02 November 2012

“On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became a Catholic. That was his wife's religion. It was his own business and none of mine. If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need for some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make.”

― Charles Portis, True Grit


StGuyFawkes said...

The 1969 Henry Hathaway interpretation contains a fragment that suggests volumes about the religious feelings of Portis' characters.

The setting: Dinner on the trail.

The “mise en scene”: Lovebirds, Mattie and LeBoeuf, always attracted to each other but never to be wed, chat with their trail host, Mrs. Bagsby, over stew.

Mattie (To Mrs. Bagsby): Presbyterian, huh? Southern or Cumberland?

Mrs. Bagby: Southern.

Mattie: My folks are Cumberland and proud of it.

LaBoeuf: (To all) I was raised in the Episcopal Church, myself.

Mattie: (To LeBoeuf, with contempt) I figured you for some kind of kneeler!

One might argue that Matttie’s idea of wanting a man who has “True Grit” is essentially a Calvinist preoccupation. Tom Wolfe argues similarly, in “The Right Stuff”, that courageous test pilots like Chuck Yeager worked in an essentially Calvinist milieu, whereby pilots who could kiss the stratosphere, and survive, did so by means of a pre-destined inner disposition that you either had, or didn’t have and which was not a result of character, or virtue, but rather the favor of God.

This Calvinist mind world presents Mattie with a sexual/religious dilemma.

She is sexually attracted to Rooster because although he appears to be an perfect example of “the reprobate soul”, as her Puritan ancestors would put it, nonetheless, he exhibits evidence of having gained the ‘undeserved merits’ of Salvation by emerging unscathed in every shoot out.

He is fortune’s favorite which in Calvinist language means he’s one of the pre-destined. Moreover, he’s beyond morality and she thrills to his tales of unrestricted carnage. She knows he is the kind of man who merits heaven not through his works but through God’s evident favor. .

At the end of the movie she stands near her family tombstones and asks Rooster to “lie beside me” after her death.

Rooster sees through her Calvinist neurosis and tells her that place is for her husband and children.

She dies childless through her rejection of men like “the kneeler” LeBoeuf.

In the Coen brother’s realization we discover that she remains a childless celibate who pines for the old man with whom she once “had high old times.”

Roman Catholics who wish to operate as Americans would do well to grasp and appreciate the essentially Calvinist vision of our artists.

thetimman said...

St. Guy, this is far and away your best comment since the Eads Bridge/Hegelian series! :-)

Awesome take on these movies. The story of True Grit has moved me in a way I can't put my finger on since I saw the Coen Brothers version. I have seen both, and enjoyed both.

My brother tells me it's about Grace. He's right.

Badger Catholic said...


thetimman said...

St Guy-- could you please try that again without the c word? Do you not remember the bare shoulder debacle?