Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No Country for Old Men. Finally.

My holiday break was lovely. How was yours? By lovely I mean I finally had the time to watch last year's Best-Picture, No Country for Old Men. I know. It took me that long. There's a reason this blog is called "Dilettansia," yeah?

Full disclosure: I was pissed off when the Coen enterprise scooped up another Oscar, while the prolific Paul Thomas Anderson went yet another year without even an award for directing. (And the Coen brothers' bitchy and pretentious acceptance speech didn't help assuage my feelings, either). For some reason, these two films continue to spark debate amongst movie-buffs as to who really holds the title of best film of 2007. And mythology surrounding the war is endless: Apparently, one day, during shooting in West Texas, the Coen Brothers had to halt production when a large cloud of black smoke filled the sky. The smoke had wafted over from Anderson's set for There Will Be Blood, when he was testing some pyrotechnics.

I think it's a sign that great films like these come along so infrequently that our reaction is to immediately pit them against each other.


Llewelyn Moss, played by the ever-enigmatic Josh Brolin, stumbles upon the aftermath of a shoot-out in the middle of the desert, leaving all but one man dead. In what seems like a twisted sense of logic, he steals the reason for the massacre, an abandoned big black bag . . . full of money. What ensues is a chase to the death. Anton Chigurh, not-so rightful owner of the cash goes after Moss, closely followed by the Sheriff, a whithered sage played by Tommy Lee Jones. In pure Coen brothers finery, the three main characters never appear together in a single frame.

Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh makes him literally unrecognizable, largely due to what may be the worst haircut of all time. Let's just take a moment to remember Javier in his natural state, accompanied by the proverbial icing on the cake, Penelope Cruz.

That's enough of that interlude.

Now, most Coen brothers films are inspired by (some loosely, some not so much: see O Brother Where Art Thou) by the Greek myths. This film, on the other hand, is a realistic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same title. But perhaps this film tackles the greatest mystery of all.

No Country for Old Men
, like most Coen Brothers films, does a lot of talking but very little explaining. And this, my friends, is a good thing. I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of movies that treat their audiences like complete idiots who need the actions of every character to be justified and every plot point deconstructed to the point of obsession. Here's the deal: if you want to make violent movies, about psychopaths and the people who get in their way, take some pointers from the Coen brothers. Because, usually, violence is, in itself, senseless. What makes Anton's character absolutely terrifying (aside from the fact that his weapon of choice is a cattle gun) is his complete mystery and total, relentless drive to just. kill. things.

After my first viewing, which was my brother's second, we pondered the message of the film. He mentioned that in a Q&A he had seen with a film professor at college, that the "meaning" of the film was largely symbolic. That Anton, in his calm, determined task to kill whatever gets in his way, purely by chance (he uses a coin at times, a la Two/Face--"call it," he says) is simply a manifestation of death, that will never stop coming for us, no matter what we do.

This is, perhaps, the most terrifying subject for a film, in that what makes very little sense in the movie makes even less sense to us as people. That life is something that we struggle through at every juncture, that every decision we make, whether it be out of pride, necessity, or lust, damns us to our fate. It is inescapable. We cannot pay it off, we cannot cheat it. That the one and only promise we're made in this life is that it ends.

1 comment:

Bookhouse said...

It is a stunning film, nearly as haunting as There Will Be Blood, and I think it's simply their abilities as filmmakers combined with the McCarthy's ability as a writer that put this over the top of TWBB.

I too was disappointed the PTA didn't win. I saw him speak at a screening of Punch Drunk Love at the Eastman House in Rochester, and when someone asked what the frogs meant in Magnolia, he gave the perfect answer, which was they should figure it out for themselves, and I think TWBB is stark, cinematic presentation of that sentiment.

Good luck on day one.