Sunday, November 18, 2007

Second Thoughts on "No Country"

Not only does a second viewing of "No Country For Old Men" prepare oneself for a deeper understanding of the metaphorical underpinnings that populate this Coen Brothers masterpiece, but it makes one appreciate the sadness of the Tommy Lee Jones charatcer even more. And a word of caution, there are plenty of SPOILERS below, so read at your own peril.

Going on over at The House Next Door is a revealing and interesting discussion of the film coupled with an eloquent understanding of the film by chief editor Matt Zoller Seitz. Now that more and more people are getting a chance to see this film (with even more coming when it opens wide this week), the discussion is getting down right philosophical. Add to the fire are some of my own thoughts on a second viewing:

1. The theme of the film?- In my original capsule review, I stated ""No Country For Old Men" is a bleak, devastating and even puzzling meditation on lawlessness during the West Texas of 1980. There are so many executions and shoot-outs on desolate small-town streets and cheap motels that one begins to wonder if there's anyone left in the universe except Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem)" That seems to be the purpose. In fact, if anything, "No Country For Old Men" is not about Chigurh or Moss at all. This is really the story of Tommy Lee Jones' world weary sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, and the swift changes politically, finanicially and especially morally in the world in 1980. The violent battles between Moss and Anton could be read as metaphors for the erupting violence that was becoming commonplace in the world. They represent the forces of good and evil and Tommy Lee Jones is simply the "conscientious observer", to take a phrase from the Coen Brothers other masterpiece.

2. Much has been made of the (non) ending- Since, as established in the first point, that "No Country For Old Men" is not about the resolution of 'catching' Chigurh rather than the acceptance of Sheriff Bell that his service in this particular time and place has passed him by, the ending is rather fitting. Of course, its not an ending that 95% of the movie-going audience will want to see since we're a culture that demands neat, tidy, sensible resolutions when in fact life hardly ever resembles anything nice or tidy or sensible. It's such a shocking cut to the titles, though, that it does shake the viewer out of comprehension from the dream being verbalized by Sheriff Bell on-screen and it causes those words to linger in the memory much longer than anticipated. If only more films would trade favorable endings for something more haunting.

3. The fate of Lewellyn Moss- As I mentioned in the comments section at The House Next Door, "What I found the most intriguing about the film's refusal to glorify or even depict the death of Moss was that suspicious slow fade out as he turns down the offer of beers. Upon first viewing, I had no idea of what was about to come, but that slow fade-out felt so... unnatural based on the film's reliance on other modes of cutting. Upon second viewing, the fade-out felt so right, as if the curtain is slowly drawing on a remarkable performance and a worthy adversary to Bardem's whirlwind presence." This is nothing unusual... the Coen Brothers have been eliminating a main character with a single cut for over a decade now (remember the woodchipper in "Fargo"). But in "No Country For Old Men", the ending for Moss is more abrupt and brutal since he's been fighting so well for over 80% of the movie. But again, in the moral vaccuum that is West Texas of 1980, no one is allowed to get out alive.

4. Those dreams and the fate of Chigurh- On a second viewing, the dreams described by Sheriff Bell clearly represent the vast divide from when his father served as a law-man to now. And much has been made of the final scene with Chigurh, a moment that seems to describe Chigurh will continue on as a ghost, dealing out punishment as he sees fit, touched by humanity only through a coincidental car crash.

Every year there's one film that gets us movie-geeks going, and this year that film is "No Country For Old Men".


PIPER said...

I only read the opening and stopped with the spoiler warning because I have yet to see it.

I just want to comment on how envious I am that you have not seen it once, but twice. I have to wait until Wednesday to see it for the first time.

Joe Baker said...

Piper, if it makes you feel any better, I did have to drive 15 miles to see it.....

PIPER said...


I saw it yesterday finally and I have some thoughts which I posted about last night.

But I want to comment on some of your thoughts. You're absolutely right about the plot of this movie. It is about Tommy Lee Jones. His brother states it towards the end when he says that this is a hard country for old men. And more impressive than the fade on Brolin is the fade on Tommy Lee Jones. There are reams of story written in that fade. The decisions that Tommy Lee made that moment. The weight of his decision. I absolutely loved that.

And I will admit that I got caught up in the fact that I thought this movie was about Bardem and Brolin's character when they were nothing more than an example of the life that Tommy Lee has lived all these years.

And the ending is pure French Connection.

Joe Baker said...

Piper, you're right about the cut from Tommy Lee Jones' face. If only more films would close on his world-weary face!

I also agree abot "getting caught up" in the duel between Moss and Chigurh. Even after my first viewing when the camera (quickly)shows Moss lying dead on the hotel floor, I'm looking for the "twist" ending or the idea that ok... maybe he faked his own death and he's going to come back and save his wife in that scene etc. So many movies have conditioned us on neat, tidy endings and when one comes along and challenges us like "No Country For Old Men" does, it short-circuits our expectations.. in a very good way.

And yes, great analogy on "The French Connection"- evil is still out there except the difference is that Popeye Doyle will probably continue to destroy his life chasing it while Ed Tom Bell will humbly recede into the background and be haunted by it.