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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revenge is...

Life is like a box of chocolates. Ogres have layers. May the force be with you.

Why do films have such a profound affect on our thought processes, popular sayings, etc.?

We just watched the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit on Sunday night. I've been thinking about it in the back of my mind ever since. It's not a new film; I remember the original with John Wayne. But those are some big boots to fill and I was certainly interested in how well Jeff Bridges would fill them.

                  She wanted Tom Chaney dead...

Played amazingly well by Hailee Steinfeld, the character of Mattie Ross wanted revenge for the death of her father at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. I'm not sure what strikes me as the oddest when considering the young Ms. Ross: the fact that a 14 year-old girl would be so dead-set on revenge for her father's death or that she would be portrayed as so single-minded, yet nonchalant about it.

I never really considered the source of True Grit but have found that it is a very well thought of novel by Charles Portis, first published in 1968.

     I'm going to have to read this...

From what I've read, neither the original 1969 John Wayne vehicle nor the version we watched the other night truly captures the entire novel experience. Although, to be fair, what film has ever been successful in capturing - to the satisfaction of readers - any novel?

But really, all this is secondary to my thought line. In True Grit, Mattie Ross is portrayed as a deeply religious person who nonetheless wants some serious Old Testament eye-for-an-eye revenge. And I can't say for sure until I read the book and have some more time to digest such deeper issues as character motivation, etc. but on the surface her quest for revenge colored the remainder of Ms. Ross' life. In the story she remained unmarried and seemingly anti-social.

That's not to say that a woman need marry. Or be social, for that matter. What I'm trying to say - poorly, no doubt - is that at the age of fourteen, this character put aside Christian teaching, sought - and gained - revenge for her father's murder.

Revenge as a theme seems so popular these days that we even have a television show so-named. Although I haven't (and likely won't) watch ABC's Revenge, it is reported to be inspired on some level by Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I digress.

True Grit is a story of a Christian girl who puts the teachings of the Bible aside - unless they only had the Old Testament in the 1800's - to exact revenge on the useless piece of junk named Tom Chaney who killed her Pa.

What can we learn from that today?

I can tell you that in the King James translation, the term vengeance appears some forty-five times with only seven of those appearing in the New Testament. Conversely, the term forgive appears in the KJV fifty-six times - twenty-one of them in the New Testament. So while there is a lot of OT vengeance going on; there is also quite a lot of forgiving.

I think the proof text for forgiveness in the Bible comes in the book of Matthew. Peter comes to Jesus and asks Him, " Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

And Jesus replies, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven..." after which Jesus proceeds to share the parable of the king who settles accounts with his servants.

When teaching us to pray in the beatitudes (Matthew 6:12), Jesus says, "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

The message is clear: if we want forgiveness, then we need to be about forgiving others. A message that Mattie Ross seemed to forget in True Grit. But that is human nature isn't it? Those of us who profess a faith in God and a willingness to follow His will tend to put what we might refer to as inconvenient truths aside when they conflict with our emotional needs - whatever they may be. 

So what is revenge? Is it our due? Is it a failure on our part - to forgive, to be true to our faith, to be a good person, to be better than the next person? Is it an urge so natural, so ingrained in our humanity as to be impossible to overcome?

What do you think?


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