Friday, September 5, 2008

No Country For Old Men (2007)

The opening shots of No Country For Old Men – the empty, barren landscape – beautifully sets up the film. From such emptiness, three men arise - something very similar to the start of There Will be Blood and in fact, both films share a number of stylistic similarities, from the minimal dialogue, to the use of cinematography, character development and setting they use to explore their complex ideas. Nothing is ever rushed, nothing is ever held too long or unnecessarily, but all works together to create a strangely hypnotic and somewhat unnerving atmosphere.

Each main character, Ed Tom, Chigurh and Llewellyn are governed by rather different rules to the extent that any chance of understanding the other becomes an impossibility. The basic story initially follows Llewellyn, who whilst hunting pronghorn near the Rio Grande stumbles upon a recent massacre and finds a couple of million dollars. He takes this home to his wife, Carla Jean, but without explaining anything to her, heads back to the site feeling a little guilty about leaving one of the drug  dealers to die in the middle of the desert. Only things don't really go that smoothly and soon he is being chased across the desert by some other gangsters keen to recover the two million dollars themselves. This is when Chigurh, (who's already killed a couple of people, including a police officer), turns up, kills a few more gangsters, leaving no trace of his presence and disappears into the night to hunt down Llewellyn and get the money back. Ed Tom is the local sheriff and called in to investigate the massacre in the desert, soon discovering that Llewellyn is involved and attempts to track him down in order to protect him from Chigurh.

Ed Tom seems so far removed from what is actually going on that Chigurh when he has the chance to kill him feels that it is unnecessary. He abides by the law and follows the code of the Sheriff that has been passed down from generation to generation. And when Uncle Ellis is re-telling Ed Tom the story of his great-grandfather – it highlights the fact that nothing has changed. People such as Chigurh still existed, they never really go away, they're always there – ‘like a ghost.’ Things don’t get any easier. Make one mistake and the game is up. Chigurh wasn’t invulnerable, he made one mistake – and Llewellyn shot him – only Chigurh is resourceful, because that is the only way he can survive. He has to constantly stay one step ahead of everything, and so Ed Tom was right when he called him a ghost – Chigurh has no life in the sense that Llewellyn had a life, he has no friends, he exists in other people’s lives only for a short amount of time and he decides who to let live by a simple coin toss. He came from nowhere and he went back to nowhere. Brought by chance, he uses rules to confirm his own existence.

Getting caught up in the conflict between good and evil, Llewellyn in a way stands for the common man, he sees an opportunity and he takes it, but what he doesn’t realise at the time is that the only way to live that kind of life is to turn into someone like Chigurh. Like all Coen brothers’ character, no one is unchangeable and throughout the film, the urges that drive each of them towards some conclusion all undergo serious alterations. Llewellyn is relatively poor, so initially the money is very attractive to him, but as the film progresses, it becomes almost a matter of pride. He knows he can’t outrun Chigurh and that the only way he’ll ever survive is by always being one step ahead - to the point where he loses sight of everything else around him that he previously considered important. He knows that Chigurh will happily kill his wife, but still he refuses to give himself up – his stubbornness is eventually his downfall and his survival becomes more important than the money. Chigurh will kill him regardless of whether he returns the money, but in the end the only way he could have survived was to become like Chigurh - to live his life as a ghost, without friends and without a wife, because to become a ghost you have to remove all weaknesses in your nature so there's nothing left.

And then it ends as Ed Tom tells his wife about two dreams he had, finally concluding with the line ‘And then I woke up.’ And the dream is over. 


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