I don’t know if the Coen brothers intended it, but their remake of the 1968 Charles Portis novel made famous by John Wayne plays out like the conflicted symbiosis of Freud’s id, ego and superego.
The self-assured 14 year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) confidently represents the ego – self-aware and able to negotiate what she wants – in this case vengeance on the man who murdered her father. One-eyed and grizzled US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is the id, cunning, almost animal like, but no match for the insistent drive and purpose of the young woman who hires him (against his will) to track the killer through the western frontiers. High minded Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) supplies the superego; he is also after the killer for his own reasons. The interplay between these three characters could be seen as a fascinating study of the war within each of us – our baser instincts, present conscious drive and our higher yet censorious self . Each discovers its need for the other, each has the chance to show ‘true grit.’
On another level, the bleak and grim background of the American western frontier in the 1880s displays the grandeur and the poverty of the elevation of the unquestioned and unexamined idolatry of the rise of the individual. Virtue is seen in the height one can attain by beating the other down. When connection is made, it is through grudging admiration of the other’s ability to shine in cunning and manipulation.
And I thought I was just going to see another Western!