2/25/2011

A Film for the Ladies: True Grit

I went to see True Grit, which opened yesterday at Zurich’s film theaters. It’s one of the best films I have seen recently.
The plot is very simple. Mattie Ross, a 40-year-old accountant, tells a story from the mythical Wild West.  At the age of 14, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) seeks revenge for the murder of her dad who was killed by Tom Chaney. Therefore, she hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a deputy U.S. marshal and confirmed drunkard. Mr. LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger, who is pursuing Tom Chaney due to another murder committed in Texas, joins the two in their hunt. Their journey into the wild, into Indian territory, is marked by their unwillingness to cooperate. They finally join forces involuntarily and succeed in killing Tom Chaney and his partners in crime. Both the band of three and the spectators cannot enjoy the victorious apogee for long because a snake bites Mattie. Cogburn takes her to a doctor, but leaves before she regains conscience. Due to the gangrene, one of her arms has to be amputated. She never hears again anything about LaBoeuf and misses to see Cogburn again. Cogburn sends her a letter about his whereabouts 25 years after the events, but dies three days before the planned reunion.

The scarce landscape of the film mirrors the plot. The landscape is meager, cold and truly artificial. The whole scenery resembles more a chamber play than the epic tradition of the genre. The bare-branched trees seem to have been planted for the occasion of the filmsetting only. The wide starry sky towards the ending, when Cogburn tries to take Mattie to a doctor seems fixated and completely unreal. The sky - nature in general - is unmoved by the events happening to the human beings. The low-keyed depiction of the landscape could have given more room to the characters. The guys, however, are mere caricatures of what we know of other neo-Westerns. All men have mask-like faces full of dirt, scars and leftovers of other wounds: Cogburn, e.g. wears an eye patch. The only being that has a strong will and pursues her ideals with stubbornness (no matter of what we may think of her planned revenge morally) is the 14-year-old girl Mattie. She is the Kim Possible of this film while all men get downgraded to sidekicks. Whenever they rise to their real power, it seems they owe it to Mattie’s determination to take Tom Chaney to court. Hence, I think this is one of the westerns women will like a lot.
Humor is displayed on a subtler level than in other Coen films. It is less ironic than I expected. The audience never laughs out loud during the film. People smirk about some details, but nobody guffaws. The medicine man wearing a bearskin probably causes the biggest laughter, also because it is the scene that comes closest to what the audience expects of humor in a Coen film.
There is one scene that will stick in my memory because it shows what can really have an impact on the audience. It also reveals the metaphorical layer of the film. Physical violence is omnipresent. We are able to see violent details like fingers getting cut off a hand, knives put into a tummy, Cogburn digging in LaBoeuf’s bloody mouth or see men hang. However, only the instant when Mattie is threatened by the snakes in the mineshaft causes a loud moment of shock within the audience. It is this highly symbolic moment of endangered innocence , like a paradise lost, which is able to move the audience, much more than all the physical violence seen before. Mattie, for sure, pays her price for pursuing her happiness. It is to the merit of the Coen brothers that we can mourn Mattie's loss as if it were our own even though she herself does not know how to express it.

Links:
Wikipedia - True Grit
Imdb
Poster: http://www.viewclips.net/true-grit-2010