... They shoulda gotten kilt in summer.
January 19, 2011 3:46 AM   Subscribe

TrueGritTheMovieFilter: Please explain the meaning of the last ~10min. of the movie to me.

To me, with my half-informed sensibilities, it seems like the Bros. Cohen unnecessarily tacked on the closing of the movie, when the fully grown Mattie returns only to find that Rooster has passed away. It's probably to honor the source material [which I haven't read] but unlike NCFOM, the epilogue doesn't seem to further any themes or symbolism... unless I'm just totally missing the picture.

And what does La Boeuf being nearer to 80 than 70 have to do with anything?
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is, in fact, taken directly from the book.

In the book, it's very obvious that the entire story up to that point is being narrated by the 40-year-old Mattie, and frequently bits of her grown-up personality come through. (She also tends to ramble, hence the 'nearer 70 than 80' comment.) So in a sense, the entire book is as much the story of Old Mattie as it is of Young Mattie.

Furthermore, I think the point of the epilogue is that it shows you what kind of adult a child like Mattie grows into. She doesn't have a flowery happy ending- she's not happy, but she's satisfied. I think that's great. (In the book you find out she owns her own bank!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:22 AM on January 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

The kid wasn't invincible (they had to show her missing arm). True grit doesn't necessarily imply other character traits, but it is what it is. And something about adventures contrasted against old age. And death. Or something.

Something like "We can do amazing things in spite of who and what we are, and in spite of the inevitabilities of aging and death. Nothing can take those amazing things away. But we still try to hold onto them (her moving the coffin)."

Now I'm curious. Can anyone do better?
posted by zeek321 at 4:24 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: It's not a Coen brothers invention. Like much of the film, it is taken directly from the book.

Portis may have wished to include it as a coda of sorts for the American West. I take the book to be a sort of revisionist western, playing with the romantic portrayal of the west but not buying into it. Here it's important to imagine that it's impossible to imagine Cogburn ending up somewhere other than a traveling sideshow, as well as to play the theme of the "old west" in quotation marks against the truth of Mattie's missing arm. Cogburn's unromanticized death is equally important here.

To get a sense of the extent of the revisionism here, it may be worth comparing this ending to the changed ending of John Wayne's version, which seems to me to indulge the mythmaking of the classic western to a far greater extent.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:11 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

As for LaBoeuf being nearer 80 than 70, I'm not so certain it's a point to focus upon in any great extent. Nevertheless, it could be another way of suggesting that the preceding story was remembered from a good deal of time previously, and even a sensible woman like Mattie might be a little off on the details.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:14 AM on January 19, 2011

Cogburn lost an eye, Mattie lost an arm. Cogburn lost his son & wife, Mattie never had a family. Mattie was even more hard-core than Cogburn.

LaBoeuf: I was quite surprised when I did some age math. If LaBoeuf was almost 40 years older than Mattie, then, when she was 14, he'd have been over 50, and probably did not, in fact, look much like Matt Damon. His flirting (?) with her earlier becomes kind of creepy, and kind of drains any romantic tension. Did she remember him as being younger & attractive? Hard core -- or casting.
posted by amtho at 5:30 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Showbiz_liz nailed it. The ending shows that, in her own way, Mattie had a fulfilled and successful life. Of course, one gets the sense that Mattie -- not unlike famous-this-week law professor Amy Chua -- isn't so great at enjoying life. For many of us, enjoying life is pretty important; for Mattie, not so much.
posted by Mr. Justice at 5:43 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I really love this opinion piece about True Grit from the NYT. I think these lines are the most important to take away from the piece:

“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.”


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.

posted by Mouse Army at 6:12 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I also think that the ending loses a little in the movie version for two reasons, which make it more confusing than it has to be.

1) In the book Mattie finds out about the show from her brother, Frank, who sends her a teasing notice about it. Portis makes clear how affected Mattie was by Cogburn, who she must have spoken about in her family as quite a man. Little Frank accuses her of having a crush on him. Also, the book opens up the possibility that Mattie is maybe a bit of a bore about her adventure, which after all occurred quite long ago. This makes Mattie-the-narrator into a more nuanced character.

2) Someone mentioned above that the epilogue serves as kind of a coda on the Old West, and I think that's right. But if you don't know some of the legends, and if you haven't read the book, where the matter is debated a bit more thoroughly, it might not make much of an impression that Mattie is talking to members of the James-Younger gang. Her manner is certainly a continuation of her younger self, but it shows once again the thin line between the Law and the Outlaw. These were Cogburn's last companions, they were people he would have pursued as Marshall. I think it's a pretty powerful statement about not just the Old West, but also about the foreshortening of hindsight.
posted by OmieWise at 6:25 AM on January 19, 2011

I saw the movie for a second time the other night and loved the ending still more than I did the first time.

Recall what Mattie murmurs when snakebitten and delirious during that last midnight ride: "He's getting away." We take it that, in the grips of her fever-dream, she's forgotten that they have already caught and killed Chaney, but I like the way the line plays upon and foreshadows the adult Mattie's last words in the film: "Time just gets away from us."

It's powerful to me because throughout the film, despite her being a 14-year-old girl, we almost never see Mattie lose her poise or her control of most every situation. She has true grit! But when Rooster is racing her across the prairie in the moonlight, I think she feels for the first time how desperately time slips through a person's fingers, no matter how hard they fight. That is almost unbearably poignant, to me.
posted by cirripede at 6:43 AM on January 19, 2011

I saw the downbeat ending as depicting how avenging her father's death did not make Mattie necessarily any happier. So many people died, and others lost parts of themselves, so that she could gain some closure from his murder. The moment itself passed by so quickly, and as the snake venom is getting to her, she forgets it even happened. What happened wasn't futile, but it did just wind up being yet another hard-bitten story in a life of hard-bitten stories.

