Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"No Country For Old Men," the ending's right

Summary: In response to those who quarrel with the ending of "No Country For Old Men," all I can tell you is that I had no problems with it. Here's why.

When people complain about the ending of "No Country For Old Men," as some have, I'm not entirely sure whether they're upset about what the Coen brothers show or what they don't. Perhaps it's the abruptness of the cut after Tommy Lee Jones, as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, finishes the movie's final bit of dialogue that spooks people. Bell tells his wife (Tess Harper) about a dream he's had. The screen goes black as death before the credits roll. Maybe we feel uneasy because we can't help but yearn for a little reassurance after watching a movie that has spent the better part of two hours demonstrating that none shall be forthcoming.

It's also worth remembering that the movie began with Sheriff Bell talking about where he thought he'd been and where he found himself at the moment the film starts. Evidently Bell believes that, in the not-too-distant past, criminal activity was connected to motives. A lawman who fought crime eventually might get around to understanding what he was up against. In any case, Bell's two monologues -- one off-camera and one on -- serve as battered old bookends, leaning against all the sorrow and horror the movie has to offer.

In the opening monologue -- delivered while the Coens' camera reveals a desolate Western landscape -- Bell recounts the story of a 14-year-old boy who not only committed a senseless murder, but made no attempt to hide a matter-of-fact attitude toward the evil he had wrought. Bell made the arrest. The kid went to the chair.

What a waste. It wasn't even a crime of passion. Crimes of passion can't be justified, but they can be understood.

"No Country For Old Men" deals with incomprehensible violence, incomprehensible to everyone except Chigurh, the character played by Javier Bardem. Chigurh, whose first name is Anton, operates on a different plane than those he pursues. Although he's versatile when it comes to killing, Chigurh's preferred method involves use of an instrument normally employed to kill cattle in slaughterhouses. People. Cattle. It's all the same to him.

Chigurh has principles of some sort, although we're not entirely sure what they might be. Whatever they are, they're not the same as whatever motivates folks in the ordinary world -- greed, lust or a desire simply to get away with something. No, Chigurh brings a purer kind of menace to the proceedings, and maybe he stands for just about everything that's driving Bell toward defeat, the horror he (and we) can't see coming.

But back to that final scene. The newly retired Bell sits across the breakfast table from his wife. He's just hung up his badge, which we take as less of an act of satisfaction than an abandonment of hope. We may fairly conclude that Bell's twilight years will be tinged with puzzlement and sorrow. In his troubled leisure, he'll probably dream the same dream again and again, the one he describes to his wife, the one in which his lawman father rides ahead of him, negotiating a dark mountain pass to make a safe place for his son. Each time Bell dreams about the father who silently rides ahead, he'll awaken to a defenseless world in which there are no safe places.

We're chastened at the severity of the movie's view. To build that feeling into something even more powerful, the Coens don't bother to show us the biggest murders in the movie. They offer no climactic satisfaction in the bloodshed and no solace for those who hope for even the mildest expression of optimism. As Bell says about Chigurh -- whom he never lays eyes on -- the man's got some hard bark on him.

So does the movie. So does the ending. I have no complaints about it. Not one.

29 comments:

Travis Thrasher said...

I totally agree with your overview of the ending. When I first saw the movie, the suspense I watched unfolding was utterly brilliant. And then the climactic scene I was waiting for didn't happen. The movie stayed with me, and having rewatched it on DVD, I understand what they were trying to do. It's rare to see action/suspense scenes so well done, but even more rare to have filmmakers going for something more than a thrill. Great way to sum this up in your blog!

Anonymous said...

The best thing to do is read the book, because the Coen's screenplay is pretty close to the book. In the book Chigurh does kill Carla Jean (she choses "heads" on the coin flip and loses. He also returns the money to its owner, before going to kill Carla Jean.

