Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No Country for Old Men

For a film this well known, one can assume everyone has seen it, which saves the bother of having to say much. It's my second view after three years. The first time I could not understand why it was so highly rated, and I may say the same now. The feeling is of having seen a gripping thriller, particularly well constructed and painted on a wide canvas depicting the current state-of-the-art wild west.

Chigurh, the lead character, is not exactly a serial killer or a psychotic. He is intelligent, literate and articulate. If one were to attempt a deconstruction of his personality, one could only say he's a person who desires money, and lives by letting the toss of a coin determine his path. He leaves a trail of bodies as he pursues the suitcase filled with money. 

It's a society dominated by money and drugs. Even children understand the meaning of money. Llewyn's wife refuses to bargain for life by tossing a coin. The policemen for a change are portrayed as good philosophers, uncomprehending the transformed society, of which they see the worst. In fact Chigurh seems the distilled logical end product of a society in which the traditional sources of values have dried up. Satan, after all, is known to be a crafty logician, and logic cannot produce values.

The efficient air-cylinder which he wields is an apt symbol for the weaponry which distances the killer from the victim. This is a film about the roulette wheel society and the coin-toss universe. The film is a chilling and exquisitely wrought portrayal of our times and Chigurh is more a prototype than bizarre.

All though the film is about a series of killings, it somehow does not take the extinction of life as lightly as many others.The ghastliness of the act of killing comes through sharply. Why is murder so foul? Life, so laboriously nursed and nurtured with pain and sacrifice, is a journey, an unwritten odyssey, a bundle of infinite possibility. To tear off the pages of the book of life mid way is a sad deed indeed.

12 comments:

Jack L said...

This film didn't have a favourable first impression on me at all, but maybe I should revisit it...

I do like The Coens work but I do think this film is very overrated, There Will Be Blood which came out the same year was superior.

I also think that my dislike for the film may stem from it's source material, although I haven't read the book I also disliked The Road which was adapted from a book by the same author...

Anyway, you make some interesting points that I hadn't considered before and I might have to watch this again sometime.

S. M. Rana said...

Jack L.: It is a superb entertainer which grips your attention from the start while it delights with the quick twists and turns of plot. The editing and camera work (whether of the parched cacti spotted desert or the dark interiors of a motel) is captivating.

Philosophy apart this is a movie, which, like Fargo, has to be seen for the perfection of it's execution. In its density of time usage, not a stroke wasted, it is reminiscent of Tarantino's best.

Nathanael Hood said...

I don't think that Chigurh used a coin because it was symbolic of the domination of money in today's society. I read the book. Chigurh was not motivated by money.

I think that it is just a convenient way for him to decide whether or not to kill somebody.

Are you familiar with Batman? It's similar to his villain Two-Face who decides whether or not to let his victims live on a coin toss.

S. M. Rana said...

Nathan: I agree. Chigurh's coin tossing seems more symbolic of his belief (shared by worthier souls of our age) in an amoral universe governed by chance. Money, personified in the briefcase packed with bills) seems more than a MacGuffin since it becomes the focus of greed for some of the characters.

Nathanael Hood said...

I see....

You know...you still didn't answer my question about Batman...

S. M. Rana said...

I have of course read Batman comics long ago though I haven't seen many Superhero films (I particularly remember the one which had that cute Joker character). I don't have any clear memory of Two Face but I can imagine the sinister humor behind the idea, and the gloating sense of power this must have provide him with. Could be Chigurh is derived from there. But I would prefer to admire NCFOM for it's cinematic professionalism as a crime thriller like Fargo.

Nathanael Hood said...

You read Batman comics?

Awesome!

We need to talk about that some other time...

S. M. Rana said...

Hope to hear some good news soon about your graduate school applications.

TV came very late to India and we fattened on school satchels crammed with tattered comics, coveted and often read in stolen class time. A meal would be incomplete without a Micky Mouse or Lone Ranger or Archie or anything in the shape of a sequence of pictures to appetize the food. Surely one of the joys of the past.

kaist455 said...

"No Country for Old Men" is very special to me. I instantly recognized it as a great movie. With an unforgettably chilling villain and the bloody, chaotic world in which he moves around, the movie is a splendid thriller/shocker. Like many of the Coen brothers' movies, it mercilessly and dexterously twists its plot, and I was literally punched by its twists many times during the first viewing.

It could have been just a cold, well-made thriller if not for the sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who provides a sad heart to the story. He knows what's going on, but he also knows that he is helpless in front of the unstoppable violence he can never comprehend. But he tries to do the right thing as far as he can - prudently within his ability.

Around the finale, the sheriff has the conversation with an old man. An old man points to him that the world has been always violent. It made me to wonder whether our world is approaching to the end in its constant repetition of violences committed by us.

But the people try to go on, and the movie cares about its characters. Carla Jean resists to a forced choice, even though she cannot change a single thing. Maybe there will be the end, but the sheriff has the wife whom he loves - and whom he can tell about his dreams he had last night.

S. M. Rana said...

Seongyong Cho: Yes, the plot twists are as dexterous as a Tarantino film. It is as beautifully constructed as the latest Japanese (can we say Korean?) automobile. And I also suspect it is one of your genres of choice.

Carla Jean's refusal to bet for her life (after all the odds are fifty fifty)seems an unforgettable assertion of freedom of will.

Wasn't the old man the sherrif's father? His retirement is perhaps the most pathetic of all, having to languish in a world which holds no meaning.

Lot's of people I know who are not serial killers like our dear weirdo have a similar belief system--life as a meaningless game of poker, dice or coin tossing. Society has lost even the doubtful anchorage which religion sometimes provided.

kaist455 said...

The old man is sort of an uncle to the sheriff according to the book, but it is vague how they are related to each other.

S. M. Rana said...

SC: I see.