No Understanding for Old Men

July 9, 2013

in blowg

recently rewatched this movie, felt compelled to repost this from my old blog because i feel this movie is widely misunderstood by general audiences. SPOILERS.

The Coen Brothers aren’t inclined to explain the symbolism in their movies, which is why they sometimes confuse an audience. By the end of Barton Fink, Burn After Reading, Fargo and especially No Country, a lot of folks ask, what was the fucking point of watching that?

You’re not gonna find an explanation from the directors, but luckily No Country was their first adaption, so we can look to the book.

Wait, Cormac McCarthy is nearly as reclusive and ambiguous as the late J.D. Salinger. Oh well, you can read the book anyway and have a much closer guess, maybe.

It helps to note that the main character is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), not Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), at the title itself implies. Bell is a man caught in a vast wasteland overflowing with unspeakable violence and according to him, it didn’t use to be this way. Early in the film he mentions that the older sheriffs didn’t even need to carry a gun. Now everything he ever understood is in chaos.

Still, the story centers around Moss, who steals $2 million dollars from a drug deal gone wrong and lets his greed ruin his life. Everyone he knows or cares about is dead by the end of the film. It’s kind of a metaphor, so don’t look at it straight on.

Moss has the ultimate showdown with Anton Chigurh, more than once. This is because, really, Anton Chigurh represents the Grim Reaper. Anton, dressed in all black, carries an unusual weapon made for killing cattle instead of a scythe because in 1980, Americans reaped a much different crop. With few exceptions, anyone who meets or “sees” Anton meets a violent and untimely demise. One minor character asks, “Are you gonna shoot me?”

“That depends,” Anton replies. “Do you see me?”

He says this with a wide, sadistic grin. Like the Reaper, he enjoys killing because he has nothing to lose and it’s his job. And undoubtedly, few people have met the Grim Reaper and lived to tell the tale (except for Bill and Ted and that guy with the Seven Seals or something).

Then there’s his weird coin flipping habit, made to prove that death is all chance, but in every way it’s inevitable. Everyone, from Moss to Sheriff Bell to Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) deeply fears Anton (or at least should). He’s the ultimate, formidable enemy and no one can stop him. They can only accept his existence.

Bell deals with Anton differently than everyone else, who get their heads blown off. He quits his job, finally “outmatched” by his environment. On his first day, Bell has nothing to do but sit quietly, muse over depressing dreams and wait for death to come anyway.

Somehow, the ending is the most hated part of the film, but Bell’s dream is the whole point of the movie. He describes it as his father traveling far ahead, starting a

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fire and keeping the cold, surrounding darkness warm. That’s what death means to Bell — being taken out of disastrous circumstances out of his control and into warmth with long lost relatives.

Only Carla Jean, Moss’s wife, understands and doesn’t completely fear Anton (Death). When she is confronted by Anton in the end, she calls him out on his insane nature. But arguing with Death doesn’t get her far. It is only implied that she dies, but that implication is best. Here, she accepted her fate and fought for her life, if only using words. Out of all the characters in the film/book, she faced death with the least resistance. Perhaps this is noble.

But it all ends. Blah blah blah. The point of watching No Country for Old Men is to remind yourself that the world is violent, cold and dark and one day, it’ll catch up to you. So it asks you, how do you face the callous cattle killing of Anton?

If you look at No Country for Old Men this way, maybe you’ll appreciate the film a lot more. I suggest you rent it again and see if the message rings a little more true. Maybe it’ll remind you to take each coin flip with death a little more gravely.

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