Is 'True Grit' the Perfect Tea Party Movie?
An ad for True Grit brags it's “the most honored American movie of the year” – but Daniel Menaker says it's "the perfect Tea Party movie."
Paramount's True Grit ad has an obvious subtext: Oscar voters and viewers, buy American! Snub that uppity British import The King’s Speech, with a piddling two more Oscar noms than Grit’s impressive 10!
Yet the ad does touch on a profound fact: Grit's resonant, archetypal Americanness. A hit that shocked everyone, including the Coens, it blew up because it's a profound phenom bubbling up from somewhere deep in the national psyche. Where on earth do such unexpected American cultural eruptions come from? Writer Menaker says, “The group unconscious of popular culture rides again, in True Grit, the perfect Tea Party movie."
Um, why is that? "Because it takes place in a nearly lawless west -- in the Indian Territory -- and clearly enjoys guns and gunplay (there's a worshipful shot of Mattie's father's gun) and starts out with Jeff Bridges in court obfuscating and chuckling about how many men he has killed, and basically seems to say that the American Way is to take matters into your own hands and not rely on government or the authorities. Mattie also bargains sharply--a real entrepreneur--and there's no bones made about Rooster's being a gun for hire. And an Indian sells a body for its teeth. Private enterprise!”
Also Tea Partyish, says novelist Scott Rose, is the fact that "a young minority member gets repeatedly shoved off his own porch by a stupid nasty white person and has no recourse for stopping the abuse. Rooster [Oscar nom Jeff Bridges] suspects Chaney [and his bad-guy gang] are hiding in an isolated cabin. Rooster knocks a Native American off the porch rail entering, and then does it again leaving. The young Native American has nothing to do with Chaney."
But USC pop culture expert Leo Braudy demurs on the Tea Party theory. “I don't know about the Tea Party side. Every Western is about the trials of individualism and the use of guns. But if there is a Tea Party side to True Grit, it involves something in its DNA that has for the most part eluded a
attention: a basically gloomy view of life, the human condition, and the scope for individual action.
I find the Coens' politics less significant than their theology. Their world is for the most part a world without God, without transcendence of any kind, a harsh world, and often a Sweeney Todd-like world where almost everything and everyone is dreck. It's in essence a Gnostic world that, if there is a God, he has created and left behind to the ministrations of blind fate and chance. They reach an extreme of this view in No Country for Old Men. In True Grit, unlike No Country, people do have some autonomy, especially Mattie [Oscar nom Hailee Steinfeld] and some will power.”
To find out if True Grit is really a Tea Party movie, we’ll just have to wait until Sarah Palin gets it in her gunsights, or her surveyor’s marks.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.