Monday, April 18, 2011

Finally Getting "True Grit"


"Thank you very much, but I'm not a big fan of Westerns," I informed my dad while we were together last New Year's.

"Come on, be open-minded, give the movie a chance," he insisted.

I wavered. In these situations I'm tempted to respond with your typical, I'm not interested, knee-jerk reaction. It's easy to beg off by saying, that's not my thing, but you go right on ahead without me. But then my dad had played the "give it a chance" card, and the game changed. I put a lot of stock in giving things a chance, and so laying that particular card on the table was a pretty good tactical move on my dad's part. And so we went to see the movie True Grit.

This was our conversation on the way home from the theater:

Me: "I'm surprised; it was actually pretty good for a gun slinging Western. I loved Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon... but I didn't like the ending at all. It felt like an unnecessary, tacked on epilogue."

My dad: "That's because you're missing the whole point of the story. And it needed the epilogue in order for that point to be made."

Oh. In that case, please enlighten me Yoda! I thought with a smile. Don't you love it when people kindly inform you that you're not getting it?

My dad went on to explain that the original novel by Charles Portis is famous for its portrayal of the unsentimental Wild West. True Grit is not just about the plot, or the characters, the challenges they had to surmount, or subsequent bonds formed. It's about how when all was said and done, after living and nearly dying together, after nearly sacrificing their lives for one another, they tipped their hats and walked away. Never to see each other again. Portis is showing us that the value of human life, not to mention the whole concept of friendship, meant something very different back in those days.

Oh, I said from the backseat when my dad finished. I stared out the window into the dark night as we drove back to our hotel, understanding gradually dawning. A gun slinging western meant to inform as well as entertain. Got it!

And this is what I got: Knowing the story's intent, and better understanding how the plot and characters accomplished that objective transformed the whole movie for me. The moment felt the same as when you meet a new acquaintance and think, "Yeah, she's nice enough." And then later you learn something really fascinating about her life, her backstory. And suddenly you see that person differently because you get what they're about.
There have been so many times and instances when my knee-jerk reactions have caused me to prematurely dismiss situations that are not my thing. So thank you, Yoda, for the reminder that when we put books, movies and people in their proper context, striving to know their history and intent, the bigger picture emerges.

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