See it? Yes, but first understand what you’re getting into (keep reading).
I don’t know how movie trailers are made, but I envision a bunch of marketing types in suits sitting in a boardroom brainstorming on how a movie should be pitched to audiences. After a bunch of whiteboarding and a few lattes, guys half their age wearing tee shirts and headphones go off to their Macs to make the vision a reality. There are a few iterations until the suits are happy at which point the trailer gets shipped off. The end result is often a work of art in and of itself, even though it most likely has very little to do with the movie it’s supposed to be advertising. Trailers, after all, are marketing material designed to sell a movie. They are not designed to help viewers pick movies that are right for them. The purpose of trailer is to convince as many people as possible to see a movie as quickly as possible before word can spread about how crappy the movie actually is.
(If you have any doubts about the ability of a trailer to misrepresent a movie, just watch the preview for this wonderfully inspirational family film called Shining.)
My point is that No Country For Old Men is an excellent movie that, as its hart, is almost nothing like its trailer suggests. So misleading are the previews, in fact, that at least two people in the theater actually booed the ending. I admit to being somewhat confused by how the story ended myself (think Sopranos), however by the time I got to my car, it had sunk in enough that I thought I understood it. By the time I got home, I really liked it. And by the time I finished explaining the movie to my wife, I loved it and already wanted to watch it again.
I’ll start with the easy points. The writing is great. The dialog is simultaneously fun, colorful, and eerie. The monologue at the beginning masterfully written and delivered by Tommy Lee Jones. And the acting and characters are, without exception, nearly flawless.
Now for the plot (don’t worry — no spoilers yet). No Country For Old Men is essentially about a drug deal that somehow goes south, a man who mistakenly comes across the money (Llewelyn Moss), and the attempt of a psychopathic killer (Anton Chigurh) to hunt him down. On the periphery, you have an old Texas Sheriff (Tom Bell) who is more trying to make sense of the violence than actually solve the case, and a combination hit man and bounty hunter (Carson Wells) who is hired to intervene. But don’t confuse the plot with the meaning. As far as I can tell, there are no real heroes in No Country. There is no crescendo which builds up to a climax from which the good guys triumphantly walk away. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there are really any good guys. There is only misdirection and unpredictability, which I believe are the primary themes of the movie.
Now I think it’s only fair that I issue a spoiler alert as I have to give a few things away in order to delve further into the meaning of the movie. However, I guarantee that you’ll appreciate No Country far more with your expectations properly set.
The title of the movie clearly relates to the Sheriff, and to most of the other law enforcement officers in the story. Although Bell is certainly a sharp investigator, he is completely unprepared for the relentless violence of drug related crime. Not only are the Sheriff and his deputies outgunned, but the bad guys seem to be playing by an entirely different set of rules which allow them to stay one step ahead. Although you want the Sheriff to confront and defeat Chigurh, you never really feel like that’s a realistic scenario. The meaning of the title is contained in the opening monolog as the Sheriff says, "The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure."
But there’s much more to the movie than an old man coming to terms with his retirement. To me, the movie felt like it was more about the unpredictable, unfair, and arbitrary nature of our lives, a theme that is both played out repeatedly, and even explicitly discussed. For instance, while Llewelyn hides out at a hotel in El Paso, a girl by the pool notices that he keeps looking out his window. She later has the opportunity to flirt with him, and asks him what he’s looking for. He tells her he’s just watching for what’s coming, at which point she casually responds that you never see what’s coming.
In another scene, the Sheriff is talking with Llewelyn’s wife in a diner, and tells her a story about a rancher who failed to kill a cow cleanly on his first attempt. He decides to put a bullet in the cows head to end it quickly, but since the cow is thrashing about, the rancher misses and the bullet glances the cows head, ricochets around the metal room, and lodges itself in the rancher’s arm. The Sheriff solemnly tells Llewelyn’s wife that even between man and cattle, nothing is certain.
Interestingly, during the same conversation, the Sheriff mentions that cattle are killed with a pneumatic rod now which is much more predictable. One of Chigurh favorite tools is a pneumatic cattle gun which he uses both for killing people, and for blowing locks. The Sheriff never makes the connection between his own story, and a recent murder caused by a deep head wound which was assumed to be from a gun until no bullet was found. It was as though the possibility of something so inhuman wouldn’t even register with him.
