No Country For Old Men – You Can’t Stop What’s Coming

A brief forewarning.

Some people may find this post to be a little on the dark side. Just remember, I’m writing about the movies. None of these things really happened.

On screen killings are nothing new. How many times have you seen someone get rubbed out in a movie? Probably too many to count. The methods employed to dispense with characters are vast and varied. There are many masters of the celluloid capital crime; Hitchcock, Scorsese, Kubrick and Lynch to name a few. Is there any major filmmaker that hasn’t staged a killing in one of their films? If you know one who hasn’t, please post it. Also, if anyone out there knows what movie was first to show a murder on screen, post that as well.

My study film these days is No Country for Old Men. Academy Award Winner for best picture, director, adapted screenplay and supporting actor. Fantastic. Pure Coen brothers. Murders are a staple in the film world of the Coens. These guys are top notch. Not only do they deliver on body count, but add twists to each one.

Ethan and Joel Coen on the set – Released by Miramax

The choices are carefully crafted and painstakingly staged to keep the viewer off balance, which more effectively builds the trademark Coen suspense. Nothing is ever certain, except that Anton Chigruh is a certifiable psychopathic killer. Anton is driven. He has to do these things. We get the sense he’s been programmed; think Terminator. He sees the obvious and acts.

In No Country characters can vanish without regard to their importance or standing in the story. No one is safe. We’re all rooting for Llewelyn to get away cleanly. And even though he was a main player, his death takes place off screen, and in an unexpected manner. It wasn’t even Anton that pulled the trigger.

Naturally there are always nagging questions. Was it the flirting woman’s body floating face down in the Desert Sands pool? Did Llewelyn consider her offer for beer and get distracted? Did Anton really kill Carla Jean? Of course he did. But in those final moments with her we see a tiny crack in Anton’s method, connecting with his victims (potential victims). The gas station owner, Carson, Llewelyn… Carla Jean. The psychology is complex. But by stopping to explain his twisted mission of fate to Carla Jean, Anton takes himself out of the “the flow.” If he skips the lengthy talk with Carla Jean, there is no car crash. Her attempt to reason with him extracts a small bit of revenge.

No Country for Old Men has six main kill categories. I have compiled a list of the causalities and plotted them in their appropriate category (excluding animals). You are probably asking, why is he writing about this? Why take this time? The Coens put so much thought and care in their craft, one has to study it on every level to fully appreciate. Oh yeah, and it’s fun.

Impressive body count wouldn’t you say? And the winner is… Anton Chigruh with 14 kills. If you include the driver of the car that ran the red light and crashed into him, it goes to 15. After all it was Anton’s fault, a variation on the coin toss game of fate. Read my review of No Country for Old Men in a previous post.

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigruh

What’s next for the Coens?

The Mike Zoss Production Company has a number of projects in various stages of planning and production. The next film to be released is most likely a comedy/drama (go figure) called Burn After Reading. From Working Title Films and Mark Zoss Productions, to be distributed by Focus Features. Picture is currently in post production, and stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Plot synopsis: A disk containing the memoirs of CIA agent Ozzie Cox (Malkovich) ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it. McDormand plays Cox’s philandering wife and Clooney an assassin. Hopefully it will be released in fall of 2008.

Other projects include, Suburbicon, Hail Caesar and Gambit. Pipeline is good. Get out your body count matrix and sharpen your pencils!

5 comments

  1. I occasionally read your blogs and find them to be as intelligent as the writer. However, this was one of the worst movies I ever saw. It winning numerous awards in the movie world was analogous to the dumbing down of American entertainment through reality TV – The Hills, anyone? The only bright spot – Kelly MacDonald, who was compelling and also lost her thick Scottish accent to a Texas drawl – was completely overlooked in favor of a monotone Best Supporting Actor win. That was acting? How this movie could have won above Atonement has made me doubt the credibility of the Academy, who likes to promote the “we know something you don’t” mentality. I hope someday sanity is restored.

  2. Quite possibly there is more happening, Susan, than you may have picked up. Granted, there are several killings as analyzed here so well in this post, but I suggest that the various main characters and their wrestle between selfish and survival instincts most likely distracts many viewers from the message that the writers may be wishing would actually linger within their audience long after the credits have scrolled.

    Let me suggest, for example, what the Sheriff says at the end of the film. Remember the two dreams: In the first, he looses money from his father and never makes the meeting in town. In the second, the father rides ahead of him on horseback on a cold winter night. He believes that his father is going ahead of him to prepare camp and to start a warm fire. He rides on through the snow with this hope. Before arriving there with his father, he wakes from his dream.

    Nothing ends. There is no closure. The film lingers someplace between hope and the arrival. The way most films end, I’m arguing, are dumbed down. This more challenging and engaging film requires more thought and analysis on the part of the observer. This is far more worthy of awards than when one tells me what to feel and how they believe.

    What’s even more true, the long winter night is not over. It seems that evil wins. We believe in a warm light that would represent an end to the triumph of evil, but we live here in limbo, someplace between that and the light. We as the movie watcher are left where the character himself is left, someplace right in between.

  3. Steve, I agree with you that “No Country for Old Men” (both the book and movie) effectively employ homicide as a means to an end. What fascinates me most about “No Country for Old Men” is how the sheriff learns a hard lesson about accepting the existence of an evil in the world that he is powerless to stop or even contain. By contrast, in another Coen brothers classic, “Fargo,” police officer Marge Gunderson learns to accept the presence of evil but in doing so contains the immediate evil in her life. “No Country for Old Men” is devastating because Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is completely outmatched by Anton Chigurh and has to come to terms with that realization for the rest of his life. “No Country for Old Men” wisely focuses on Chigurh’s serial homicide to build up to this point, which is one reason why Chigurh tops your kill matrix. I think that’s why Llewelyn Moss’s death occurs offscreen — it’s just not as central or useful to the movie’s thesis. Good post

  4. I would quibble with only one point: the chicken farmer is (presumably) killed offscreen, and we never see his death or his body.

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