In Part 1, we met Mattie, Cogburn and La Boeuf, and saw the prominence of faith in framing and enabling Mattie’s quest. For all the beauty of Mattie’s faith and innocence to this point, True Grit is ultimately about revenge, or is it justice? When Mattie pulls the trigger, the difference will not matter.
Mattie, perhaps in her naivety, does not care much for guns. In her desire for retribution however, she may wish she did, as she stumbles then tumbles headlong into the pit – a pit of despair and dread, helpless and alone, echoing the experiences of the writer of Psalm 88:
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
Death reigns in this pit, under the curse of snakes, and Mattie glimpses who she will become without a rescuer. In biblical imagery, the snake (or serpent) stands behind the original sin, which brings the curse of death on humanity. Mattie says earlier to Ned Pepper she has seen a lot of bad things, but in killing Chaney she is now an active participant.* Hence, Chaney’s shooting, Mattie’s plunge and being ‘bit’ together represent Mattie’s loss of innocence and symbolize the fall of humanity in Genesis 3.
But for Mattie, all is not lost – her rescuer is at hand! Cogburn calls after her and she cries back, and we can identify three key elements to Mattie’s rescue: a saviour, sacrifice and endurance. Cogburn, her saviour, descends from the light into darkness, with strength and (fire)power. Psalm 40 describes the salvation of God (from physical and spiritual turmoil) as a reaching down and lifting out:
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
But for Mattie, Cogburn arrives seconds late, and she is bitten by the snake. Mounting her on the pony, they ride through the night – Mattie delirious under the curse of the snake – until Blackie is spent. Cogburn does the difficult thing and in a sense Blackie’s life is given for Mattie’s salvation. Now, it’s all down to Cogburn to carry Mattie on foot, through the cold winter’s night, out of the wilderness. She leans on his arms – she can do nothing else.
Mattie will be safe only because of Cogburn’s endurance, and only once he is sure of her salvation does he rest, after persevering through extraordinary hardship. Cogburn’s endurance is also his redemption – the one who has “nothing to offer”, gives everything, for the sake of this ‘lost’ child. It’s a shadow of what we see perfectly in Jesus Christ: the one who crushes the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), the divine Son who steps down from light (“heaven”) to the dark world, and endures the cross (Hebrews 12:2) to rescue sinners. For those who put their faith in Christ, God “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
Mattie’s salvation is both cinematically poignant and deliberately couched in Biblical imagery. But the story doesn’t end there: both Mattie’s retribution and her salvation will stay with her for the rest of her life.
Stick around for Part 3.
*For an explanation of Genesis 3, the passage featuring the talking snake, fruit, fig leaves, and a curse, watch The God Who Is There – Part 2 – The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels.
^ In the novel, Mattie’s physical salvation points her to spiritual salvation: as Mattie is carried along she brings to mind “the stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone”, (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 28:16), an allusion to Jesus (Acts 4:11)