NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

No Country for Old Men – dir. Joel and Ethan Coen – 2007 – Theatrical Trailer no country

By KJ Hamilton

Would you risk everything for money? It is more than risking all of your winnings in trade for what’s behind Door Number Two. This is your life in exchange for money. What are you worth? It’s said that every man has his price. For this film, the price is $2 million. Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is an average Joe who served two tours of duty. He’s married and lives in a doublewide mobile home in a trailer park. While hunting deer in the West Texas desert, he came upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone terribly wrong. He finds a truck bed full of heroin and a suitcase with $2 million in it. He decides to keep the money,  having absolutely no idea that the countdown to the end of his life just began. Each time he eludes his pursuer, he gets closer to the realization that this is blood money, and the blood is his own.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is the textbook materialization of a homicidal psychopath: he has no history, no family and no expression. . He lives his life with no real purpose and leaves everything to chance, except his pursuit of the $2 million which he believes is his. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the investigation into the botched drug deal, the missing money, and the dead bodies that pile up. He began his tenure in his early twenties, and is quick to point out that the world has drastically changed, it is now a riddle to which he does not know the answer; it’s chaos without law and order. Llewelyn and Anton are both products of these changes, and the decisions they make have no choice but to lead to destruction.

This film weaves together a combination of horror, chase, and message films and leaves the viewer at a loss as to which genre best suits it. The combination also paints a fascinating canvas: horror films, while bloody, speak to the core of our fears. We fear the unknown. Anton is the unknown; he is the incarnation of the X factor. He leaves a bloody path behind him, and cares not if a person is innocent, perhaps, in his mind, there are no innocent people. He teases people with a coin toss: “You call it. I can’t call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair”. That’s quite a philosophical statement for a man who is more random than a rainstorm on a sunny day. The chosen answer is never correct. Even if the chosen victim isn’t shot, there is always the question in the back of the mind: “When will he be back?”. The question is only answered seconds before the clock winds down, when you’ve come to the end of your search and the chase is over. Although the three main characters are all in pursuit of each other, the chase doesn’t end. Llewelyn’s flight turns into a pursuit of the man who wants to kill him. Anton’s pursuit ends in a bloody mess. Neither of them gained anything.

So, what’s the message of this film? If the characters’ pursuits produced nothing, what’s the point?

This is the most fascinating part of the film: there was no winner; no one truly walked away from the chase unchanged. Llewelyn’s attempt to turn and fight wasn’t because he wanted to keep the money. He realized that no matter what happened, his life meant more than what he’d traded it for, and then he realized that he had to try to have his cake and eat it to. That was his ultimate downfall.

Anton takes pride in the fact that he’s always the last man standing. Perhaps that’s his downfall. No matter how he is injured or how he injures others, the result is still the same: he’s still standing. It’s a hint of immortality, which plays even further upon the core of fear. Fear can be broken, but it is hardly ever defeated.

Sheriff Bell retires from the chase and from the service of the county. He feels “outmatched” by the ever changing, declining world. Can he change a world that doesn’t want to be changed? Can he be the one light in pitch dark? The film ends with his recount of a dream in which he met his father. They rode up on a mountain pass and his father carried the only source of light. The elder sheriff rides ahead, taking the light with him. Ed Tom follows in complete dark only because he knows that, when he catches up, his father will have a fire to warm him. The film ends with Bell’s final words: “And, then I woke up.” So, there is no fire waiting in the darkness; no light at the end of the tunnel.

This was a completely fascinating and complex film. It left me wondering if I would willingly make such a trade—and what it would cost me if I ever did. Is it worth forsaking the warm fire on the other side of the darkness for the blinding light of the empty chase?

Leslie Sampson Written by: