Leicht on “No Country”

Another thoughtful letter about No Country for Old Men came in today, this one from HE reader Matthew Leicht. “I saw it yesterday, and it kind of shook me in a way that no movie has in recent memory,” he begins. “For the most part, there seems to be a debate over various scenes in the film and why they’re there, blah blah, but my thumbnail view is that this is a movie about principles and morals.

Anton Chigurh is dismissed as a psycho by almost everyone in the film, but he explains in three different scenes (gas station, Carson Wells, Carla Jean) that he has a principle, and that he sees life as a fleeting occurance as opposed to some epic drama. He reduces life and death to a coin flip, which is masterfully played on with the random car accident that closes the film. Ed Tom Bell wants to make sense of life, Llewelyn wants to move forward…every character displays a certain moral compass. And this gradually led to a realization that felt like an avalanche.

“Ever since I began watching AMC’s Mad Men Ive been thinking more and more about our culture and if we are headed toward some kind of endgame. If you think about it, 1960 (when Mad Men is set) became a line of demarcation. The manipulation of the advertising world is a perfect backdrop for this. The industrial age had peaked and was beginning to recede. Americans were no longer suffering to get by. The Depression era was only a story told by grandparents, the struggle was over so we began to consume and were told that this is progress, that accumulation was the process by which to meet our goals.

“But as the material value began to rise in this country, the value and quality of human life seemed to decline. That’s an impression or appearance, at least, through the prism of a country without direction. And No Country for Old Men has had such an impact on me because it sums up the whole notion of humanity and the place in society we all hold.

“Anton will stop at nothing to get what he needs to get (or was commissioned to get). He justifies his actions by reducing life to something that just happens. There is no mystery, there is no catch. When he said to Carson something to the effect of ‘if the rule you live by got you to this point, what good is the rule?,’ the whole movie started to come together.

“Also at that point, the violence begins to subside (other than the driver of the truck that Moss gets into). We see Carson get shot from the reverse angle; Moss is killed off-screen (and we barely see the body), Carla Jean is killed and we don’t even know how. Hell, Anton may even succumb to his injuries. it becomes clearer and clearer that the dying is less significant, and it’s the living that matters.

“Ed Tom is such a significant character because he represents someone who doesn’t get involved, even though he could have prevented a lot of the killing. He doesn’t get involved because he can’t understand such behavior. He feels a level of disconnect from what is going on and to get involved would be almost like admitting defeat.

“I haven’t entertained a lot of the ideas brought up by some of your readers (a missing conversation between Anton and Ed Tom, the true nature of Carson, if Carla Jean was really killed, who was in the station wagon that hit Anton), mainly because they all feel a little bit like conspiracy theories. Kind of peripheral if you ask me because this movie delivers a very heavy pronouncement on the human condition, and it’s all on the screen. It’s been so long since a film had any real impact upon me, and I had to let you know.”

24 thoughts on “Leicht on “No Country”

  1. Zoidberg on said:

    I haven’t seen a film generate so much discussion in quite a while….
    Seems everyone who sees it has interesting questions.

    The car crash in the end, in particular, fascinates me. Did Javier Bardem kill LewEllen’s wife? I got the impression that he let her live, which would explain the car accident. You know– he violates his own code of honor for the first time, and then BAM. Something bad happens to him. Kind of like Fate teaching him a lesson.

    The order of the universe, as he’s always known it, has collapsed because he allowed himself to deviate from normal procedure by taking momentary pity on the helpless woman, listening to reason, and not doing what he’d pledged to do. Now, he’s in another world — one in which the same rules by which others are governed now apply to him, as well. He’s not just a cold force of nature; he’s vulnerable. There are variables and consequences with which to cope now, and we’re left not even knowing for sure whether he gets away.

    Am I wrong here?

  2. Well this is a nice departure from you trying to ram your feelings on the film down our throat…

    …I also left the theater consumed with the same feelings regarding the wantonness and utter insignificance of money. It leads to the suffering and death of at least a dozen people in this movie…back in the daylight, outside the theater, it doesn’t deliver happiness either, merely the promise and illusion of it.

    I grew up very poor, do very well now, and I have to tell you I’m not any happier despite my wealth and relative glut of material posessions. While I reject the notion that I define myself, or allow anyone define me, by how much money I make, the security it provides is its only redeeming quality. We spend so much of our lives chasing money instead of happiness, deluded and brainwashed that the former will deliver the latter, when nothing could be farther from the truth. I think that’s why a movie like ‘Into the Wild’ resonated with so many people. Our society has reached a hyper-consumptive state, how could anyone not be disgusted by it?

