I saw a video about the character “Mattie Ross” (the incredible, edible Hailee Steinfeld) in the epic movie “True Grit”, originally starring John Wayne and Kim Darby. The modern “True Grit”, like the original movie, is my all-time favorite movie. And I don’t watch many movies, so this is saying a lot (inasmuch as I would have a favorite movie in the first place). These two classics are probably the only movies that can bring tears to my eyes; starting usually with the opening scene and never stopping. It’s really weird watching yourself in a “fictional” movie. I relate to the character on a profound level, ever since I can remember (the original True Grit came out well before my time, so I grew up on that movie and the character Mattie Ross). There aren’t words for it, but Mattie Ross is me, down to every little dorky button and goofy word in her hyper vocabulary. Yea, she’s a girl, but it doesn’t matter. We’re the same person.
Actually, my intensity about Mattie Ross is a deep rabbit hole that I won’t delve into here, but it goes back to my childhood. That creek just has no bottom.
My favorite scene in the modern version is when Mattie tries out the new horse, “little Blackie”, and rides off as the hired hand (a boy) says he is told not to mention her name.
I hate labels. I don’t call myself an atheist. I just happen to be one. And Mattie Ross wouldn’t call herself a feminist. She just happens to be one. So am I. But labels be d$#d. I just think women have gotten a raw deal in the past. And this girl with whom I’ve fallen in love represents all things good in my weird world. Like Amelia Earhart, she is my hero. And all the bad is there, too, but it’s me. That touch of narcissism, self-righteous water walker thinking and the rain maker optimism she has. I’m in love with … myself.
Below is a transcript of that video:
Mattie Ross is the star of the award winning western film True Grit by the Coen Brothers. This is a remake of the 1969 film staring John Wayne which is itself an adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis’ novel. The 14 year old lead character is played by Hailee Steinfeld, who much to my surprise was only 13 when filming the movie. This is a significant and welcome change from the original casting where actor Kim Darby was 21 when playing Mattie Ross. It’s always nice seeing young actors playing lead roles in serious films, especially young women because they are offered so few of these.
WIthout giving too much away, this is a classic western narrative about the search for revenge, self reliance and independence in a harsh and unforgiving land. The movie follows Mattie on her quest for revenge against the man who killed her father. To help her in this venture, she hires notorious U.S. marshall, Rooster Cogburn, known for his ruthless grit. The marshall initially dismisses and ridicules Mattie because of her age and gender, however she convinces him of her competence and they set out on the trail to find the killer.
For those of you who haven’t seen True Grit, there’s gonna be a few spoilers ahead.
What’s so captivating about Mattie’s character is how witty and smart she is, and how daring, self reliant, and independent. She’s full of confidence in herself and her abilities in a hostile male dominated world. These are traits rarely ascribed to female characters let alone teenage female characters. One of my favourite scenes comes early on when Mattie successfully negotiates with an unscrupulous horse trader.
CLIP Mattie: “And I want $300 for papa’s saddle horse that was stolen from your stable.” Man: “You’ll have to take that up with the man who stole the horse.” Mattie: “Tom Chaney stole the horse while it was in your care, you are responsible.” Man: Laughs, “Ya, I admire your sand (?) but you’ll find I am not liable for such claims.” Mattie: “You are the custodian, if you were a bank, it were robbed, you cannot simply tell the depositors to go hang.” Man: “I do not entertain hypotheticals, the world as it is is vexing enough. Secondly, your evaluation of the horse is high by about $200. How old are you?” Mattie: “If anything my price is low, [name of horse] is a fine racing mare. I’ve seen her jump an 8 row fence with a heavy rider, I’m 14.”
Mattie is a breath of fresh air, as Rebecca Keegan points out in her LA Times article, “Given that female adolescents are frequently depicted on-screen as vapid (“Mean Girls”), angst-ridden (“Twilight”), pregnant (“Juno”) or merely decorative ( “Spider-Man”), Mattie Ross is a remarkable role. She never shakes out her braids in a makeover montage, swoons over a cute stable boy or frets about the daunting task at hand.”