The book also deals with Ed Tom's guilt over being perceived as a war hero in WWII, when in reality he fled. Obviously, as the title suggests, with the drug wars of the early 80's, the Texas-Mexican border is no country for old men. Ed Tom realizes that he's over matched and choses retirement rather than being a Sherif in this new brutal world.

I think the dream at the end shows that Ed Tom's father is waiting for him in the next world after he dies. Ed Tom's life is pretty much over, and retirement to him is just a way of waiting out the days until he dies.

Anonymous said...

The post above mine by annonymous is the best and most satisfying ending I have read. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Just watched it, and it had me up until the ending. Found it dissapointing. What happens to Anton?

Anonymous said...

I would like to think Anton simply stops killing. His inability to be treated in hospital first for a bullet wound to the leg and now for an open compound fracture to his arm may cause him to seek shelter from his past. Similar, in a way, to the gunfighter that seeks shelter after "winning" the bad drug deal at the start of the movie. Surely it is a sign that he could not keep doing what he was doing. He is programmed differently to most people though.

Anonymous said...

Here the things that I ask after seeing No Country for Old Men. What happens to the money? What happens to Moss' wife? And the biggest question is the ending, why does Anton get hit by the car? Wtf is that trying to tell us? i mean i loved the movie but a lot of things were left unexplained. There is more that I left out too. Great movie but the scenes toward the end had me putting my hands in the air trying to figure out what the Coen's are trying to tell me.

Anonymous said...

The money is returned to its "owner" by Chigurgh. This is learned from the book, but even in the movie- the point is made that, for Chigurgh, it wasn't about the money. It wasn't like the 'old days' where there was a motive (money/drugs) - the new criminals, the ones that have Ed Tom so outmatched and perplexed, don't need any of these old motives, and follow their own twisted ways. It was after he had secured the money from the hotel room (where Llewellyn had been shot) that Anton approached Carla Jean. He leaves her place, checks his boots to make sure no blood was on them (the movie's sign that he killed her) and walks away.

Anton is a completely amoral sadist hitman in the movie.. but he also represents evil. In every aspect of the movie, the good (Sheriff Bell) is a step behind/outmatched by the new age of evil (Chigurgh). In the end, Chigurgh is rammed by a car- and gets up and walks away. It is a message that the evil coming in is unstoppable.

memories of better days said...

he gets hit by the car because even he is caught up in the randomness of life. the kids and the money is there to compare and contrast when Moss gets the coat from the drunk kids and they ask im if he was "in an accident", and the question can be thought of on another level, like this whole thing was a bad accident and no matter how much he planed, it was out of his control. same for the killer, it wasnt really in his control either, thats why he got hit by the car. the coin toss is also about control, fate destiny and randomness all at the same time. he has no reason to leave their lives up to chance. the girl doesn't play because its her suicide after Moss was killed and his funeral, she takes the control by not playing.

they don't show moss being killed because, even though you see him most and it would seem the plot revolves around him, it doesn't really matter if he lives or dies in the big picture, and the story is about the "big picture" and not about the characters and the money etc thats why you dont see Antwon getting arrested, you dont see the shootout with the drugdealers. there are a lot of parts in the plot that are wide open, thats because the world is random and brutal. tommy lee jones explains this in his story about the 14 year old.

anyway, there are a lot of ways to think about this movie, i think that was the point of it, not to tell a story about the chase for the money etc

target3 said...

Watched the movie several times.

Here is the deal. The movie is not about Moss or Chigurh per say. The whole movie is when Ed, the sheriff, feels like he has to pull his gun out of the holster when he walks into the hotel room towards the end of the movie. It is at that point he realizes the world has changed and he is not going to or does he have to change with it. When he pulled his gun he knew his time was up. Moss and Chigury were only a symptom of the new world not important to the ending. That is why one got killed and the other just walked out of the scene.

I think it is one of the most brilliant movies of all time.

Otto-Matthias said...

