Friday, March 18, 2011

True Grit: A Classic or Revisionist Western

True Grit vs. Stagecoach
Many consider John Ford's Stagecoach to be the quintessential Western. The film takes place in the scenic Monument Vally and stars the king of all Westerns, John Wayne. Stagecoach establishes many of the elements that are commonly associated with a classic Western film: clearly defined roles of good and evil, justice and morality as valid justification for violence and the concept of people getting what they deserve. The Coen Brother's 2010 film True Grit includes many of these classic ideas, but distances itself just enough to not be considered a classic Western. True Grit, a remake of the 1968 film which also stared John Wayne embraces the grandeur of  the wilderness that defined many of Ford's films. Both films uses extreme long shots that encompass the vastness of the environment that surrounds the characters. True Grit also has a clearly defined roles of good and evil, of righteous versus immoral. In both films, the bad guys get what is coming to them. What separates True Grit from other classic Westerns is that the ending lacks perfection. Unlike the optimistic ending of Stagecoach, where Ringo and Dallas ride off to a perfect life, True Grit leaves the audience with hints of regret. It seems unfair that the adult Mattie is unable to meet up with her old friend Rooster before he dies. However, more so than any other Coen Brother's film, True Grit seems to be a mostly straight genre exercise.

True Grit vs. Unforgiven
While Stagecoach represents the classic Western film, Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winning Unforgiven is the opposite. The film highlights many of the harsh realities of life on the frontier that classic Western films often choose to ignore. Most prominent among these themes are the reality of violence, and the concept of moral ambiguity - there are rarely clearly defined roles of good and evil. In the film, the scene where the Schofield Kid breaks down and cries after killing the second bounty allows violence to be seen in its horror. The Kid breaks down, admitting that he had never killed a man before and he never will again. "I'm not like you, Will", he tearfully proclaims. This stark critique of violence is a far cry from Stagecoach where violence by the "good guys" can always be justified. In a sense, True Grit can be interpreted as critiquing violence because of how graphically it is portrayed. The Coen Brother's are known from being over-the-top with violence and True Grit is no exception. Unforgiven also represents revisionist Western's because it blurs the lines between good and evil. Although Will Munny is clearly the protagonist, and Little Bill the antagonist, both characters seem more and more similar as the film progresses. Will's ruthlessness in the bar contradicts the classic Western theme of the main character being a symbol of righteousness and morality. This whole concept comes to a head as Little Bill lays on the floor dying with Will standing over him with a gun in his face. Little Bill gasps, " I don't deserve die like this. I was building a house." to which Will replies, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it...". True Grit, when compared to elements like this of revisionist Westerns, seems to be closer to a classic Western film. In True Grit, Chaney is definitively a bad man, and he gets what he deserves.

True Grit: A Classic Western
Despite several irregularities with the classic Western formula, which seem more byproducts of the Coen Brother's style, True Grit can nearly be considered an classic Western. Like Stagecoach, the film has clearly defined roles of moral and immoral, and in the end, like in all classic Western's, the bad guy gets it and the good guy's ride off into the sunset. Although True Grit takes a more graphic approach to violence, it fails to lambaste violence like Unforgiven. Although the ending to True Grit isn't as perfect as most classic Western's, the film can be considered the Coen Brother's first straight film lambaste: a classic Western.