curiouser and curiouser

1) No Country for Old Men is more disturbing for what it lacks rather than what has been included – the absence of a proper soundtrack is a major factor in creating a suspenseful tone as the viewer is rarely prepared for what’s coming (much like the unsuspecting victims of Chigurh’s coin tosses), and the violence is almost understated despite the number of casualties racked up by the end of the film.  Anton Chigurh’s own weapon is less explosive than a shotgun, less obvious than a knife and, appearance-wise, not a weapon at all.  His kills are quick and clean, dry and muted where we might expect a noisy bloodbath – similarly, the film is ‘clean’ in the sense that only the aftermath of the worst violence is shown and most of the scenes are neatly packaged and sequenced without lengthy dialogue or complicated exposition.  There is an underlying theme of age and generation gaps, with Sheriff Bell (and briefly, his uncle and a fellow sheriff) representing the oldest generation in the film, Llewelyn and Chigurh on the next tier down, and the nameless teenagers and young boys from whom Llewelyn and Chigurh buy their respective clothes serving as the third generation.  During a conversation about how the young people of today are more or less a lost cause, Sheriff Bell comments that “as soon as you stop hearing Sir and Ma’am, it’s all over” – this lack of respect is the least of the sheriff’s concerns, but it is indicative of the idea that times are changing and something like basic humanity is being watered down through the generations.  The teenagers who run into Llewelyn when he is cut up and bloody demand to see the $500 he has promised before one of them will give him their coat, a heartless gesture even by criminal standards.  The two young boys who witness Chigurh’s car crash towards the very end of the film are different, as one boy intially refuses to take the money Chigurh is offering him for his shirt – however, he does accept it eventually and even after they have just witnessed a terrific crash and spoken with a man who has a bone sticking out of his arm, as soon as Chigurh limps away the second boy begins bantering with his friend about deserving half of the money.  The film ends on a deeply unsatisfying note, although the final scene is one of the most thought-provoking of the entire movie – the now-retired Sheriff Bell’s dream about his deceased father waiting for him with a fire in the “dark and the cold” ahead is somewhat comforting after so many senseless deaths and the emotionless logic of Anton Chigurh, but as feeling human beings we might still be wishing that Chigurh had just died in the crash and finally received his karmic retribution. 

2)  The excerpts of Cormac McCarthy’s novel should be difficult to read due to the lack of certain punctuation and the dialogue that is hardly discernible from the narration, but despite these stylistic quirks there is something almost comfortable about the text – nothing is overstated or unnecessarily complex, and rather than being choppy and awkward the dialogue is instead seamlessly incorporated into the action.  The descriptions are minimal and basic, which translates well into the film’s lonely landscape and quiet violence.  One of the most obvious and perhaps most significant difference between the original text and the film is what the Cohen brothers decided not to reveal, namely the extended conversation between Carla Jean and Chigurh and the fact that Chigurh ultimately kills her.  In the film, Carla Jean’s fate is implied rather than made explicit, and she is never shown agreeing to the coin toss the way she eventually does in the novel.  This could be taken as either a trivial matter or a huge plot point, depending on the viewer/reader’s perspective, but the fact remains that there is a definite disparity between the two mediums regarding this scene.  Chigurh comes across as much more ‘human’ in the novel during his exchange with Carla Jean, sympathizing with her and expressing a desire to do things differently if he could.  As with his cinematic adaptation, however, McCarthy’s Chigurh believes that everything is up to fate and that he is merely an instrument of destiny armed with a coin and an airgun.

3)  A fan site (more or less) for the character Anton Chigurh with links to the script, trivia, interviews, etc  Blog post about Chigurh’s coin toss with a thread of comments   Discussion about the end of the film

I liked all three of these links and found them pretty equally entertaining/enlightening, but the third link was the most helpful for me – NCfOM is the type of film that I need to watch more than once since it’s inevitable that I missed something the first time.  Before I watched it, I asked my father (who had already seen it) what he thought of the movie – “It’s dark,” he said, “and Tommy Lee Jones is excellent.  You’ll have to watch it twice, though.”  I haven’t watched it twice yet, so reading what other people had to say about the film served to fill in some of the little details I had either missed or not given much initial thought to. 

4) What is the title No Country for Old Men supposed to signify? Is the “country” the land of the American Southwest, the United States as a whole, or both? And why do the “old men” no longer belong there?

The United States as a whole is no country for old men because there will always be the next generation and the changes these younger men bring, along with a lack of respect for the old school and a willful ignorance of how things used to be.  The American Southwest is a more apparent example that McCarthy and the Cohens use to emphasize what is lost from one generation to the next as well as what is created – the dusty, endless landscape of this area is almost a throwback to the Wild West with the sheriff and his deputy on horseback and the failed drug deal resembling a stagecoach robbery.   Sheriff Bell comments that maybe there is a “new kind” of person out there when he remembers a boy he arrested for murdering his young girlfriend, and his ultimate decision to retire is a testament to the fact that he believes there is no place for him in law enforcement anymore, that his time and the time of the older generation is over.  The two scenes with Llewelyn buying a coat from teenagers and Chigurh buying a shirt from young boys implies that not only will their generation be old men someday but they will also, inevitably, become obsolete even for all their violence and unusual cruelty.  The teenagers will not relinquish the coat without seeing the promised $500 first, and the boys are sympathetic but quickly recover from the horror of seeing a man with bone sticking out of his arm.


Comments on: "No Country for Old Men (complete)" (1)

  1. All bases covered. Good analysis. Good everything. Well done. 10/10.

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