Saturday, February 23, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Last night, Michele and Chloe and I went to see No Country for Old Men. Wow. . . . Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have out-done themselves with this bleak dream of a film, both heart-pounding and heart-breaking.

The trailers and the buzz about this movie have been out for a good while now. So as you may know already (spoiler alert), it all begins when Llewelyen Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam vet and ordinary Joe who lives in Southwest Texas, goes hunting and discovers the grisly scene of a drug deal gone bad. His life changes when he spots in the distance the corpse of the man who'd been trying to make off with the loot, $2 million in cash neatly stacked in a big black case.

Not much later, Llewelyen has taken the money, been spotted by men who know that he has it, and realizes that it won't be long before someone comes knocking at his door. From there, the movie turns into an far-flung chase that involves the three main characters: Moss, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones), and the psychopathic arch criminal Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). To discover how it ends (or doesn't) you'll have to see for yourself.

For those who haven't seen it, I'll tell you that this movie is not for the faint of heart. It's certainly not a pick-me-up. But that's putting it mildly. For all of it's darkness, There Will Be Blood, another fine film, is a picnic compared to the violence portrayed in No Country for Old Men. At the same time, the film includes a big dose of the quirky dark humor that we've come to expect from the Coen brothers.

Most of the on-line reviews I've read suggest that one of the main themes of No Country is the recent explosion of violent crime in the U.S. The story is set in 1980, ironically the year that the always-hopeful Ronald Reagan was first elected President. In a telling scene, both Sheriff Bell and one of his colleagues seem to think that it's gotten a lot worse since those earlier, better days when they were younger men. Now old men, these veterans of law enforcement feel lost in a wasteland of absolute disregard and brutality. As Bell says it in the opening voice over,

The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job - not to be glorious. But I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. You can say it's my job to fight it, but I don't know what it is anymore. More than that, I don't want to know. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He would have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."

Near the end of the movie, the recently-retired Sheriff Bell, feeling "outmatched," goes to visit his Uncle Ellis, a crusty old former lawman, now disabled. To me, this was the pivotal scene. Ellis tells his nephew, "Whatcha got ain't nothin new." The depth of evil that Ed Tom Bell has recently come to see? It didn't just arrive. It's not unprecedented. In fact, it can be found throughout human history.

"There is nothing new under the sun," said a wise man. And that includes the mind-numbing violence depicted in this movie. As much as we're impressed, rightly so, by the evil of our own day, the Bible says that there once was a time, leading up to the great Flood, that was worse than what we know. It was a time when, "the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Sometimes it feels like that's where we are. Yet the curtain of history still hasn't come down. I take that to mean that, along with this being a time of incredible wickedness, it's also a time that includes the hope of salvation and redemption.

In the closing scene, the newly-retired Sheriff Bell seems completely dejected. He tells his wife about a couple of dreams he'd had the night before. In the first, he had lost some money that his father (also a career lawman) had given him. Here, Bell gives voice to the the haunting fears of people who live with a legacy, who stand in a great tradition. Will I be so weak that I'll fumble and forfeit what others have worked so hard to earn?

In the second dream, father and son are riding horseback through the snow. The father passes, holding a lit torch. He'll set up a campsite and build a fire up ahead. Eventually, the son will meet the father there.

Will that be a time when Bell has to give an account for what he did, who he was? Maybe that's the idea. Either way, by now the viewer is convinced that in spite of his confusion and doubt, the good sheriff would do well in any such judgment. Besides, he would be with his father, the one who had gone ahead and prepared a place for the two of them.

Could a dream like that be interpreted as a longing for restoration and never-ending relationship? That's the way I read it, because that's what I'm hoping for. People were not meant to age and die in an evil world. We were created to live with our father forever.


Odgie said...

I have not seen "No Country..." yet, as my wife has no interest and I have not had the time. But I am a huge Coen Brothers fan. Have you seen "Miller's Crossing"? That's another one with some similar themes to this one.

Dee Andrews said...

Hey, Frank -

Thanks for the great review. Tom & I haven't seen it, but have heard a lot about it.

Tom really wants to see it, but I don't think I want to. I already didn't think that I did because I don't like violence (although I've seen a lot of the Coen brothers' movies, including Fargo), but now I really don't.

But, I DO really appreciate your review and insights into the movie because you've found spiritual insights that are worth talking about. Gives me a different perspective of the movie in a good way.

We did see There Will Be Blood, and while Daniel Day Lewis did an outstanding job playing the character, we neither one liked the movie.

It's going to be interesting tonight at the Academy Awards to see who all will win and lose.

I don't remember - did y'all see Michael Clayton? We really liked that movie a LOT. Of course, being an attorney, I like like legal thrillers.

I read you all the time, Frank. Just haven't been commenting in a while, mostly due to my severe depression. But, I'm getting better, so will try to comment more.

Much love from South Mississippi,


preacherman said...

Thanks for your review.
I can't wait to see the movie.
I am going to wait til it comes out on Pay-per-view. Cause I have young kids. :-)
After last night at the Oscars I really want to see it.

patrick said...

no country for old men is unassumingly clever...

dumbfounding form a moral angle, but that can be a good thing.