The hit man Carson Wells is another device the movie uses to demonstrate unpredictability. Carson comes across as a hotshot who isn’t the least bit intimidated by Chigurh, and manages to track down Llewelyn in a matter of hours. Just when it looks like the dynamic of the hunt is about to change, Chigurh happens to get the drop on Carson, and removes him from the story as suddenly as he was introduced. The audience is sure that Carson can’t be killed so quickly, and that his impact on the story can’t possibly be so minimal, yet he is instantly and unapologetically executed as Chigurh casually reaches for a ringing phone.
And then as if to demonstrate the point literally, there’s Chigurh’s technique of sometimes deciding whether to let someone live based solely on a coin toss. A gas station owner, who is unaware of the extent to which he is in danger, wins the toss after which Chigurh tells him keep the quarter. He tells the man who has narrowly escaped being brutally murdered to put his lucky quarter someplace special. Don’t mix it in with the rest of the change in his pocket, Chigurh warns, even though in reality, it’s just another quarter. From this scene comes one of the eeriest lines of the entire movie: "What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss."
Throughout the entire movie, Chigurh seems to be the only one who is in control. In fact, he comes across as the master of everyone’s fate. He is eerily calm and in control whether he is strangling a deputy with handcuffs, stitching up his own gun wounds, or slaughtering people with his cattle gun or silenced twelve gauge. But in one final demonstration of the randomness of the universe, while driving down a completely calm and quiet suburban street, Chigurh is T-boned at an intersection and sustains serious injuries, including a compound fracture of his arm. He tries to gather the strength to flee the scene, but as the sirens rapidly close in, you get the distinct feeling that even the one man who seemed to control everything couldn’t see what was coming.
I enjoyed the entire movie, until the end..like most, obviously. I hated the ending, and felt that the writers of the movie got bored, and just ended it….just like that. A HUGE dissapointment to say the least. I don’t know who hands out the awards, but this movie in my opionion did not deserve any awards, because of how it ended….an unfinsihed ending!!!
I would like to add a few comments to the discussion. I feel this movie is bread from the american western movie tradition where a central character (sheriff Bell) is consumed by an obsessive need to avenge his past (the death of his father). In this way this movie echoes THE SEARCHERS by John Ford , where Ethan (john wayne) obsessively searches for his niece (kidnapped by comanche indians) only so he can kill her and not to bring her back as was his stated mission.
Similarly in NO COUNTRY, the motives of Sheriff Bell are equally suspect , and so is his identity. In the scene where Chigurh searches Llewelyn”s mobile home for clues , he gets himself a glass of milk , sits in front the the TV and watches his own reflection on the tube. A few hours later, Sheriff Bell does exactly the same actions out of habit, in the same trailer home ,without even noticing he is doing it. The film asks : are they the same man?
Sheriff Bell and Chigurh are both on Llewelyn’s trail , but never meet … in fact they are never seen together. In the motel room where Llewelyn is found dead, sheriff Bell is sure to find Chigurh , the climax of the movie where they will meet. Chigurh is not there , he vanished , like a dream , with no exits possible (the bathroom window locked from the inside).
Why would Bell search for himself ? He may be a broken man living two lives : one a border sheriff from a respectable law enforcement family , and the other , a sheriff on the take , collaborating with drug dealers, protecting their interest, making sure their deserts trades go unnoticed. And then , there is avenger Bell who under the pressure of guilt looses his self control and his faith in god , capable of killing anyone in his path of revenge … going after those who represent his father’s killers.
This could seem as a bit of a stretch, but is it more than Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins , psycho) taking on is own mother’s identity and serially murdering attractive women?
Once one accepts the possibility that sheriff Bell has become a schizoid man , clues throughout the film become self explained ( such as Bell understanding that Chigurh uses a cattle prodder , yet keeping the secret for himself and from himself).
I could go on and on … hope this will help in your discussions.
Wow, opinions sure are varied.
Couple of comments…
1. I think the lady in the trailer park (trailer park mgr) was killed. Because I hear the air tank being turned on after he walked outside the door. No big deal.
