint Eastwood) is a modern parable on meekness and self-sacrifice.

Like any parable, it tells a story: the story of an old, irascible war veteran and factory worker, Walt, and his increasing alienation from his own sons and grudging acceptance of his neighbours whose Hmong ethnic identity he finds difficult to accept, following his experiences of war. His despair at the mindless gang violence in American society, his scorn of his wife’s Catholic faith, his seething rage against the ills of scoiety, his racist dislike of immigrants and his stoic acceptance of his own mortality unfold gradually. Anyone less likely to be thought of as meek would be hard to find.

The character’s natural defence is offence. When youths treaten his property, he takes a gun to them, not cowed by age or afraid of their aggressive bluster. When these youths threaten his new-found friends, his whole instinct is towards protection and revenge. Here is no naturally meek man.

As the violence escalates, it becomes obvious there is not going to be any easy solution and the brooding, reflective quality of this tormented main character leaves audiences wondering if they are going to witness a bloodbath. There is never enough evidence to convict the real perpetrators of violence; the law’s hands appear to be tied. Not so Walt’s. Locking the victim’s indignant brother (who is fuelled by righteous anger and ripe for revenge) in his basement to keep him out of harm’s way, Walt goes to meet the thugs. He sacrifices himself to their bullets, provoking them to fire the incriminating shots by reaching for his matches and deceiving them into thinking he is reaching, once again, for his gun. This time, however, he has chosen to lay down his life for his friends – friends whom he once considered his enemies. Now the police have all the evidence they need for convictions and the crime wave is, here at least, finally halted.

The parable is stunning: no-one expects Walt to offer himself willingly. His character throughout the film has seemed intent on revenge, on believing violence is the best way to secure defence. There has been no indication that he respects the priest who tries to win him to his fold; rather, he has appeared scornful and impatient with all of Christianity’s tenets, tormented by his own sins and unwilling to believe in grace and mercy because he does not deserve them. But at the end of the film, he shows a perfect understanding of the nature of meekness: a willing submission, a conscious choice, a knowledge that sacrifice is necessary at times to achieve a greater goal. No one who sees Walt’s sacrifice can surely fail to understand the choices involved in meekness, but – as Garry pointed out last night – meekness can often look to others like weakness and with it comes, at times, great personal cost.