No Country for Old Men by: Blaine Grimes

Posted: March 9, 2012 by jperritt in Action, Drama, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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Often films give audiences a portrayal of life that is neat, beautiful, charming, or even idyllic. Moviegoers can frequently take comfort in the fact that no matter what the protagonist goes through, everything will work out in the end. On the other hand, the film No Country for Old Men paints a picture of life that is ruggedly unidealized. Moreover, the worldview delivered in this film is so much more than unidealized; it is a world where evil is pervasive — and inescapable. The film’s tagline, “there are no clean getaways”, reinforces the theme of an uncontrollable evil in life. The film’s antagonist, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), serves as the embodiment of evil — an evil that impacts everyone in the film. From start to finish, No Country for Old Men declares evil a commonplace, pervasive, and inescapable aspect of life. As another of the film’s taglines puts it: “you can’t stop what’s coming”.

The first scene in the film begins with a shot of the sun rising over rolling hills in West Texas. It is beautiful. What follows for the remainder of the scene is a series of long shots of the countryside, along with the voice-over narration of Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). The effect these shots (and Bell’s narration) initially have on the viewer is to cause him or her to conjure up stereotypical thoughts about rural areas. The country is ruggedly beautiful. The country is isolated; therefore, it is safe. However, Sheriff Bell’s narration takes the audience in quite a different direction. As Bell begins to speak about sending a boy to the electric chair for killing a fourteen year old girl, a sort of situational irony is set up. The aforementioned rugged beauty of the Texas desert is juxtaposed with Bell’s talk of all the evil crimes. The notion that isolation shelters a person from evil is crushed to death in the film’s first scene. Instead, this scene shows that evil is present everywhere — it is inescapable.

The fact that most of the characters are isolated from urban society does not keep evil from finding them. At one point in the narration, Bell says the boy he sent to the electric chair knew he was going to hell, to which Bell says “be there in about fifteen minutes”. This mention of hell and its nearness is well timed. As Bell makes this statement, the camera pans to the left showing a police officer escorting a handcuffed Anton Chigurh to his squad car. Chigurh, the film’s most vivid portrayal of evil, appears on screen for the first time as Sheriff Bell mentions hell. This is another brilliant use of irony; only this time the irony is both verbal and situational. While the Coen brothers keep the shot on Chigurh being taken to the police car, Sheriff Bell says: “the crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure”. Although it is most likely that Bell is using “the crime you see now” as a general statement about all the crime in his time, one cannot help but wonder if this precise wording was chosen in order to make a connection with Chigurh. Toward the end of the scene more irony is present. As the police officer puts Chigurh’s pneumatic tank in the car, Sheriff Bell says that he does not want to face something he does not understand. Many characters in the film do not understand the use of Chigurh’s pneumatic tank until it is too late. People just do not understand that kind of evil. Sheriff Bell certainly doesn’t, and it is precisely because he feels “outmatched” by the evil in the world that he retires.

Many viewers show disappointment at the film’s understated ending; however, the ending reinforces the film’s theme of the inescapability of evil. In Bell’s second dream he says that he was in the woods with his father. It was very cold and dark. They were on horseback, and his father was carrying fire in a horn. Bell finishes up the dream (and the film) like this: “He [Bell’s father] was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold. And I knew that whenever I got there, he’d be there. And then I woke up”. The dark and the cold in Bell’s dream symbolizes the evil in the world. Bell’s father carrying light into the darkness offers a hope of something better in the future — a hope that things can change. The fire that Bell’s father would make would be a reprieve from all the darkness, cold, pain, and evil. Bell wakes up. By waking up Bell realizes that it was all just a dream — that there is no hope of things getting better. All the evil Bell has seen is real, and there is no escape, no hope.

The absence of God in the world of the film should cause us to praise God for His presence in the real world. More precisely, we should ascribe glory to God because he sent Christ to be present on this earth with sinful human beings; to live a perfect life; to die a death that satisfied His righteous wrath; to be raised from the dead. Those who trust in Christ have the Holy Spirit living in them! Still, the sin-filled world that is seen in No Country for Old Men is not that far from reality: people die, families are torn apart, and people quit their jobs because they don’t see why it matters. The good news is that we are not left, as Sheriff Bell was, to despair. Scripture teaches that God governs the universe — nothing happens apart from His decree. As John Piper says: “the worst sin ever committed [the crucifixion of Christ] served to show the greatest glory of Christ and obtain the sin-conquering gift of God’s grace”. Sheriff Bell sees any form of hope — any light in the darkness (especially God) — as a futile dream. The truth is that those who trust in Christ, the light of the world, do not walk in darkness (John 8:12).

Blaine Grimes: is an undergraduate student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. He is an English major, with a specialization in literature and languages. Lord willing, he will go to seminary after finishing his undergraduate work. Reading (Scripture,theology, novels — even spy novels), hunting, and watching movies are some of his hobbies.

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