I recently watched No Country with my girlfriend. She was shocked, thought it was a man's movie and said that I should never again show something like that. She was repulsed by a story that touched her as violent, dead and deeply negative.
I, on the other hand, loved it. It gave me a feeling of peace. The dusty country side, the warm weather, the folks that patiently plod in word and deed, and the reflection on life that the moment of death brings about. I stared at the screen after the movie was over with all my life's worries reduced to dust and a forlorn ball of tumble weed rolling across the landscape of my thoughts.

Rob said...

I feel that the scene at the gas stop in the middle is overlooked as one of the biggest glimpses of Chigurh's psyche, especially when put into context with the scene where he is hit by a car. Where he mentions the fact that "your whole life has been leading up to this moment" and the 22 years that the coin has been waiting to get to this shop makes clear his philosophy that, life is a completely detached series of events, but at the same time, happens for a reason.

Which kind of explains his reaction to being hit by a car. I don't think he is in any way scared of authority or running from something, he is just accepting that this has happened, and it has always been meant to happen, and is bandaging himself up and continuing.

Fin.

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to say something like "This movie is for people that are smart and the people who don't like the movie's ending are stupid." That's not what I mean at all. However, this was definitely not for people who watch cookie cutter movies with the "and they lived happily ever after" endings. Most of those people are the ones that were disappointed by the ending. Well, that's my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I came here to get answers and was pleased with the comments I read. Thanks guys for your imput. Made me like the movie that much more.
leecon3

Paul Glover said...

Paul say's
Just finished watching the film again and am please to see many views on this film that resonate with my own after seeing it the first time in 2007. Thanks to you all. Now I know I get it.

Anonymous said...

Having read the book and seen the movie a few times, I noticed a few things. At the beginning of the book there is a discussion about selling drugs to kids and the sadness that kids actually buy the drugs. It is ironic that the driver of the car that hit Chigurh was "smokin dope." They weren't drinking, but taking drugs, which Chigurh helps to market by working for these thugs.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why, in the closing scene, the sheriffs wife calls him Anton...
Led me to wonder if they were one in the same person, but judging by these posts, must have been insignificant?

Bromm said...

She called him Ed Tom which is the characters name. After I read that I put the movie back in and was lie crap I'm confused again but I put the captions on and saw she said Ed Tom.

Anonymous said...

The ending to the movie was a joke. It's almost like they ran out of film and decided not to finish the rest of the movie. That's two hours of my life I will never get back.

Iowa said...

If you watch the movie again new things will pop out. The movie contain so many of life's wonders. Take the scene were Chigurh is in the gas station making the attendant flip a coin. Is that just a mindless scene? Nope. Two guys, one that did what he thought was right no matter the risks, the other took no chances in life. Who is crazier then? Which man in that scene is really crazy? Is Chigurh mean to the attendant or just giving him what he has coming anyway? Chigurh took it as his duty to make the attendant put something up as he passed through life.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this movie a few times now. Like The Shining, I came away from the movie satisfied. But I still had unanswered questions. For example, right before Tommie Lee Jones enters the hotel room (after Moss/J.Brolin gets killed) you see Chigur behind the door. Then once Jones enters, he searches the room and no one is there. You see that the exhaust vent is removed and a dime is next to the screws on the floor (which shows the audience that Chigur used the dime to exit the room through the vent). BUT - how the hell did he fit through that vent? I've read above that Chigur symbolizes death/evil. But it still , to me, doesn't make sense. That's the one thing I don't understand. My brother-in-law stated to me that Chigur was a "ghost" of some sort because there's "no way" he could've gotten out of that room. Was Chigur a symbol, in the sheriff's mind, of the evil that he doesn't understand in the world? Was that glimpse of Chigur behind the door, waiting to kill the sheriff (Jones), a symbol of Jones' unwillingness to accept the evil changes in world - and he was just going to be another victim of it? If that's so, is Jones pulling his gun from its holster a symbol that Jones finally accepts (once he takes that deep breath before opening the door) that the world has become a truly evil place - and he's prepared to finally face it. And is that why Chigur (death) is gone? Was a favor done to Jones by death/Chigur?
Was the meaning behind Chigur (pure evil) just an eye opener to Jones, telling him that the world isn't so safe? THANKS. All of your insight is great. Hopefully you guys/gals can help me out.

