No Country for Old Men

If this life is all there is, “we are all of us lookin out of the wrong end of the glass” (283).[1]The Coen brothers (Blood Simple, Fargo, Miller’s Crossing) marry their view of cinematography with Cormac McCarthy’s view of life in No Country for Old Men (Blood Meridian, The Road).  Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the viewer with voiceover and dolorous character creation toward the naturalistic precipice where choice is religion.  Though not wanting to place his “soul at hazard” (4) the lawman knows that this extraordinary experience at the end of his career is the zenith of evil he has faced.

A hunter, ex-Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Joss Brolin), follows the blood trail of an animal he has shot to discover not a carcass, but corpses.  A drug deal gone bad has left a truck load of heroin and two million dollars in the hands of dead men.  Yet to discover “whatever you do in your life it will get back to you” (281), Moss chooses to take the money for himself.  Returning to the scene of the crime results in Moss leaving his own blood trail; the hunter now the hunted, encounters a true-to-life killing machine.

Chigurh’s (Javier Bardem playing the assassin) world philosophy mirrors his life- changing quarter flips: “I got here the same way the coin did” (258).  Roger Deakin’s camera angle of Chigurh’s hotel hallway walk is as bone-chilling an image as ever has been placed on screen.  Moss’s relentless nemesis charges that “every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing.  Somewhere you made a choice” (259).  Life is either one way or the other: “I only have one way to live…You can say that things could have turned out differently…They are not some other way. They are this way” (260).

Coen’s chose a mostly music-less approach to their script allowing the drama to create its own haunting melody.  A glaring exception is the mariachi band.  Awaking from a feint having lost much blood Moss is greeted with smiling, vivacious singers, whose music abruptly stops when they see his blood-stained shirt.  Similar to reality, the viewer is meant to know again that life is not happy amid ever-present violence.  Facial smiles are reserved for Chigurh’s maniacal killing sprees.  Like the scenery—the vast desert expanse of west Texas—life is portrayed as an arid walk through; a play performed on a bare stage.

Choosing to maintain McCarthy’s narrative on screen is a satisfying experience for readers.  Most pleasing to those who reflect on the big questions of life is the honesty of both writer and filmmaker.  A philosophy course might do justice to the book-film.  But in a view of life where choice is religion, “I just don’t know” peppers page and picture (e.g. 213, 228, 268, 283, and 296).  No Country for Old Men gives young men pause.

Rated R for graphic violence and some language.

Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College

[1] Cormac McCarthy. 2005. No Country for Old Men. New York: Knopf.  Page numbers are referenced in parentheses.  In this reviewer’s opinion, the book should be read before the movie is seen.

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One comment

  1. Mark, thanks!
    Your comments on the music, lack of smiles (save Chigurh’s), and Texas landscape opened up to me the means the Coen brothers (and McCarthy) used to chill the bone… “No Country for Old Men gives young men pause.”

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