Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace"

In "Narrative and the Grace of God" Stanley Fish argues that the Coen brothers new True Grit is profoundly religious, as was the book, and in contrast to the 1969 Henry Hathaway film with John Wayne.
.... In the novel and in the Coens’ film it is always like that: things happen, usually bad things (people are hanged, robbed, cheated, shot, knifed, bashed over the head and bitten by snakes), but they don’t have any meaning, except the meaning that you had better not expect much in this life because the brute irrationality of it all is always waiting to smack you in the face. This is what happens to Mattie at the very instant of her apparent triumph as she shoots Tom Chaney, her father’s killer, in the head. The recoil of the gun propels her backwards and she falls into a snake-infested pit. Years later, as the narrator of the novel, she recalls the moment and says: “I had forgotten about the pit behind me.” There is always a pit behind you and in front of you and to the side of you. That’s just the way it is.

.... I watched True Grit twice in a single evening, not exactly happily (it’s hardly a barrel of fun), but not in revulsion, either.

The reason is that while the Coens deprive us of the heroism Gagliasso and others look for, 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. .... [more]
Thanks to James M. Kushiner at Mere Comments for the reference.

Narrative and the Grace of God: The New 'True Grit' - NYTimes.com