No Country For Old Men (2007) – Depicting Our World as Ambiguous

Warning: Spoilers Ahead, 3rd Viewing

Anton Chigurh is one of my all-time favorite antagonists in film history. Besides the fact that he’s the only dude who can somehow rock a bowl-cut, carries around a captive bolt stunner as a weapon against humans, and is performed by the great Javier Bardem, the baffling complexion of his persona and beliefs are what draw me back into his character every time I watch No Country for Old Men

At the dead beginning of the movie, a similar type to Chigurh is described by Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell:

“There was this boy I sent to the electric chair at Huntsville here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killed a 14-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it. Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out, he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell: ‘Be there in about fifteen minutes.’ I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t. The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say: ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world.’”

Chigurh is a killer who has a contorted sense of philosophy, one that is somewhat contradicting and pretentious, but one that does indeed work to his likings — at least, until the film’s conclusion. He’s the inevitable, invincible force of the world that simply doesn’t follow logic — he is proof that the universe may not work on terms of moral standards like we’d hope it to. However, this quote above admits something more important in regards to the main character or, better yet, the center of this entire movie, that being Sheriff Bell. He’s the observer, or the old man, who witnesses the entire affair and makes an unpreferable sense of it, ultimately confirming the world for him. 

In the last minutes of No Country for Old Men, Bell finally retires his days of being a Sheriff after everything has concluded. Why? Because he’s come to the decision that law won’t see to win, and that evil, greed, and injustice will persevere as long as he lives. He has gone back and forth, case after case, years after years in police enforcement, and accepted that these evils will likely never die. The ambiguity of the individuals who commit these evils, also has him clashed, poisoning him with the thought that the universe is just inherently unprincipled. Deviants can’t just be put into prison and locked away for good — it’s at no time as simple as that. Bell has come to terms that there truly is no country for men of his age, or better said, men with his length of wisdom and experience since they now have matured into knowing the cynical truth in which the functions of the world can never be understood. 

Let’s discuss the Coen Brothers’ unworldly intense directing. No experience has yet to top how on-edge I was during that first viewing of No Country for Old Men. Not only does the extremely clever set-ups (a lot of it reliant on old-fashioned yet knowledgeable DIY principles) to the scenarios that transpire between foes help add to the absorption of the film’s gritty sequences, but the timing of the shots are delegated in matters of true precision. There seems to never be any way for the audience to work around or carefully predict what’s going to happen in this film due to what the Coen Brothers decide to show and decide not to show before an aggressive or shocking fallout.

Minus Chigurh or Bell’s character or the construction of No Country for Old Men’s action segments, my possible favorite aspect of the Coen Brothers’ adaptation is how they handle and furthermore upgrade the conclusion of the original story’s themes. Keep in mind, of course this movie wouldn’t even be able to improve the themes of its narrative obviously without Cormac McCarthy’s incredible novella/source material. After Llewelyn’s wife, Carla, loses her husband and mother, she is confronted by Chigurh, who arrives at her place to kill her due to a “promise” he had made earlier in the film. Chigurh, feeling a surprising amount of pity for a psychopath, however, gives her the chance to determine or her life with the flip of a coin. Yet, instead of taking this opportunity as a reason for life, Carla instead calls Chigurh out for letting an erratic coin decide her fate. In the novel, she simply perilously accepts the toss, but I like how the movie forces an emotionally destroyed woman to morally confront a man who played a part in her suffering. So, yes, Carla attempts to make Chigurh decide her death by free will; luckily, the ambiguous movie allows our imagination to decide whether Chigurh just killed her or forced her to call “heads” or “tails,” as if the two factors do play a part simultaneously in our world. The movie dabbles even more with the contradicting environment we live in, although, during its proceeding sequence where Chigurh almost gets killed in a car crash, as if the results of that too were determined by a coin toss. The likelihood of our destiny could be by chance or could be by determination according to McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. 

In spite of the perfection that can be spotted in almost every direction, I’ve picked up on a few matters that mildly bother me with No Country for Old Men. The movie often features uninspired or aimlessly standard shots, as well as an amalgamation of basic editing etiquettes that are in the countless dialogue-reliant sequences, especially when you compare them to how masterfully seamed the cat and mouse moments between Llewelyn and his enemies are. I understand that the tone is meant to settle in these vocal conversations, so the perspicuity of shots makes some sense, but I simply don’t love how the film always wants Cormac McCarthy to do all the talking. It reminds me of how overbearing the film can occasionally be on telling us what it means, rather than showing it. Yet, this is no more than a nitpick, as I acknowledge movies are allowed to participate in this exchange, plus it only bothers my enjoyment minimally.

Nonetheless, yeah; No Country for Old Men is still probably not only one of the most intense motion pictures I’ve ever sat through on multiple occasions, but a prime example of how to adapt a novel triumphantly. You ought to add or evolve upon its source material’s themes methodically, bring the gripping action of it to the big screen, and cut out filler that isn’t a grand necessity. It’s the ultimate classical western subversion too. This really is the Coen Brothers’ second best, ay? 

Verdict Change: A+ —> A

My All-Time Favorites, The Coen Brothers Ranked, The Victors of the 2000s

“No Country for Old Men” is now available to stream on Hulu and Starz.

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