The Exquisite Burn

I’ve read that menopause is the time in a woman’s life where all the hurts and injustices of her past rear their ugly heads, demanding to be dealt with once and for all.

Maybe, through social conditioning, it’s generally women who are guilty of deliberate silence when they are upset–the stifling of anger, the control of the bitter tongue, the swallowing of the vitriol–in order to maintain the common peace. We grit our teeth, set our jaws and move on. We learn it from the time we are little girls. Control yourself, calm down, what are you getting so upset about? Lose the drama!

What’s the point in getting upset, we ask ourselves? It only serves to upset everyone else around us, the ones who are depending on us  to hold everything together. As though we are the very gravitational force that prevents everyone from being sucked into chaos. And so, we choke it all down, and it burns, but we keep it deep in the recesses of our beings, and tell ourselves it’s best.

And then come the hot flashes. Waves of heat and perspiration–the wet hair, the throwing off of blankets in the middle of the night, the damp pillows and sheets, and the saturated nightgown….

Human beings sweat. It’s the body’s way of keeping things at a “normal” temperature and to dispel impurities.

I have this theory about hot flashes. Maybe, there is one flash assigned to every time I have choked back an emotion. For every time I have suppressed an opinion that may have caused upset. For every time I acquiesced for the sake of ending an argument. For every time I had to quiet down. Maybe those hot flashes are nature’s way of getting my inner self back to a normal temperature and to dispel all the junk from my past.

So, every time I’m hit with a flash, that’s one piece of nasty baggage I am rid of. By the time the hot flashes are over, I will be a new person, rewired and cleansed.

But not necessarily quiet.

“True Grit” Done Over

The second version of “True Grit” was released in 2010. I saw it in the theatres when it came out.

Of course, I had seen the 1969  John Wayne/Kim Darby/Glen Campbell  version many times over several years of rainy Sunday afternoons. However, there was a whole new dimension and overlay of texture in this later version with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld that I had never sensed in the first movie, as wonderful as it was. “True Grit” 2010 was one of those movies that pulls you in–you find yourself there, peeking out from behind a tree, or listening from the next room. Everything is so artfully done, all the details so reverently attended to–that for an hour and fifty minutes, it’s real.

I think the magic in this case comes from the careful attention to capturing the essence of Charles’ Portis’s novel. The first movie version didn’t do that–the old familiar flavour of Western adventure was there–and that was the problem. It was a common taste. Unlike the later version, the first “True Grit” did not completely capture the barbaric times, the irreverence for the value of human life, the hardship and deprivation of people struggling to eke out a miserable existence on the American frontier. The later version did that, and did it perfectly.

I watched the second version again today when I noticed it on Netflix. Even though it was playing on my tiny iPhone screen, I was able to fall completely and utterly into the story all over again.

I’m no movie or book critic, but I know a good story. “True Grit” is it. The Coens’ “re-make” beautifully honours the essence of the novel. Add to that a carefully chosen cast, rugged, sweeping backdrops, and a sensitive soundtrack, and you’re perfectly caught– the silent observer–all the nuances and angles and unworded emotions of “story” right there in front of you to touch.

“True Grit” encompasses all those elements of a great story. It doesn’t have to “explain” anything. The characters are set down on its pages, they interact with one another, and they simply unfold. We don’t need page upon page of background information. The few sentences the characters offer about themselves say all that is necessary. Some of the characters never even surface in the lines–they don’t need to. For example, fourteen-year-old Mattie’s ineffectual mother never appears nor murmurs a word, and yet we know that it is because of her background helplessness that Mattie’s story unravels at all. The events that take place are all exacerbated by the murder of Mattie’s father, and we never even see him, nor do we see any of the father-daughter closeness between them that would undoubtedly be at the root of Mattie’s imperturbable quest for justice after his death. The loquacious LaBouef, the precocious Mattie Ross and the old sinner that is Rooster Cogburn are an unlikely trio, but their story is unforgettable, and it impacts. People don’t have to gush to demonstrate compassion, or loyalty, or even love. It can exist without word or explanation.  And humanity, in all its faces, is ultimately capable of all of these things. Even the villains in the story have moments where they show their human faces, and they are never made completely despicable. Truthfully, a good story is never painted in black and white, and “True Grit” is not lacking in colour. It is a story that shows without an attempt to teach. It does not condescend to its audience.

Definitely and surprisingly, it’s in the Top Ten Movies of my Lifetime list.