Faith Review – True Grit (2010)
Faith Review of True Grit
Reviewed by Tommy Holderness
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen. The brothers – who are Jewish – have directed many films over several decades. Their films do not fit into any single genre.
Original release form / venue: Theaters in the United States and then around the world.
Current Availability and formats: The movie is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. You can stream it on Netflix. Various scenes are available on YouTube.
Genre: Western. Drama.
Story outline: The movie begins with Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl, describing her father’s death, arranging for his burial, and settling an account of his. She is plucky, fast-talking, schrewd, brave, and determined. She wants to avenge her father’s death and hires a US Marshall (Rooster Cogburn) to do so. She insists on going with Cogburn im into the territories to find the killer (Tom Cheney). Cogburn – one-eyed and with a propensity for alcohol and to shoot first and ask questions later – reluctantly allows her to accompany him. Their journey begins and intermittently continues with a Texas Ranger (LaBoeuf) who is also hunting Cheney.
As they battle Cheney and his crowd of outlaws, Cogburn, Mattie, and LeBoeuf all save each other at various points in the battle. After killing Cheney, Mattie is bitten by a snake. As Cogburn tries to get her to a doctor, her horse gives out and must be shot. Cogburn continues on carrying Mattie on foot. Cogburn gets Mattie to safety but she loses her arm and never sees Cogburn again.
Film language / elements: The film is set in the American Territories, so most of the film is set outdoors in sweeping landscapes (filming was in Texas and New Mexico). Mattie’s dialogue is very sharp and quick. Occasionally the background music is “church music,” such as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”
Audience / cultural context elements: This movie is set in the middle of the United States in the middle of the 1800’s. The movie is primarily targeted towards people who like westerns and who are fans of the Coen brothers.
Theology is found: The theology of the film is largely implicit, with only minor biblical references.
Theological themes for conversation: The main theological theme is revenge and forgiveness. Another possibility would be to discuss trust and who is your “boss.”
Recommended ways to view and engage the film: This would be a difficult movie to use with just scenes, but the movie is entertaining enough that adults, high school students or middle school students would enjoy watching the whole movie one night and discussing it later.
I would list several things that can happen to people and ask how people would respond to them. For example, someone insults you; someone hits you; someone steals something from you; or someone kills someone you love (as in the movie). How do people decide when to let it go and when they must act? If they act, how do they decide what to do? Then I’d ask people who have obtained revenge how that made them feel. We could discuss how right when Mattie gets revenge, she is thrown down into a pit, which ultimately leads to her losing her arm. Also, we could discuss whether or how her desire for revenge is tied to the overall temperament and that she never marries.
After that discussion, I would read Romans 12:19-21 and discuss the bible’s instructions regarding revenge. This could lead to a discussion of who we think is best able to judge and repay wrongs. I’d read Proverbs 15:3 (“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”). It also could lead to a discussion of God’s final judgment and who will be saved (and who will not be).
This discussion ultimately would lead to whether people trust God – trust God to do what is right by them, and trust God to deal with one’s enemies.
Then I would read Luke 6:37 and discuss the role of forgiveness in the context of seeking revenge. Is it easier to seek revenge or forgiveness? Does it matter whether you know the person who wronged you? Does it matter whether you loved or liked the person who wronged you? Do you think God forgives us – or seeks revenge on us?
At some point during the discussion, I would show the opening scene that starts with the quote “The wicked flee when none pursueth.” (Proverbs 28:1) until the narrator (Matttie) proclaims “there is nothing free except the grace of God.” From there, I would ask whether there is any need for us to pursue those who do wrong. And why we can so easily accept the grace of God for ourselves yet have such a hard with it for those who wrong us.
Trust also could be discussed from the perspective of the relationships between Cogburn, Mattie, and LaBoeuf.
You also could use the hanging scene to discuss how men face death, and our fascination with watching it happen (though that is a short scene).
Conclusion: The film is entertaining and although initially somewhat lighthearted, it does present the opportunity for meaningful discussion.