Monday, March 29, 2010

Of Films & Fiction - No Country for Old Men

This September the length of my annual tip-of-the-hat lists will hit 35. I'm already prepared to add to two lists---films that have stuck with me and favourite fiction---with but one entry: No Country for Old Men. I'll be writing an article on this story in the fall and it will be pretty clear then what I think about it. So for now I'm just going to post a few quotes.

Novel # 27 - No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy

This is a masterfully and thoughtfully written Western thriller. The dialogue and the narrative are swift and simple but drive the reader's heart and mind racing. Gladly, this was one time when seeing the movie did not ruin the novel. In the book you do get more of the Sheriff's reflections, and of Moss's dialogues, and this makes for a very rich read indeed. Here are a few of the lines you don't get in the movie:

[Llewlyn Moss:] There's always somebody knows where you're at. Knows where and why. For the most part.
[Hitchhiker:] Are you talkin about God?
No. I'm talkin about you. . . . .
He looked at her. After a while he said: It's not about knowin where you are. It's about thinkin you got there without takin anything with you. Your notions about startin over. Or anybody's. You don't start over. . . . You might think you can run away and change your name and I don't know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who's layin there?
. . . . . . . . . . . .

[Carla Jean Moss:] You can change it.
[Anton Chigurh:] I don't think so. Even a nonbeliever might find it useful to model himself after God. Very useful, in fact.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

[Sheriff Ed Bell:] The man that shot you died in prison.
[Uncle Ellis:] In Angola, yes.
What would you of done if he'd been released?
I don't know. Nothin. There wouldn't be no point to it. There ain't no point to it. Not to any of it.
I'm kindly surprised to hear you say that.
You wear out Ed Tom. All the time you spend tryin to get back what's been took from you there's more goin out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it. . . . I was too young for one war and too old for the next one. But I seen what come out of it. You can be patriotic and still believe that some things cost more than what they're worth. Ask them Gold Star mothers what they paid and what they got for it. You always pay too much. Particularly for promises. There ain't no such thing as a bargain promise.

Film #35 - No Country for Old Men - Joel & Ethan Coen

As far as film-adaptations go, it would be tough to beat what the Coen brothers here managed. The movie and the book are the same kind of awesome in slightly different ways--each perfect according to its medium.

Both begin with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell's by now famous monologue: "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. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, 'O.K., I'll be part of this world.'"

I'll be writing an article about No Country for Old Men this fall for the fourth annual Karl Barth Blog Conference. The theme is "Barth in Conversation with . . ." and this is what I pitched. I'm thrilled that they went for it. I'm not going to elaborate on it right now, but basically it will be a Barthian response regarding the nature of evil. But, that said, the feedback is going to go both ways.

I haven't read any full-scale reviews of McCarthy's story or the Coen's film adaptation yet, and will do so when writing time comes, but what I just may put more stock in is the thoughts of my readers. I would really love to have some of your reactions to the book and the film. For those who've read it or seen it: How did it strike you? What did you take away from it, either intellectually or emotionally or both?


jonkramer said...

Fantastic! Sounds like it'll be a fun article to work your way through.
I watched No Country for the first time this November - all by my lonesome in Banff during prayer retreat. (My anti-social behaviour came to a head and I skipped the Monday evening "fun night"... something to do with comedy and a piano...).
Anyways, I rented the movie knowing nothing about it except that some of my friends liked it - and that there was more guns than kissing in it.
The film really caught me off guard though - the story was much more emotional/psychological than just the mindless action I was expecting - and it left me feeling pretty uncomfortable... disturbed even. A lot like when I was reading Crime and Punishment one summer back in college.
It's just the experience of being thrust deeper into someone's psyche than you wanted to be or were expecting.

forrest said...

You created a good topic for study. it is always interesting to see what the past has to say about current interpretations of the past. It really makes us realize how trascendent the basic ideas are.

I remember one day walking highway 1 in Calgary. It was summer, and dusty and I started thinking about evil. I was trying to decide on one thing, just one thing that I could call totally evil. Innately evil I mean. I'm still stumped. Im interested in what you have to say with the help of Barth and McCarthy.

