No Country for Old Men

1. Analysis of the book

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy is a masterpiece novel that has acclaimed success and sticks out because of McCarthy’s voice, the settings, the very real characters and the deeper meaning in his writing. McCarthy uses stereotypes to tell his western story—the old sheriff who has stayed too long and seen too much, the normal, everyday man until he is undone by greed, even if it’s to provide a better life for his family, the dutiful wife who sticks by her man no matter what and the relentless villain who kills at will. Describing the characters with those stereotypes is simply grazing the surface. For example, Anton Chigurh is a bloodthirsty villain and sociopath devoid of any moral code, but he walks around distributing justice Old Testament style. His character raises the debate between free will versus destiny, one of the themes in the book. The many layers of the characters certainly carries the book, but it’s just one of a plethora of things that have made No Country for Old Men a classic.

2. Analysis of the film

The Coen brothers’ adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is strikingly real and beautiful, yet extremely tragic. The movie is very much character-driven, focusing on uncompromising and uncompromised characters played skillfully by Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald and others. Perhaps this focus on the characters is intentional, considering the slow, unrelenting pace of the movie and the lack of background music, faithful to the setting. There are even instances of black humor that momentarily stagnate the violence and thrilling build-up of the film. Overall, the film excels on every front, even the unsuspected and fast-paced ending, starting with Llewelyn Moss’ sudden death and ending with Chigurh’s rise from a car crash, injured, yet conscious and composed.

3. Analysis of the adaptation

According to lecture and film critics, the Coen brothers’ take at McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a very good adaptation. This is because there isn’t much variation between the two and the film seems to be playing out McCarthy’s intentions of a western drama mixed with suspense and violence. Of course, no piece of literature can make a seamless transition to film and the Coen brothers’ film isn’t without its deviations from the text. For example, moments of black humor, the comical tone, the secondary character status and reduced role of Sheriff Bell, the interiority replaced by dialogue, the slow pacing and Chigurh’s haircut that comes off as a joke, are all new aspects of the story. However, as is the case when examining film adaptations, it’s easy to dwell on the differences, maybe because our eyes are trained to look for them. Critics and viewers alike must appreciate how closely the film follows the scenes from the book and manages to capture the heart of it, even with its most unusual ending.

4. Online research on the film

This video, “No Country for Old Men in 30 seconds (and re-enacted by bunnies)” is a humorous parody of the film played by bunnies and compressed into 30 seconds. It’s remarkable how it manages to get the gist of the story in 30 seconds. I always find it interesting which scenes the makers of trailers or parody videos select, as those are the ones that they feel most represent the film.

This website is an open debate about the ending of No Country for Old Men that has probably at least a hundred responses from users. Open discussion is a great way to discuss film.

This book by Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach and Jim Welsh, titled, “No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film” is truly the go-to source for anything related to No Country for Old Men. The book is over 219 pages of essays and articles about the book and movie and it provides theories about meaning behind the book and movie. The writing is very detailed, organized into interesting chapters, such as “You are the battleground: Materiality, Moral Responsibility, and Determinism in No Country for Old Men,” “Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” and McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men: Art and Artifice in the Novel,” “Oedipus Rests: Mimesis and Allegory in No Country for Old Men” and others. Browsing through this book certainly made me want to watch the film again.

5. Analysis of the adaptation

No Country for Old Men is undeniably violent and yet it is somewhat reticent about two killings, that of Llewelyn Moss and later his wife Carla Jean. Why would the film-makers decline to film their killings when so many other killings in the film are graphically shown?

In No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers don’t shy away from filming killings—they are abundant and gruesome—but the killings of Llewelyn Moss and his wife Carla Jean aren’t shown and this is intentional. There are a few possible explanations. First, by declining to show their killings, the mind undoubtedly wanders. The intent is to make the viewer think about why the murders aren’t played out and then fill in the blanks. Also, there’s no closure surrounding their deaths, which plays into the overarching theme of freedom versus fate. This lack of closure lasts until the end of the film when Sheriff Bell realizes that a country of old men, with old values, no longer have a place. Also, while this explanation might be less likely, it’s possible that Llewelyn and Carla Jean are spared having their killings filmed because they are the archetypal good guy and dutiful wife, too innocent and undeserving of a gruesome murder scene. Overall, the Cohen brothers’ decision to not film their killings is justified because it doesn’t detract from the story and if anything, adds to the mystery of the movie and makes the viewer think more.

One response to “No Country for Old Men

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s