Truth in 'True Grit'

Holly and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last week. It was a great day that was capped off by great movie, True Grit. Sometimes you see a movie that has great acting, which True Grit does, and you leave the movie deceived into thinking that what impressed you most about the movie was the caliber of acting. But in reality what impressed you most about the movie was the underlying truths that the movie displays which are accentuated by the great acting. This is the case with True Grit. I walked out of the movie thoroughly impressed with the actors, especially Jeff Bridges, but even more drawn to the movie itself and the truths it exposed.

Mike Cosper comments at The Gospel Coalition Blog on the themes of revenge and hope in the movie. (If you haven't seen the movie, the following quote will be a bit of a spoiler.)

Cosper writes,

Even as Mattie Ross faces down her nemesis and defeats him in True Grit, she’s knocked backward into a pit by her weapon’s recoil. Revenge brings a cold comfort, resulting in an immediate descent into a snake-filled darkness. Her righteousness doesn’t result in a neat and tidy ending; it leaves her scarred, poisoned, and broken. Revenge, even petty revenge, never ends in as happy a way as we’d like, with a neat and tidy moment of “I told you so” justice. Instead, Like Mattie, we end our journey scarred both by victimization and retribution.

Perhaps that’s because what we need is retribution so vast that it calls for wrath that would overwhelm us. If our hunger for revenge were fulfilled, the result would be a flood that would drown even us, and our petty attempts at substitutes will ultimately be dissatisfying. The “justice” we hunger for would bring about our destruction. Thanks be to God—there’s a better retribution and a better rescue from the pit; one that emerges from the fringes, carries out justice, and saves us from the wrath we deserve.

Stanley Fish gives this excellent review of the movie here.

Here are a few excerpts:

The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious.

A third sentence, left out of the film but implied by its dramaturgy, tells us that the latter reading is the right one: “You cannot earn that [grace] or deserve it.” In short, there is no relationship between the bestowing or withholding of grace and the actions of those to whom it is either accorded or denied. You can’t add up a person’s deeds — so many good one and so many bad ones — and on the basis of the column totals put him on the grace-receiving side (you can’t earn it); and you can’t reason from what happens to someone to how he stands in God’s eyes (you can’t deserve it)...

they give us a better heroism in the person of Mattie, who maintains the confidence of her convictions even when the world continues to provide no support for them. In the end, when she is a spinster with one arm who arrives too late to see Rooster once more, she remains as judgmental, single-minded and resolute as ever. She goes forward not because she has faith in a better worldly future — her last words to us are “Time just gets away from us” — but because she has faith in the righteousness of her path, a path that is sure (because it is not hers) despite the absence of external guideposts. That is the message Iris Dement proclaims at the movie’s close when she sings “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”: “Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way / Leaning on the everlasting arms / Oh how bright the path goes from day to day / Leaning on the everlasting arms / What have I to dread what have I to fear / Leaning on the everlasting arms.”

The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.

Bottom line, go see the movie.

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