The 1969 film opens in Yell County with the Ross family ranch in a picturesque valley. Shown in a loving relationship, Mattie and her father are conversing about his upcoming trip. The film begins with beauty and life.
Even though the film quickly descends into death and affliction, there are striking differences with the new version. Mattie and Rooster's pursuit of Chaney does not take place in a bleak and barren landscape. Beautiful scenery shot in Colorado is the background for "Indian Territory". This may seem like a minor contrast or a major faux pas because the novel is set in Arkansas and Oklahoma not the majestic Rockies. However, what this does to the "tone" of the film is significant. It keeps the "feel" of death minimized by contrasting it to the creation that reflects its glorious Creator. Descent into affliction is softened by beauty, color and life.
Relationally there are also significant differences in the two films. In the new version both Cogburn and La Boeuf show a weakness in their character by giving up the pursuit of Chaney. Mattie does not. She is the one with "true grit" and this is her story. In the 1969 version Rooster is the heart of the film and he along with Mattie demonstrates "true grit". La Boeuf, who dies helping to save Mattie, takes on sacrificial nobility.
The final scene changes the entire tone of the film for in it there is life and restoration. With her arm in a sling, 14 year old Mattie is standing in her family burial plot showing Rooster where her family members will be buried. She asks him to be buried next to her. There is no doubt because of the placement that he has become her new father. For his part, Rooster who has lost a child accepts her offer and is thereby restored to a family. "Now Sis," he affectionately tells her "You will have a husband and kids." forecasting a rich full life for Mattie. Death has been defeated by La Boeuf's sacrifice and Rooster's love. The last picture is of Rooster fully alive jumping on his new horse as he waves to Mattie.
Beauty, affliction and restoration through sacrifice and love, the 1969 film follows the Biblical pattern of Creation, Fall and Redemption. The 2010 movie begins with the Fall and ends with the Fall. There is no restoration, no reconciliation, no happily ever after - only the sting of death.
The 41 intervening years have seen a tremendous shift in the mindset of the popular culture. The 1969 film seems predictable, sentimental and almost archaic to the post modern viewer. They would much prefer the "realism" of the 2010 version. A commentary not so much on filmmaking styles as it is on the culture itself.