Ethan and Joel Coen (writers and directors) No Country for Old Men / 2007
When the film No Country for Old Men first appeared at our local theater, I resisted the movie, in part because it was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. There is no question of the great talents of this filmmaking duo, but in too many of their films over the years they have seemed to me to waste their substantial energies on flat satires of the most obvious limitations of American society and in meaningless presentations of violently dark visions that portend more than they deliver. Not only do the Coens unnecessarily demean the cookie-cut figures they have created but they toy with their audiences as well. It’s simply painful to me that in a work as substantial as Barton Fink, for example, we are left only with an old suitcase which may or may not hold any significance for the characters or viewers. Like some other disaffected writers and directors of today, they raise important questions without having any intention of seeking out answers. It’s not that I might expect a definitive answer to the contemporary dilemmas, but I do demand that an artist truly attempt to discover if there might be one.
Ed Tom Bell: Gun out and up.
Wendell: [Wendell draws his pistol] What about yours?
Ed Tom Bell: I’m hidin’ behind you.
As the camera pans across the beautiful but desolate landscape at the beginning of the film, Bell tells of the old country sheriffs, some of whom survived for years without even shooting their guns.
Gas Station Proprietor: Sir?
Anton Chigurh: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.
Gas Station Proprietor: I don’t know. I couldn’t say.
[Chigurh flips a quarter from the change on the counter and covers it with his hand.]
Anton Chigurh: Call it.
Gas Station Proprietor: Call it?
Anton Chigurh: Yes.
Gas Station Proprietor: For what?
Anton Chigurh: Just call it.
Gas Station Proprietor: Well, we need to know what we’re calling it for here.
Anton Chigurh: You need to call it. I can’t call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair.
Gas Station Proprietor: I didn’t put nothin’ up.
Anton Chigurh: Yes, you did. You’ve been putting it up your whole life you
Just didn’t know it. You know what date is on this coin?
Gas Station Proprietor: No.
Anton Chigurh: 1958. It’s been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And
now it’s here. And it’s either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.
Gas Station Proprietor: Look, I need to know what I stand to win.
Anton Chigurh: Everything.
Gas Station Proprietor: How’s that?
Anton Chigurh: You stand to win everything. Call it.
Gas Station Proprietor: Alright. Heads then.
[Chigurh removes his hand, revealing the coin is indeed heads.]
Anton Chigurh: Well done.
Moss also has taken a bet, a gamble that armed simply with his rifle, he can outrun the forces trying to destroy him. But Chigurh and the others have stacked the deck, placing a small homing device in the center of the money stacks which leads Chigurh to Moss’s hideout. Moss discovers the device at the very moment that Chigurh appears at his hotel door.
All of this might have seemed like McCarthy’s bleak portrait of the end of the world in The Road if it weren’t for the fact that, even if they are ultimately ineffectual, people such as Sheriff Bell continue their pursuit. In this sense, they deny what they themselves know to be coming: their own fates. Even when all the bodies have seemingly been neatly stacked, Chigurh has one final murder to commit: Carla Jean Moss, Llewelyn’s wife, whom he has promised to reprieve if Moss delivers up the money. Since Moss has chosen to ignore him, Chigurh—with his perverse sense of honor—now feels compelled to destroy the last survivor.
Los Angeles, December 15, 2007