Monday, January 3, 2011

True Grit: Life, death, time and snakes

While the rest of the world was out getting drunk and celebrating New Year’s Eve, the lovely Miss Wendy and I were hidden away in a dark room, holding hands and playing out one of our annual traditions.

Yep, that’s right; we were at our neighborhood multiplex, enjoying a movie. We spent the evening with 50 or so strangers and a couple of strange brothers by the name of Coen who have made a few classic flicks in recent years – Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men.

This time around they decided to remake a classic, True Grit. It’s fun, entertaining and filled with violence and nastiness – hangings, shootings, knifings and such. The original, starring John Wayne and directed by Henry Hathaway, was also violent and, well, gritty around the edges.

The Coen brothers have smoothed out some of the rough edges and added a few iconic touches – weird characters, situations and dialogue, all nicely filmed against expansive vistas and beautiful landscapes. There’s also much to ponder about good, bad and the role of grace.

Both in the novel and the film, Mattie, the young girl seeking revenge for her father’s murder, offers up a universe that is tightly controlled by divine forces when she details her worldview in two simple sentences. “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.”

Stanley Fish, a professor of humanities with a resume much too long to detail, explores the theological implications of Mattie’s words and world for the New York Times. I offer this link for those of you who’d like to go deeper into what I mean when I say Mattie ends up paying a very high price for her focused and relentless pursuit of revenge.

The full impact of her choices smacked me in the face when we met up with Mattie at the end of the Coen brothers’ little morality play. The precocious young girl has grown old, a spinster darkly dressed in a world with little light.

“Time just gets away from us,” she says as the music swells and the credits roll. My guess is the median age of the New Year’s Eve revelers at the multiplex was something like 84. So Mattie’s words hung coldly in the darkened theater – and around my heart.

Of course Mattie is right. Time does have a way of getting away from us. Oh, did I mention there was a pit with snakes in it? Unfortunately, like the time thing, that part is also true.

ROOSTER AND MATTIE: Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld (photo above) star in Coen Brothers remake of True Grit.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that watching True Grit sounds like a great way to ring in the new year. I only just saw it this week but I was totally taken in. I fell in love with Mattie and rooted for her the same way it seems a lot of people rooted for John Wayne in the original. I never saw that movie but I can't imagine from the defenders I've read if it that it could have had anything like the emotional impact that this one does - especially, of course, as tue epilogue unfolds and the full weight of Matties decisions and the choices she's made come out so devastatingly and so beautifully in those few lines of dialogue and action. I was surprised to find myself unable to speak at the end. A friend I went with just cried and I wasn't far from it myself. A great genre movie in the beginning that transforms into an incredibly powerful and universal statement in the end. I can't wait to see it again.