Monday, February 7, 2011

Character Assassination- Why?

I saw the Coen Brothers adaptation of True Grit this past weekend. I have not read the book and I haven't seen the original movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar, so I watched this movie with fresh eyes--no expectations, no pre-conceived notions and no grudges about Jeff Bridges repalacing John Wayne. I didn't care about any of that.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. The story was compelling and the acting was strong, but by far, what I loved most about this movie was the main female character, Mattie Ross.

Mattie is a fourteen year old girl with just one goal--find the man who murdered her father and make him pay. With her quick wit and overpowering intellect, she negotiates with the town locals to earn enough money to hire a Marshall to track her father's killer and bring him to justice. Her tongue is sharp and she is dogged in her determination. Watching Mattie interract with the adults who underestimated her was fun and inspiring. The strength of Mattie's character and the way she wins over the gruff Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, carries the film. I cared about the movie, because I cared about Mattie.

Don't worry, I'm not going to be a spoiler here, but let me just say that there are some wonderful scenes where the action climaxes, leading to an emotional payoff. If the movie would have ended after these scenes I would have been pleased. Unfotunately, in an eplilogue scene that occurs decades later, I am shown the grown up version of Mattie, but this time I don't like her.

In the final few minutes of the film Mattie has become a hard, crotchety old-maid. I expected more for Mattie. I wanted to remember Mattie as the likeable, sharp-witted, bright and resourceful young lady she was on the adventure. I wanted more for her life and if the movie had ended three minutes earlier I could have left the theater feeling good. Instead, everything the movie had accomplished was undone with the epilogue. What a let down. Mattie's likeable character was assassinated and therefore my interest in the movie also died.

I ask myself "What's the point?" Are we supposed to learn that Mattie was changed forever because of her quest to bring her father's killer to justice? Okay. Fine I guess. Should I discover that there are natural consequences, both known and unknown, to all of our actions? Maybe. But don't kill the character I like. Again, I don't care about the lesson I'm supposed to learn if I feel that the person teaching the lesson has just pulled the carpet from beneath my feet.

This movie brought two main thoughts to my mind.

1- Trust is hard to earn but easy to destroy (even for readers and viewers)
2- No one will care about the story, if they don't first care about the character


  1. I loved the movie, too, and I was also disappointed with the epilogue. So I rewrote the ending in my mind which helped:-)

  2. I haven't seen either movie, but I totally agree with your two points!

    I've read some great plots, but have agonized many a time about the lack of character development--or lack of making me care enough about the character. I think that's one of the things great authors and movie producers have in common, is making a character jump off the main screen or off the page.

  3. Great post...I keep hearing good things about this film and really need to go see it.

    Thanks for great insight and evaluation. :)

  4. I agree! Couldn't quite place my finger on the "Meh" I felt when I left the theatre. It was the old spinster that did it to me. Thanks for pointing it out!

  5. Thanks for the great comments. I enjoyed many things about this movie. It's too bad the post-ending was such a disappointment.

    I suppose in all things we must "endure to the end" with honor, and finish well.

  6. It could be that they are planning a sequel and want you to be thinking about the conditions that let to the changes in her character. Maybe there will be a sequel and there will be redemption for Mattie in that sequel.

  7. I just wanted to add that sometimes that greatest story lines come from those stories that involve frustration and discouragement. The writers want to pull you in. They want you to cheer for the character you love. There's an emotional payoff for the victory that character achieves too.

    Maybe they really are planning a sequel and this is their way of drawing you in for that one. If everything just ended wonderfully, would you be more inclined to watch the next movie? Probably not. But because you want that character to succeed, you are likely to watch to see that happen.

  8. I think the Sequel theory is interesting but I hope that is not their plan. If it is I think they have seriously miscalculated.

    I am no longer interested in the character and would not be interested in watching her decend further.

    I think its true that great story lines allow for redemption and possibility to overcome challenging odds, but there must be an element of hope. In this case they showed the end and the future looks bleak. I'm not a fan of depressing movies or books.

    Thank you for the interesting comments.