Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Country for Old Men


No Country for Old Men finally opened here in Buenos Aires. The Cormac McCarthy novel was the last novel I had read before moving to Argentina and I have been waiting for the movie to come out for months.

Cormac McCarthy

All, I can say is wow! The Coen brothers were faithful to the book in every way. Their cinematic mastery has created a movie even better than the book.

I saw it twice in the theaters last weekend and I even bought a copy off of iTunes and watched it two more times.

I highly recommend you buy it for yourself now that it is on DVD and online. It has found a place in my all time top 10 list if not my top 5.

I know there is a large population of you out there that left the theater scratching your heads. It is understandable given the very non-hollywood ending to the movie. At first, I was jarred by the ending. But with a little explaining, you will be able to understand why the ending was the way it was.

Sailing To Byzantium

The title, "No Country for Old Men", comes from a famous poem by William Butler Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium". Byzantium is symbolic of the ideal paradise of the eternal world verses the natural mortal world.

The poem contrasts the decay of the natural world and of the "dying generation" with the desire to escape the decaying human condition to that of the ideal. Of course, it is unattainable. We must finally retire to that fact, just as Sheriff Bell does in the movie.

Essentially, that is what the movie (and book) is about. The duality of good vs. evil, choice vs. chance are also important elements of the story.

Death and The Tree of Life

You first see see the duality of good and evil, and how choice vs. chance play out when Lewellen first spots the "ultimo Hombre" with the cash under one of two trees. The first tree on the left represents the "Tree of Life". It is lush and green. The other tree on the right is decayed and dying. It is "the Tree of knowledge" or the one with forbidden fruit, i.e the cash.


Lewellen, a decent honest man, by choice commits sin like Adam and Eve by taking the forbidden fruit (the cash)...thus entangling Sheriff Bell in a mortal world so distant and evil from what he knows, he feels overwhelmed and retires.

The tree of life is a prominent symbol in the film. The scene above is the first instance. It is also used subtly when Chigurh (the ultimate symbol of Death in our lives) comes up to the door in the mobile home park. The circles on the door and the shadow of Chigurh walking up to the door make a kabbalist tree of life symbol. It is that kind of detail in framing and editing a shot that make the Coen brothers great.

Finally, at the end when Chigurh is walking away from the crash scene, he dissolves into the next scene and into a tree of life behind Sheriff Bell's shoulder. Those two images of Chigurh dissolving into a tree of life is symbolic of how death is always present here in our mortal lives.


The Coen brothers were also brilliant at setting up the scene where Chigurh challenges the gas station attendant to a flip of the coin. The scene is reminiscent of death challenging a knight to a game of chess in Bergman's The Seventh Seal.


The way the Coen brothers staged the scene is priceless. Behind the old man in the gas station are fan belts arranged like hangman nooses. The antique looking cash register reads, "Paid Out 21". Below and to the right are are smiley faces stickers. Behind Chigurh the only candy you notice is "Snickers".

The dialogue is almost all straight from the book and reflect McCarthy's sparse poetic prose where no words are wasted. Every word is wrought with meaning—sometimes more than one.

Add to that the brilliant acting. Josh Brolin was perfect as Lewellen Moss. Tommy Lee Jones has been practicing his whole life for the roll of Sheriff Ed Bell. That was who I pictured playing the roll when reading the book. He didn't let me down.

And of course, Javier Bardem was pure evil and worthy of the Oscar he received for playing Anton Chigurh.

Finally, the cinematography was breathtaking under the masterful lens of Roger Deakins.


In summary, about a perfect film as you can make. It was hard to find anything to complain about, unless you had not read the book and were expecting a typical Hollywood ending and everything wrapped up in a pretty bow. Maybe something along the lines of... Bad guys are killed. Good guys go home. Just like in real life, no?


Paddy in BA (Quickroute) said...

WOW! - thanks for the behind the scenes insight. I saw it this week and was one of those people left scratching my head at the ending although with the Coen brothers you never know what their genius will bring. I studied Sailing To Byzantium in high school so am familaiar with that. I'll be picking up a DVD version I reckon!

Longhorn Dave said...

No problem quickroute. Get the DVD! I also like renting it on iTunes. It is easy to go straight to the scene you want.

I'd be curious to know if you like better the second time around.

Anonymous said...

Longhorn Dave,

Sorry to say I'm a former sooner and a current Baylor Bear MBA but I am actually trying to pursue employment/internship opportunities in Argentina. Particularly with consumer behavior. I thought you might be a good resource if we can see past our obvious Big 12 affiliations. Getting a sponsorship for a work visa has been somewhat difficult and some insight would go a long way.

Longhorn Dave said...

Baylor Osita:

There are many US and European companies that operate here. One of the biggest opportunities is with Accenture.

I have met numerous expats here that work for Accenture. Don't know if that is in your line of work.

Unfortunately, my goal while I'm down here is not to work. So, I am not really plugged into the networking scene. Don't know if I would be a big help.

Marin Frankel with Expat Connection would be a much better source. Google him.

Anonymous said...

That's great help, I appreciate it. I'll try and keep my blog going but things are pretty crazy right now. Thanks again