Anonymous said...

Those that read this review looking for simple logistical answers will never truly understand the film. The nihilistic basis for the film is that in life there is no satisfaction, there are no answers. You don't see the climax you expect, you don't get the resolution you seek. You wander through life hoping to find answers, and one day it just ends, as abruptly as the film did.

Anonymous said...

Good posts here and good write up. I have not read the book, but have seen the movie many times. the one thing i do disagree with in the write up and have heard it a lot from others that have seen the movie is that Chigur's weapon of choice is the bolt gun they use to salughter cattle.

I don;t know about the book, but I know what a 12 ga looks like and in the move he kills one person with the bolt gun, and only uses it to punch locks after wards. everyone else he killed with gun except the first police officer he strangled.

Anonymous said...

Good posts here and good write up. I have not read the book, but have seen the movie many times. the one thing i do disagree with in the write up and have heard it a lot from others that have seen the movie is that Chigur's weapon of choice is the bolt gun they use to salughter cattle.

I don;t know about the book, but I know what a 12 ga looks like and in the move he kills one person with the bolt gun, and only uses it to punch locks after wards. everyone else he killed with gun except the first police officer he strangled.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie lastweek and I felt that I had to say something about it, especially since the review had 5/5 stars.

I don't know the book, and I honestly don't care too much about the underlying messages and symbolic of a world in decay or whatever, if the movie itself is unsatisfactory. The movie had me hooked until Llewelyn was dead all of a sudden. To me the story ended there.

The scenes where Chigurh hunted Llewelyn down were tedious in a good way. It kind of reminded me of Terminator where one is constantly hunted down by something that cannot be stopped.

Again I don't know the book. People say it's close to the book so I guess it's not so much the "fault" of the moviemakers, but the story itself; it's working towards a climax and then it seems to skip the climax itself and then it just gets less and less interesting and the movie just sort of dies out. And to be honest, I don't care about the this-is-no-country-for-old-men-stuff. It's too bad that the movie had to revolve around this instead of the continuous and tedious chase scenes between Llewelyn and Chigurh.

A bit too pretentious I'd say.

Bob said...

Well I disagree with many of you. He did not kill Carla. Wen the old man in the gas station refused to call th ecoin toss, he survived. So in contrast to the book, Carla survives Chigurh by not calling the toss as well. Carla survives Chigurth therefore he is mortally wounded in the car accident (the head trauma and ubsequesnt treatment).

Kisses4Katie said...

Actually the guy in the gas station made it because he did call. You could see his relief when the call was right. She dies, he checks his boots for blood as he leaves, and she refused to call it. In the book apparently she calls it wrong and dies. I actually started watching at the gas station scene, and if it hadn't been for that, I probably would not have watched... powerful scene.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting coincidence. I had no interest in the film and just happened to come across it on TV at the beginning of the gas station scene. It was unsettling and unpredictable.
From then on I was hooked.

Anonymous said...

The sherif has the money. Think about it......

George Richards said...

To me the point of the movie is that absolutely nothing happens out of chance. Everyone and everything are inextricably connected in some way. You can chose any scene you like. people who just "happen along" arrive exactly at the right moment in order for things to continue as they do. The comments about 'you don't have to do this" are immaterial. Whether they have to be done or not is a matter of continuity of life and death which happens from choice. Even Mrs. Moss's decision to refuse to call the coin flip is not material. Whether she lives or dies had she made the call is all part of the way events unfold. And for those of a more scientific bend, you can begin at the molecular level and work your way up. Nothing. Absolutely nothing is completely random, though to show a motion picture which appears to depict that is a brilliant tour de force.