    I saw a great billboard along the BQE once…I think it was a Citibank ad, of all things to be…it said “College is proof you can be happy and broke at the same time” or something to that effect.

  3. What a good read. Get that man his own website…or a column here.

    Meantime, try this one on for size, Jeffrey: “Jaws is one of the worst films ever made, and it stands today as testament to the inescapable fact that Steven Spielberg is the least talented filmmaker….EVER.”

  4. I don’t know, delbomber. I’m much happier now that I don’t have to constantly worry about bills like I did right after college and well into my work years. Plus, it’s nice to live at the beach instead of in Burbank; nice to eat at great restaurants instead of Applebee’s; nice to travel; nice to have a car that runs well. You hear a lot of people talk about not being any happier now that they have money. And yet you never hear about them giving all that money away. I agree that No Country for Old Men is a great movie, though.

  5. zipper, I did mention that the security money provides is its saving grace. I’m not suggesting we should live a life devoid of money, just one not entirely consumed by it.

    I enjoy food and love wine…as long as I have someone to enjoy them with. I love to travel, meet new people, and see new places…as long as there is someone to share that experience with. Money is an enabler for sure, but it’s not at the root of happiness, people are.

    I’m very happy now, but I wasn’t any less happy growing up without money. Maybe it’s just me?

    I hate to get too personal here, but its a telling story…my mother passed away from cancer while I was in my senior year at college. My aunt stayed with her in her cramped one-bedroom apartment for the last four months, leaving my cousins and my uncle to fend for themselves in their 9,000 sq ft house in North Jersey…she said both during and after that those four months away from her jewels, her car, her huge house, etc, were as happy a time as she’s ever had.

    I know people across the spectrum…people I work with who make heaps of cash and are miserable, while others down the totem pole with much less money who seem to enjoy life so much more.

    It’s not a judgment so much as an observation. Those who are happy without money tend to be happy with it, while those consumed by the notion that simply having money will deliver happiness are sorely disappointed.

  6. Anton Kills Carla Jean. He double checks his boots for blood, which reminds you of the scene after he kills Carson Wells and wont let the blood come near him. In fact, I’d say Anton prefers things not to get too messy, even though they do.

    And the Mad Men analogy is great. Brilliant show. It was the beginning of the end because even in 1960 the glory days began to fade starting, what with WWII being done with and all.

  7. Coupla things:

    >Money doesn’t give you security. People with money die or get mangled every day. Money gives you the illusion of security, that’s all. So in a way, because you’re walking around with the illusion of security, your ultimate demise is that much more of a shock and so it could be said that you are actually less secure than someone who isn’t dreamwalking with the same illusion.

    >I disagree, even though the writer’s interpretation is worthwhile, that “it’s all there on the screen.” I did not get the same interpretive hit that he did, I only enjoyed the poetic language and vernacular, the standards of craftsmanship, the photography, the acting, the wanting to know what happens next. Worth what I paid, in my opinion, but I still don’t feel any startling meaning to it. I’d want the Coens’ catalog with me if stranded on a desert island, though.

    >Since it was my birthday and I had time, I wandered around the multiplex thinking to enjoy a double or triple feature, but everything else seemed like amateur high-school productions compared to NCfOM. That included Beowulf (unwatchable), The Hitman (slow, crude), The Mist (OK, junior high), and Lions for Lambs (oh please).

  8. Honestly, the best piece of entertainment in 2007 is probably Mad Men… I’m far more impressed by that show than any film all year long.

  9. I got the impression that Anton checked his boots for blood upon leaving Carla Jean’s house out of habit, not because he actually killed her.

    It speaks to the role of violence in his life (and the film) — he checks his boots for blood, even if he hasn’t killed anyone. It’s a reflex. As a viewer of the film, I felt the same way; I expected blood everywhere.

    I think I recall a (VERY) slight expression some kind of embarrassment on his part after doing the boot check. Like an “Oh, duh. Silly me!” kind of thing when he realizes there was no need to do the boot check. And then, for a fraction of a second, he hesitates, as though he doesn’t know what to do.

    It’s like the character of Anton unravels, in general, after the encounter with Carla Jean (or, at least, that’s how it seemed to me). That’s why I think he let her live.

    Has anyone here read the book on which the film is based?

  10. I think this is a nice letter from the reader, although I think he somewhat misses what I thought was pretty high level discussion about the film here at H-E, specificall this thread. I wouldn’t consider any of that the be too conspiracy-esque or buried in the fine details versus the deeper questions. I still think the film was deliberately opaque allowing multiple interpretations- this was some of its mastery, or perhaps a pulled punch in lacking a truly deeply formed world view in place of an impressionistic philosophical existentialism.