Trev said...

Haven't read the book (plan to) but man, what a fantastic film!

I love how the movie ends. Just sayin'.

What I take away from the movie is the end of the "cowboy era", when justice was served well and the "bad guys" didn't win. Watching Tommy lee's character come to grips with this throughout the movie is quite captivating. It's a depressing notion; the "good guy's" self defeat and acceptence of the new world, but it's the bitter truth.

One of the opening lines of the movie...something along the lines of "he said he knew he was going to hell...." (help me out here, it's a good line)...made me think: I wonder what the world would look like if everyone stopped believing in the after-life, heaven and hell. How would it affect our outlook/actions?

Brett Gee 英 明 said...

Looking through your list on the side I have to say that we have similar tastes. In particular, I enjoyed No Country..., Magnolia, 2001, Life is Beautiful, Tokyo Story, and Elephant. Gus Van Sant is a great movie maker. Magnolia is just like a dream or something, very peculiar and raw.

The new Coen Brothers' film A Serious Man is quite a different thing. Interesting, humorous, and a little off in a unique way. I'd recommend it. Though Blood Simple is by far my favorite of theirs.

Colin Toffelmire said...

Ya, I've said this before elsewhere, but the Coen's adaptation of No Country is probably the truest film adaptation of a novel I've ever seen.

Trev brings up an interesting point, about the end of the "good guys win" era. I used to think that was the point of the story as well, until I was talking with a friend about it and he mentioned that scene near the end with Ellis, where Ellis and Ed Tom are talking about one of their ancestors (great grandfather?), and they talk about a horrible murder and about the cruelty of people. My friend pointed out that this conversation between Ellis and Ed Tom seems to suggest that the evil Ed Tom has encountered isn't a new kind of evil. It's just evil, and he's encountering it. It only seems new because he had not encountered it before, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there.

I also think it is fascinating to juxtapose the opening line of the film where Ed Tom talks about being willing to die, with the end of the film (this doesn't play in quite the same way in the novel) where he is not willing to die.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to your article Jon, this is one of my all time favorite books/movies.

Trev said...

Hmmm, I still would say that aside from the occasional isolated incident (which will always be present no matter what period of time you're in) it was still a "good guy wins" era, at least as far as petty crimes were considered. The movie depicts a time when cops generally had the upper hand, the best equipment, and the public on their side. This has all come to an end.

But this isn't all to say that there weren't darker era's prior to this period. History shows us cycles which I obviously don't need to get into.

I do understand though that "evil" is a fluid concept which means different things in the minds of different people, and I can't presume to know what version of evil the cohen brothers (or orignal author) were trying to convey.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

How did the Coen's version of 'No Country' strike me?

For me it was all the quiet little moments that made the film a great experience. As far as I was concerned, the plot existed primarily to set the tone for the quiet parts. It's a very quiet film. Everybody just sits around looking at stuff, talking slowly, and there's lots of very wide shots (like the one you included), where you get to exist in this world contemplatively. Slow down, shut up, and watch.

So what did I contemplate? Not good or evil, strangely enough. I watched the drama much the way I would watch ants after I step on an anthill. They're scurrying around, but I'm calm and looking for no answers.

There are no answers. The world just is. The rain falls on the good and the bad.

Anton Chigurh: Call it.

Carla Jean Moss: No. I ain't gonna call it.

Anton Chigurh: Call it.

Carla Jean Moss: The coin don't have no say. It's just you.

Anton Chigurh: Well, I got here the same way the coin did.

Jon Coutts said...

thanks everyone. for the record i'm not sure mccarthy or the coens would say their story was about "the nature of evil", but i'm going to do a Barthian rendering of what the film and book confront us with, and that's the angle I'm taking. I mean, it isn't a feel-good movie. Also for the record, this idea came pretty organically for me. I love this movie. I loved the book. It touches something for me. So it sprang to mind often when I was reading Barth these last 5 months. I can't wait to write this article actually. My biggest fear is that I'll be unable to articulate what is in my head.