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Life is nothing more than a series of chance encounters along one path chosen instead of another. Despite its much publicized violence and outer clothing of a thriller/western/thriller - a thriller sandwich as it were, with a layer of contemplation as mayo on each side - Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men is more of a rumination on chance versus fate.
Afterwards, walking away from the film, I was struck by the lack of answers and the glut of questions. What drives Javier Bardem's character, Anton Chigurh, to employ the use of a cattle gun as his favourite way to dispose of those who stand in his way? Why the coin toss? Why is Chigurh arrested in the first place? If you need a tight little story with all the answers delivered in that third act, No Country for Old Men may not be the film you want it to be.
And yet to some, the lack of answers is refreshing. Much like that finale of The Sopranos, if you cannot handle adding your own intepretation to your art, stay away - this film will drive you crazy.
The Brothers Coen have grown up, and in their older years, they are not only reflecting on their own story arc with No Country for Old Men, but on the nature of the "arc" in storytelling itself. Much like a revisit to the Blood Simple days, No Country for Old Men is true Noir, steeped in a strong tea of Western motifs. The hapless protagonist, Llewllyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin - you know, the older brother in Goonies), wants his prey, a deer, to stay still and accept its fate, but as it turns out fate has other things in store for the hunter. Moss has a "choice" - or does he? Throughout the film we see Moss struggle with the notion (or lack thereof) of his own free will, knowing too well that it is his will that has unleashed Hell in the form of a psychopath like Chigurh. In his struggle, you see Man struggle against Man, God, Fate, and Himself. I know that many capital letters can be daunting, but once you see the film, you will understand the larger ideas that are at play with each other. No Country for Old Men is no simple caper-film or heist-movie. It is instead a philisophical dissertation. Albeit a very entertaining and violent one.
It is a deft hand in the filmmaking that oscillates between showing the logical path to the end and seriously fucking with you, the viewer. In their past work the Coens have followed that logical, yet oddly skewed, path, but now they have decided to stand back and see how things will play out. Or so it seems. Leaving the theatre, I turned to my companion and said, "For a movie about chance, every shot was so carefully planned." True, such attention to detail is a common thread in all of the films from the Coens, the two men with one giant super-brain, but in No Country for Old Men, that juxtaposition between story and style is absolutely genius for those of us that get off on that kind of thing.
I wish that I could delve into the intricacies of the story, but anything I add will give this tale away. Bardem steals the show, as the killer with an overdeveloped sense of purpose. Even when the threat or the foe is gone, he lives by a set of ideals that it is hard to argue with (but Kelly MacDonald, bless her, she tries). Tommy Lee Jones plays the bookends in No Country for Old Men, and what I mean by that refers to Noir, and how that tone will tell you immediately what is going to happen and still invites you to sit back and watch how it all unfolds. He is our guide through this morality play of sorts. And yet, it is exactly that - the "morals" of No Country for Old Men - that give the film shape. By giving in to his moral self, Moss casts his own fate and thus doom. By following his own morals, Chigurh becomes a living nightmare of principles-gone-awry.
Don't get me wrong, though, by my over-enthusiasm for deeper philisophy in popular film. No Country for Old Men is a nail-biter. A homing device adds the soundtrack of your own heartbeat as you desperately want to see Chigurh stopped by Moss. You really want Moss to take the money and run, to find that happy ending that you know the Coens will not give unless begrudgingly. There is no leg-in-a-woodchipper moment, but there is a larger sense of justice at times - if you squint. SEE ALSO: www.nocountryforoldmen.com
SEE ALSO: www.coenbrothers.net
Rather than writing screenplays as her film school education would dictate, Lulu Mcgrew spends her time as a freelance contributor to LAS and a number of other publications, as well as blogging prolifically.
See other articles by Rachael Neile-Mcgrew.
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