  11. Also, Chigurh is only falsely principled. Carla Jean is killed because she refuses to call the flip, play by Chigurh’s rules. There should be no difference whether he calls the flip or she does, it is still 50-50, the difference is in whether she submits to his world view. I am going out on a limb and guessing that he does not call the flip for her in the book.

  12. AS I have written in another thread here… Carla Jean does die. We also have a moment where we meet Anton’s employer. The talk between Ed Tom and his Uncle are at the end of the book. THe book does let Anton live. As in the movie… The book is yes a study on Human Nature, Humanity and violence and choices but it is also about Ed Tom and his take on things. No Country is Ed Tom’s recollection, feelings, thoughts, guilt and what have you business wrapped around a few days of unthinkable actions played out in Ed Tom’s ‘back yard’.

    The Book was most excellent and stayed with me for days… for me though the movie in some ways is better but McCarthy’s dialog and ‘ear’ is just about without peer. Though I gotta admit I also love reading Elmore Leonard’s dialog as well… but Leonard writes in a more populous style and Cormac writes unlike any other writer I have ever read making the Coens the perfect choice to adapt his work… could be why Pretty Horses didn’t quite work… you can’t approach Cormac’s work conventualy.

  13. The book is less awkward, since though you are with Moss for his duration, it is more clearly Ed Tom’s story. Several key omissions of Ed Tom’s story, and altered sequences which try to make up for lost time in the film, make it seem more like Llewellen’s story; I think that’s the core reason some people are frustrated by the events in the last leg of the film.

    I love the film, it’s wonderful, a new favorite from the Coens, and admirably faithful to the source; but it’s faithful because the source really is so fucking good, and I feel it’s a stronger ride because of all the Ed Tom moments that are retained.

  14. “Anton Kills Carla Jean. He double checks his boots for blood, which reminds you of the scene after he kills Carson Wells and wont let the blood come near him. In fact, I’d say Anton prefers things not to get too messy, even though they do.”

    He also takes off his bloodied socks *immediately* after killing the Mexicans in the motel.

    The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t want to believe she was dead either. It felt as if the movie showed you *every* other death. Also, I’m a long-time ‘Batman’ fan, and it felt like a Two-Face thing; if she doesn’t call it, he doesn’t know what to do.

    I have no doubt that he killed her, but I love the fact that the movie doesn’t show you it. (and not just because it would be completely heartbreaking to see her die.)

    I have a secret hope Kelly Macdonald will get a supporting actress nomination. It’s a pretty open category, assuming Ryan wins it and especially if they push Blanchett for Actress.

  15. OK, OK….
    So he killed Carla Jean.


    But I think that it’s a credit to Kelly McDonald’s performance that so many viewers insist on hoping that her character was allowed to live.

  16. I suppose it’s debatable. I didn’t really think so. I happen to think that fate caught up to him in the car wreck because she wouldn’t pick heads or tails, but maybe I guess if you want to believe sweet Kelly is alive you could say he spared her. Why then did he wipe his shoe? What was the point then? Eh. I’m sure McCarthy lays it all out explicitly. There are survivors in this dojo.

  17. I suppose it’s debatable. I didn’t really think so. I happen to think that fate caught up to him in the car wreck because she wouldn’t pick heads or tails, but maybe I guess if you want to believe sweet Kelly is alive you could say he spared her. Why then did he wipe his shoe? What was the point then? Eh. I’m sure McCarthy lays it all out explicitly. There are survivors in this dojo.

  18. She’s dead, but he’s shaken.

    His value structure was probably already shaken a bit when Moss was killed by the Mexicans instead of by him, and then she refuses to play his game, which means, essentially, that he becomes no different than the Mexicans.

    The aftermath of the car crash is telling. This is a guy who got hit with a shotgun blast earlier and had the presence of mind to create a diversion, steal exactly what he needed from the drugstore and patch himself up in what must have been a very painful process.

    After the car crash, he sits confused on the curb, not really knowing what to do, finally being reduced to offering a few dollars for a shirt to boys who wanted to help him anyway. That’s not because of the pain or the crash; the “old” Chigurh would have walked or crawled away as soon as he was physically able. It was a realization that the world doesn’t play by his rules, that he can’t confidently predict just what people will do (they always say “you don’t have to do this,” he boasts to Carla) in any circumstance. He is a beaten man, and it wasn’t the car crash that did it.

    I’m sure many people wanted to see the film end with Moss or the sheriff blasting Anton to bits in a mano-a-mano shootout. It’s fairly rare however to see a film villain beaten by losing faith in what he believes as opposed to being overcome by superior force or wits. This was an enjoyable change of pace, even though, as many people have said, it takes a while to fully sink in.

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