Years later, Cogburn is recently-deceased circus man, Mattie is a one-armed old maid, and LaBoeuf is MIA. None of what transpired happened because it made anyone happier or even necessarily because it made the world a better place. It just...happened, as an inevitable outgrowth of Mattie's own character.

Without the years-later epilogue, we don't get to put Chaney's death into that sort of context. Killing her father's killer wasn't some act of great heroism to be rewarded with jubilation. It just had to happen, because that's what Mattie does, even at age 14.

Strangely enough, the ending to True Grit most reminded me of would be John Frankenheimer's ending to The French Connection II. Without spoiling it too much, what we get a "victorious" ending that has been so hard-won that we don't even get any unreasonable joy out of it. Popeye Doyle and Mattie do what they do not because it makes them happy in some immediate sense, but because they're people who don't take punishment lying down, who don't leave wrongs unavenged, and who are constitutionally incapable of giving up.


(I think it's also telling that such an independent, tough-as-nails woman remains unmarried.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with what a lot of other people have said. I have a few other reactions to the ending.

First, it's often the case that serious injury like snakebite and gunshot wounds in cinematic westerns are treated lightly. And to some degree, LaBoeuf is a bit charmed in that he gets shot through the shoulder, falls of his horse, bites halfway through his tongue, and gets right back in the action. In part, I was grateful for the epilogue for not putting a happy ending onto something that was a serous danger. (As an aside, I reportedly had an ancestor who was killed by a mule kick. The frontier was deadly in many ways.)

A key theme of many Cohen brothers films is the anticlimatic denouement for the outsider protagonist. The protagonist sometimes achieves a minor victory but rarely a fundamental change in his or her fortune. At the end of the story, Cogburn is still a violent drunk and Maddie is still a sharp-tongued and willful woman. They end up in the only social roles where their natures are tolerated in the early 1900s. The reluctance to compromise and self-assurance that served both of them so well on the trail doesn't serve them so well when they're in town.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:46 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the beginning of the movie, Cogburn seems to ride on the edge of self-parody in the exaggerated nature of his actions at the trial and his alcoholism. He seems washed up but still very real in that he's still making a name for himself as a marshal even if his actions are morally nebulous. As presented in the film, he's practically shorthand for a handful of cliches of the Western genre.

At the end, we find out that he's been working in a traveling show as an attraction. He's no longer a marshal or hero, but he plays one in the show. By that point in history, much of the "real" western action was disappearing and the characters involved in the past are only shadows of their former selves.

I have yet to watch the original film version of True Grit, but it notably had a past-his-prime John Wayne, who spent his life as an actor portraying the myth of the wild west but wore a girdle and a wig to play the part. I think there's also a parallel to be discovered there.
posted by mikeh at 9:00 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I took it as a coda for the American West, as well. And in fact I think it's interesting that the epilogue finds Mattie in Memphis, TN - a place we pretty much don't think of as The American West and which wouldn't have been considered The West even in the period that the story takes place. Tennessee was a US state in 1796.

Mattie is now living a settled 20th century life, and she seeks out Rooster in a Wild West Show - it's sort of like if someone who dropped acid with Robert Morse in the 60's went to the set of Mad Men in 2011 to visit with him. A show, a performance of what people in 1903 thought The Wild West was like.

I liked that she arrived to find him dead, as if he was protecting her from seeing him - and her whole story - in the context of a sham performative mockery of what really happened. But then the whole story is very clearly a tale that Mattie is telling, herself. So does that call into question the events of her story, as well? Is she as much a performer as he is, by this point? The scary old one-armed spinster with a yarn to spin about The Olden Days when people were tough and you had to march uphill both ways in the snow just to get vengeance on your dead Pa?

This is so interesting to think about... Thanks!
posted by Sara C. at 11:47 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

His flirting (?) with her earlier becomes kind of creepy, and kind of drains any romantic tension. Did she remember him as being younger & attractive?

I didn't quite get the math either, but it bears noting that, in the 19th century it wouldn't have been too odd for LaBoeuf to "flirt" with a fourteen year old girl, or for a teenager to marry a decades-older adult. Especially in a remote location like Yell Co. Arkansas. There weren't a whole lot of eligible men around, and at fourteen Mattie is getting close to an age where she's going to have to start looking out for prospects. Her choices are probably someone like LaBoeuf, or some jerkass redneck farmhand back home. Even Fort Smith, which today is Arkansas' second largest city, comes off like a sleepy little town with little to offer someone as intelligent and resourceful as Mattie.

There are a lot of first cousin marriages in my family from that time, in a far more settled part of the country (southern Louisiana). Also lots of marriages between people who otherwise wouldn't seem suited to each other, like multiple decades of age difference, attractive young women marrying middle aged widowers with a bunch of kids, perfectly respectable women never marrying, etc. In remote parts of the US, there wasn't a lot of choice.
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on January 19, 2011

Mattie is talking to members of the James-Younger gang. Her manner is certainly a continuation of her younger self, but it shows once again the thin line between the Law and the Outlaw. These were Cogburn's last companions, they were people he would have pursued as Marshall.

Oh, so THAT explains why she spits at one of them, or... whatever that was. I wondered why she was so hostile to these two random strangers who did nothing to her aside from being sort of casually shitty about Rooster's death.
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 PM on January 19, 2011

I believe she chastises one of them for not standing in the presence of a lady. Doesn't she tell him something along the lines of, "Just stay seated, you piece of trash"?
posted by pecanpies at 3:31 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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