It is no secret that as time goes on; characters in various pieces grow and change. Some of these characters change for the better, while some of them change for the worse. In recent years, many film makers and producers have begun re-vamping old classics with modern twists. When they do so, often times they re-create characters while leaving some classic qualities present. In 1969, the film True Grit was released by Henry Hathway based on Charles Portis’ novel. Decades later, in 2010, the film True Grit was re-made by Ethan Coen based on the original movie. In both tales, the main narrative is that of a young woman named Mattie Ross. Though both works try to keep the integrity of the character, they also add bits of their own ideas and personalities. The characters may have many blatant differences, but when analyzed critically, they are seemingly one in the same.
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In the original 1969 version of True Grit, Mattie Ross is a sweet seventeen year old girl with short, dusty, brunette hair and a freckled face with forever rosy cheeks. The first thing that is apparent about Mattie from the opening scene is that she is shy, articulate, and quite obedient. She seems to admire her father enough to not want to be a burden to him. She appears to be reserved and quiet. As the film continues, Mattie begins to blossom. Not much time has passed, but she is surely coming out of her shell. Her father passes and her demeanor stays as strong as an ox. She is determined to find his killer and avenge his death. As she embarks on her journey, she is sure to speak her mind and act quite feisty. At the end of the day, she cares about the bottom line and that is finding her father’s killer. She is not out of touch with reality though she is young. She realizes that this is going to be a difficult journey and seeks help. She is surely not afraid to speak to strangers since her business is so important to her. While she is a family-woman and keeps her mother in the loop, she also knows her word is final and she will stick to her guns in all instances. Mattie does not seem to be phased by much and acts shy yet friendly. She takes risks when necessary and gives an attitude when necessary. She is not fond of showing fear or any form of weakness. This may have something to do with how proper she is; in one scene of the movie, the Sheriff is drinking alcohol and she looks to the floor. She also shows her properness when she gets irritated by the Sheriff eating messily with his hands. Though she seemed irritated, she simply rolled her eyes and carried on with her conversation. Her respect for her father causes her to care for men in a very obedient manner; she seems to be at their service at all times. Mattie may have been young and slightly naïve, but she sure was a fire cracker. She was willing to say whatever necessary to get people to go her way. Whatever it took to avenge her father’s death, she was surely willing to do it.
In the 2010 version of True Grit, many changes occurred to Mattie’s character that nearly compromised the entire storyline. Visually, Mattie appears much younger than in the earlier version. She is fourteen years old with long brown hair in flowing braids. Her demeanor is still rather shy and cold, but this time she is speaking more with her eyes than with her mouth. She is not as soft spoken as the 1969 version, nor is she as feisty. She seems to speak using questions more than commands. When speaking to those with authority, she tends to not make direct eye contact and shy away. During situations that she disliked, she was a lot less likely to make a snide comment in comparison to the prior character. In the beginning of the film, her confidence seemed rather shaken and she spoke in a tone that felt as if she was trying to convince the other party rather than tell them something. She was also much quicker to open up in this version. She was willing to talk about personal things with people whom she had never met. Not only was she more open, but she kind of appeared to desire the center of attention. Unlike the prior version, she frequently pushed her way to the front of crowds to get a better glance at the situation. Her demeanor was also more philosophical and optimistic than that of the earlier Mattie. In general, she seemed a bit bubblier during social scenes. She was a different character, but she still encompassed all of Mattie’s important attributes. The new Mattie and the old Mattie were seemingly worlds apart, but they still shared key characteristics that made them instantly identifiable. The most important of these was the drive to find the father’s killer. Both girls took their father’s death quite seriously and were willing to do whatever it took to avenge his death. Small characteristics that were similar were also present between the two; they were articulate, curious, and prideful. Though the average person may not realize this immediately, these characteristics truly embody who Mattie is and her mission.
Though it may be puzzling to some as to why the character changed so much, there was a logical explanation. The 1960s to 1970s was a rather empowering time for women. It was the beginning and end of civil rights legislation for women. Women all over the country were feeling more empowered and confident than ever. As author Amy Swerdlow says, “They were mothers whose sanctioned task was to nurture children and human life. Yet, the nuclear arms race threatened to annihilate their children and all human life… (Swerdlow, 2). Women became feistier at this time and more willing to stand up to men. The 1969 version of Mattie was not fighting for herself or civil freedoms, but she still embodied the strong woman of the era. She was not afraid to tell a man what to do, nor was she afraid to do a “man’s job.” At the same time, she was proper and knew her place at certain times. The 2010 version of Mattie became a bit more quiet and reserved, yet was still a firecracker at heart; it just took her awhile longer to gain confidence. While females did have many rights in 2010, there was also great scrutiny about the role of a woman in a household. Women were pursuing an education, raising children, keeping a full-time job, and acting as a homemaker. There was a lot on their plate and they tended to shy away from confrontational situations since they simply did not have the time nor the energy. I feel that the 2010 version embodies the women of this period well. She is focused and educated, yet still able to crack the whip when necessary. If something is bothering her, she lets it go rather than causing a scene, unlike the 1969 version. Overall, it is easy to see why the changes of characters were made in both versions.
The character of Mattie Ross has grown and changed a great deal over the past few decades. She went from a young woman with a sharp tongue and wit, to an even younger woman with a shy appearance but a quick temper. There is no distinct reason for the character changing, but it very well could have something to do with the embodiment of women during the different time periods. The 1969 version and 2010 version of Mattie Ross were both role models in their own sense to young women everywhere. They were courageous, bold, and articulate. Though the early version of Mattie and the latter version may have many blatant differences, when they are analyzed critically, they are seemingly one in the same.
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