Theology and True Grit

Posted: January 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

True Grit is a remake of the iconic 1969 western that earned John Wayne his only Best Actor Oscar.  I am a huge Coen Brothers fan but wondered if they had lost their mind when I learned that they had decided to redo a classic film starring “The Duke” but they have pulled it off.

The plot of both films centers around a young girl’s quest to avenge her father’s murder.  Young Maddie Ross hires the surly but tough U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (played magnificently by Jeff Bridges in the remake) to hunt down and arrest or kill the murderer Tom Chaney who is on the run with a pack of outlaws.  A Texas Marshall who is hunting Chaney for another crime (played by Glen Campbell in the original and by Matt Damon in the updated version) comes along for the ride.

The original True Grit was really a character study that focused on the interplay between the sophisticated but determined young Maddie, the dapper Texas lawman and the gritty Rooster Cogburn.  The film was filled with sweeping lush landscapes and bloodless shootouts.  The remake is much more stark.  The settings are bare and the violence more realistic.

The remake is superior to the original in that there is more for a theology geek like me to cull from it.  For example, young Maddie Ross’ thirst for justice is interesting.  No one blames Maddie for wanting her father’s killer to pay.  Yet, where does such a desire come from?

No one reads about lions or apes stalking a person or animal that has taken the life of a family member.  If we are purely material creatures than we shouldn’t care what happens to another creature.  As long as we have food and shelter, we should be happy.  Yet, injustice, even if perpetrated upon someone else truly angers us.  Where does it come from?  The only explanation I can find is that it is part of what it means to bear the image and likeness of God.  

Scripture teaches that God created a just world but that a product of our sin is the pervasive presence of injustice. Yet, we long for just as if there is a faint remembrance of Eden in all of us.

The Bible also teaches that one day justice will be done.  Such a thought may evoke temporary relief but if we dwell on it for a moment we may realize that justice means we too will be held to account.  Fortunately, the Gospel proclaims that God has provided an out–Jesus, in his great love for us, was willing to pay our penalty for us by taking our sin upon himself at the cross. We don’t need a Rooster Cogburn to hunt us down like a grizzled angel of death–there is an offer of grace.  In the end, either we pay for our sins or Jesus pays for them.  

There are a number of other trails worth pursuing in the Coen Brothers’ re-imagining of True Grit.  For example, after every scene of violence there is a snow storm as if God is washing the sin away but I will leave those areas for you to explore and I recommend that you do for it is another fine Coen Brothers film.

  1. Rick Duncan says:

    Thanks for the review.

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