No Country for Old Retards

Although I am straight out of a writing class on film techniques, I am not a person who ruminates much on his experiences inside a theatre. However, since a lot of my friends scornfully dismiss the best picture winner of 2007 as a bad movie, I thought I should put a good word or two for the movie by Coen Brothers.

I saw the movie as an expansion, if not a continuation, of previously acclaimed Coen Brothers’ movie, Fargo, which if I remember correctly, won an Academy Award for deserving William H. Macy. As in Fargo, the landscape of “No Country” is not only primitive, but it is also filled with coarse, albeit well-defined, characters. This is Texan primeval landscape transformed into the antediluvian land of Genesis, and filled in with Neanderthals of the men.

There are only three main characters in the movie: Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who dominates the every scene he appears, with his signature haircut, taciturn contempt against human lives, and his home-improved cattle-gun (which is weirdly shaped like a fire-extinguisher).

The movie starts with Llewellyn Moss discovering a drug-deal which went wrong, and a brief-case full of American dollars. Chigurh was sent to reclaim the money, but eventually he not only hunts down Moss but also those who hired him. Chigurh with his singular cattle gun represents Death with its signature scythe. The drug lords who hired Chigurh inadvertently invoked Death, which ultimately destroys not only their target but also them. The money Llewellyn found, on the other hand, became a standing prop for our lives, which are easier to get than to retain.

Sheriff Bell who begins the story by saying he can’t believe how much evil it is out there in the world, provides the moral foundation for the movie. The most memorable scene is when Bell enters the hotel room Chigurh was hiding, knowingly that the latter is there. Bell knows his antagonist’s destructiveness and invincibility, but he walks bravely towards his nemesis, and he came out of the confrontation unscratched. It is a classic showdown between fate (Chigurh) and confidence (it can be said that Bell also represents faith and belief, but those are dangerous waters).

At the end of the movie, Chigurh got into a terrible car accident, which can either be interpreted as his comeuppance or his belated luck. He is disarmed of his cattle gun, or he was separated away from his cattle gun by a stroke of luck, which states that finally Chigurh managed to get rid of his demons and murderous instincts. Inclusion of sympathetic children, and Chigurh’s almost warm reaction with them further ascertain this interpretation.

Many criticize the ending since Chigurh presumably escapes. But we are not watching “No Country” for its views on justice and comeuppance. Like Cormac McCarthy’s book, the movie leaves the audience with something to ponder upon: who were the real villains of the piece? Anton Chigurh with his flawed character was a candidate, but he, like Ingmar Bergman’s Death in The Seventh Seal, is a character we love to hate. Then how about Llewellyn Moss, and other members of drug cartel, whose greed overwhelm them? How about Sheriff Bell and his jaundiced view of the world? The ending was a fitting touch to the story in which we don’t understand who resembles dark.

In fact, a character does refer to Chigurh as the bubonic plague—a direct reference to Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 classic, The Seventh Seal. Chigurh’s coin tricks, the clothing he wears and his macabre phone calls are just derivatives of Bergman’s Death. In the end, Chigurh did kill both Llewellyn and his wife—which is something he must, for in The Seventh Seal, both the knight and his lady were claimed by death.

These symbolisms start with Cormac McCarthy’s book: if we perceive Chigurh as Death, it is not hard to see that the story itself is a retelling of the Pardoner’s Tale. In this most famous of all the Canterbury Tales, three young men looking for Death are told that they will find him under an oak tree. There they find only a bag of gold, for which they kill one another and meet Death finally. Llewellyn also found money under a tree as well, besides a dead body. There, he opened it, and unleashed everything inside this Pandora’s Box. Other macabre symbolisms include Llewellyn’s jacket and Chigurh’s shirt, and the River (Styx?) Llewellyn crossed without being able to cross back.

All being said, the film is very deep in symbolism, and results in ambiguity for many first time viewers. A confused (or even vacant) state of mind will visit the first viewing just to miss enjoyable aesthetics of each scene. Yet, you will sense something bigger, something difficult to comprehend in the picture. It is something difficult to put into words. Watch it again, and you will see and understand it…


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