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FIRST-PERSON: Frustrated with ‘True Grit’

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Well, it’s a new year, but I’ve got an old complaint — objectionable language in films. I know, you’ve read column after column of mine concerning cursing in films. Bear with me, this will be the last time I address the subject. (Well, maybe not.)

By now, some of you have seen the Coen Brothers’ version of “True Grit.” Did you notice the four profane uses of God’s name spoken by Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges)? Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have given us a solid western, but those profanities spoken by the film’s protagonist grate like fingernails on a chalkboard — well, for some of us. In nearly 200 films, John Wayne never showed irreverence toward the Creator, not even as Rooster in his True Grit. Back in 1969, fans would’ve been disappointed to hear him do so. (I know, I was one of them.) Sadly, I can’t name a major star from this generation who hasn’t profaned God’s name on screen, or uttered “Christ” as a mere expletive. Most, like Jeff Bridges, have done so frequently.

I couldn’t remember reading those four “G——s” in the book, so I went through Charles Portis’ novel again, and I did catch one. Not four, one. And that line wasn’t even in the movie! I have to then assume that either the screenwriter or the actor thought the harshness of asking God to condemn someone to Hell would add to Rooster’s characterization.

This offense goes unchallenged by most secular reviewers, but how about with those criticizing from a Christian perspective? I recently looked over several True Grit reviews by Christian commentators, wanting to see if they knew film history and if the third command found in Exodus 20 was something they have also become blasé about. As I suspected, many younger reviewers failed to mention True Grit’s profanity.

One review was woefully inadequate in the content section, merely stating that the film gained its rating for “violence and disturbing images. Scenes of violence include a couple of gunfights and one rather squeamish scene of a snakebite. Most of these scenes are presented without graphic blood or gore, though there are a couple of disturbing images of dead bodies. There is also one instance of God’s name being profaned.”

Well, at least the writer caught one profane use of God’s name. I hoped mine better served the reader by indicating that the remake is darker, bloodier and more excessive than the original screen version. (Read the complete review here: http://moviereporter.com/reviews/display.php?id=1925).

My grievance is not meant as a chastisement of fellow media reporters, but rather a warning for those still concerned with movie content. Most secular critics reward movies for their technical and artistic qualities while ignoring the effect of film content on the culture. I hate seeing this oversight take root, as well, in the Christian journalistic community.

The abuse of social dialogue is coarsening our culture and profanity has become an entertainment colloquialism, revealing Hollywood’s slighting of biblical authority. Let’s not become desensitized to that element of filmmaking. My suggestion is to get entertainment reporting from a couple of sources. After all, we journalists are only human and can miss a potent point from time to time, including and especially yours truly.

Many place profanity way down the list of no-nos, maintaining that like a rose is a rose, a word is just a word. But, basing my theory on the inerrancy of God’s Holy Word, showing regard for the Almighty is at the top of the list of Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20. It must, therefore, be somewhat more important than our generation of dream weavers is conceding.

This New Year, may we resolve to revere our God and may our Heavenly Father continue to get you around some tribulations and through the rest.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org and moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright