Carl makes a number of gritty observations in the thread that deserve a separate post. They really do make indispensable contributions to advancing the study of this thought-provoking film on the web:
Other symbolic elements, presumably coming from the novel that ought to be explored:
1) the snakes are not simply from a pit, but from the breast of the corpse of a cowboy/gunman found in the pit.
2) Most of the main gunman characters (LaBeef, Rooster, Chaney) are shot in a non-mortal way in the side.
3) Repeated motif of animalistic and moronic men occurs: the bear-dressed mountain man, the animal-sound making outlaw, the mule-tormenting Indian children (inbreds?) at Bagby’s store.
4) Trading, trading, trading. Everybody’s always trading. Corpses and live men become objects of it. Lawler’s and Cheek’s discussions put a lot of emphasis on the role of honor in the film, but more needs to be said about the role of commerce.
5) Mattie’s pony—the death of this animal hits her harder than any other death. Brings home her share of responsibility for all the killin’ (yes, of outlaws, but these are men nonetheless) that’s occurred in her quest for justice.
Point no. 5, especially, should undermine the various claims for the little girl’s fundamentally Christian motivation. There’s a strange mixture of cruelty and sentimentality in her that reminds me of a Flannery O’Connor character untethered from Christianity. She’s attached to her dad and her pony, but not so much to the “instrinsic value” of human life as such. There’s a profound insight here about our Darwinian natures untutored by civilization or about the immaturity of even a precocious girl. That’s not to deny Mattie’s admirable courage, level-headedness, and resolution in the most difficult of conditions, which are even more clear in the book.
The point about trading (even in corpses—which connects this discussion to the one we’ve been having about how to treat the newly dead) is even more profound and points, of course, to a conclusion about what a completely commercial, ruggedly libertarian society would really be like. That’s not to say that Mattie’s two men don’t ascend from commerce to honor to personal love, and we can even stick, to some extent, with Bob’s view that that ascent is a Southern criticism of Northern Lockeanism.
And all of Carl’s observations are about the truth about the state of nature that somehow vindicate both Christianity and Coen-style nihilism. It might even vindicate Southern Stoicism.
Let me add, for the record that reading Carl’s thread brought to my mind immediately Tony Soprano—who brutally murders Ralphie with his bare hands after finding out that Ralphie had the horse he had become attached to killed for the insurance money. I know it’s not the same thing, but . . .