2. It prolly goes to the underlying ‘greed’ theory, but NO ONE turned the money down. The boys on the bikes, the guys coming back into the US, the mariachi singers, etc. And I didn’t see him give his wife one penny of the money. I may have missed that, but wouldn’t you give your wife at least a grand so she can get a motel room or whatever. I may have missed that too.
I haven’t read all the comments here (too many) but there are some interesting insights – I just have one point that I don’t think anybody else has made regarding the dreams related at the end.
The first one – where the sherrif says his father gave him some money, but he thinks he lost it, but he’s not sure – I saw this as a simple way of basically telling the audience that money coming and going and where it finally goes in the movie really isn’t important (we’re being told to forget the money) The whole ‘plot’ as it is is just a frame for the exploration of themes and as such the cash is just a device.
In general terms I favour the free will vs fate theories. Much of what was done in this movies seemed to be done with the specific intention of subverting our cinematic expectations. For some reason we do expect our movies to have much more specific cause and effect based narratives through which an arc can be traced, we also expect the world of movies to have a moral hierarchy within which characters (good and bad) get what they deserve (good or bad)- but most of all we expect catharsis. The Cohens deliberately deny their audience all three of these cinematic conventions (and a few others – in terms of character roles and relations eg: The introduction and rapid death of Woody’s character)
On their own none of these devices are new – in Layer Cake and Carlito’s Way the main character is unexpectedly killed by a bit player, Seven and the original Texas Chainsaw massacre denied catharsis in their endings making them disturbing viewing for example. Pulp Fiction has moral ambiguity, the fate of the characters doesn’t always match their actions. But putting all on these convention breaks into one movie we’re left shocked, uncertain how to read it and maybe even unsatisfied – that’s no bad thing. Life is pretty cruel and arbitrary and maybe film which fill us with a false sense of moral certitude are more dangerous than ones that tell it as it is – like this!
How can anyone leap to the conclusion that he let the wife live, as said previously above, he checked his boots for blood on the porch.
And some of you are putting too much into the movie. The killer is a psychopath and is willing to risk his life and freedom at times to get a rush from killing. Still, there’s a part of him that ‘would be’ victims can appeal to. This is when he refers to the coin flip and lets fate decide.
At the motel room, the Sheriff was scared to face the killer; only wanting to retire feeling outmatched, but he entered the room doing his duty. The killer having got the money from the duct, decides to leave out the bathroom window.
I really like the discussion here; great comments.
One comment I thought was interesting was the one by Serena, which outlined the Real vs. Conscience layers of the story. Under this theory, Anton is not physically real, but instead is a manifestation of greed, evil, etc. After watching it again, this theory seems to hold up and is definitely interesting.
However, it seems that no one on this blog has thus far proposed this theory: I left the movie thinking that Bell ended up with the money.
Bell enters the motel room through the police tape and sees the lock has been blown out, implying that Anton had been or is in the room; the cuts also seem to imply that Anton is there. Bell proceeds to check the room and notices that the bathroom window is locked, implying that no one could have escaped. Surely, if Anton was in the room, he would have “killed” Bell, and taking the view that he was in the room and was the physical manifestation of “greed”, then killing Bell would be represented by Bell succumbing to that greed. In short, Anton DID kill Bell.
The thing that did not make sense to me the first time I saw it was how down/dejected Bell seemed a) when he sat on the bed (seemed defeated) and b) at the breakfast table with his wife. Based on this theory, he was so despondent because he lost and succumbed to the temptation. (Also, you know he did not turn in that money b/c of the conversation he has with the gentleman in the diner – it would have been mentioned).
Throughout the movie, Bell talks about the “old law men”, and one can gather that he relates to them. A hint that he was actually not as much like the law men of days past is shown by the fact that he takes out his gun as he walks in to the motel room (“Some of the old timers didn’t even carry guns”); remember earlier in the movie when they go into Moss’ trailer, he does not remove his pistola.
Under this view, the first dream he had about his father giving him some money in town and him losing it could be interpreted to mean that he “lost” the money bc he kept it. His father was mad because he was not responsible with the money he gave him (in the dream), as his father, an old-timey law man, would have viewed Bell’s keeping the money as irresponsible.
