Saturday, February 19, 2011

True Grit

Wonderful post on the film True Grit over at The Whirlpools' Rim.

I would like to comment on this quote from Stanley Fish:

What this means is that there are two registers of existence: the worldly one in which rewards and punishment are meted out on the basis of what people visibly do; and another one, inaccessible to mortal vision, in which damnation and/or salvation are distributed, as far as we can see, randomly and even capriciously.

For a Christian, isn't it Jesus Christ who unites the two registers of existence? Christ is the perfectly just man who nonetheless suffers an unjust death at the hands of men. But Christ is not only a man; he is also God Incarnate, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And He teaches us that His unjust death has the paradoxical effect of redeeming the universe. Furthermore, when we unite our suffering with His, our suffering also has the effect of redeeming the universe. Christ has lifted the veil on the transcendent meaning of existence; we live in a fallen, sinful world in which the just suffer as well as the unjust. Damnation and salvation are not capricious. Damnation happens when we refuse to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive act. Salvation happens when we accept the suffering the world visits on us; we do not accept the injustice of the world, but we accept that justice can truly only be found in the way of Christ. Christ provides the answer to the question Fish poses in this paragraph:

Mattie gives a fine (if terrible) example early in the novel when she imagines someone asking why her father went out of his way to help the man who promptly turned around and shot him. “He was his brother’s keeper. Does that answer your question?” Yes it does, but it doesn’t answer the question of why the reward for behaving in accord with God’s command is violent death at the hands of your brother, a question posed by the Bible’s first and defining event, and unanswered to this day.

Christ gives the answer in Matthew 5:43-48. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there in that? Loving those who are unjust to you is to act as God acts; it is to be perfect as God is perfect, and in doing so the world is redeemed. That is the reward.

I wonder if Mattie Ross is a Christ figure. Like Christ, she is relentless and incorruptible in her pursuit of justice; yet, also like Christ, she does not pursue justice through power but paradoxically through weakness and vulnerability. Through this pursuit, and her own suffering, she achieves justice and redeems the world. Justice is achieved because Tom Chaney is finally called to account for the murder of her father.  LeBeouf and Rooster Cogburn are redeemed. Initially at odds with each other, because both put their egos before the larger mission, they both eventually decide to abandon the mission (which is the pursuit of justice.) But just when it seems things are hopeless, Mattie, in her vulnerability, stumbles on Chaney and Ned Pepper. LeBeouf and Cogburn rise to the occasion and justice is finally achieved. Mattie is nearly killed and, like Christ, carries visible wounds as a sign of her redemptive sacrifice.