Viewing the movie again under this premise is quite interesting. Who really knows the answer? It is interesting to dissect it though. What do you think?
when i watched the film i understood nothing
but now after reading sites articles i understood every thing
Bell’s last dream doesn’t carry any positive overtones as some above have mentioned. It is metaphor and an insight to his psyche. When he was in his crippled friend’s house earlier in the movie he had mentioned how God had never come into his life. Ultimately, in his life, there ended up being no light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, his last days on the job force him into a situation where he is intertwined with pure evil. The dream represents the previous belief he held in life, “I thought at some point God would come into my life,” etc… He USED to know that everything was going to be all right, that the future held better things and everything was going to be ok. His positive outlook no doubt eroded through the years. And as an “old timer” coming into his twilight years and being confronted with such madness in what was once a peaceful town, this belief is finally completely shattered. “And then I woke up.” is a wonderful conclusion to a great film.
Tom was the only person/thing Chigurh was afraid of. Didn’t everyone notice how scarred he was hiding in the corner when Tom entered the hotel room. It was the only time he seemed not to be in control. Furthermore, what the hell happened in there anyway? He notices the open vent and then blank screen.
can someone give me the explanation on why Chigurh get the truck and removed all the chickens?and cleaned the back of the truck? whats the point???how did it connect to the story..
thanx for all you comments guys.. it greatly helps me understand the movie…hoooo..thnks.
Great help in understanding. I appreciated the constant vistas, the windswept trees on the horizons, and the windows that never provided warning of the “coming.” But they actually broadcasted the character’s intentions and fears.
You never saw the Sheriff or Anton looking out of the window but through a reflection. They had an animalistic/evil (in terms of Anton), and a foreboding/Jesus like ability (by the sheriff)to see the future. They knew the score.
God gave the Sheriff an opportunity to sacrifice himself…..and he didn’t. He failed in the end, Even if he understood his lot.
His father (God) was angry with him. (his view) His father was the light in the darkness and passed him by…..knowing the sheriff would not make it…..but perhaps forgave him by offering the light/torch……knowing his son would not take it in the end. God came to him-like all people and put him in a situation to fight evil-“who will I send?”
In my opinion it is a movie about sacrifice wrapped in the fate of the unknown. Decisions made in fear or greed- regretted, and pondered over…….littered with good/evil, wolves/coyotes, saviors/executioners, and lamb/sheep.
When Ed Tom sat on the bed, he saw the vent screws and coin on the floor. These implied that Anton had opened the vent with the coin to see if the satchel of money was there. Also, although it was not shown in the film, what ensued was Anton had him at gun point and made him call the coin toss. Ed Tom made the right choice (as implied by head showing up) and was let go by Anton. Even though Ed Tom managed to live, he realized that things were getting worse, and it was “no country for old men” anymore. His dream summed up the moral of the story: that in our entire life, we tend to be idealistic, that things will get better, that there is “heaven” at the end of it all, until we “wake up” and realize that these are all just made up and just part of our hopeful imagination.
The point of the story seems to be that evil exists in the process of things. Evil is not an anomaly that intrudes upon an innocent world; it is just as much a part of the fabric of life as everything else. We can, and should, try to recognize it and control it, but it is always around, like air or like water, looking for an opening.
If you’ve read other books by McCarthy, you know that he can get deeply involved in a view of life that is beyond tragic in the ordinary sense of the term–it is extemely dark. At his gloomiest, McCarthy sees nature as a pitiless, implacable force that steadily obliterates all human achievement through the relentless processes of death, decay and erosion. While we strive to resist nature with our wishes and hopes, our institutions, our technology, our social constructs, it continues to wear us down, patiently, minute by hour by century. And nature always wins.
Anton Chigurh embodies this force. He and the coin are the same. I’ve forgotten his exact words, but at some point Anton says, “We (he and the coin) got here the same way.” Nature’s destructive force, like a coin toss, is morally indifferent. It doesn’t care about us. In the grand scheme, our efforts to be decent, good people are unimportant. So Chigurh doesn’t see himself as evil when he kills people, any more than a coin is evil. He sees himself as an agent of destruction that is embedded in the natural processes that produced both him and the coin.
Some of the comments posted show valuable insight into this rich, complex film. Thanks to Christian and the other authors of these. For those who got little out of the film and are frustrated with the ending, at least it made you think. I hope this (I published earlier on another blog) helps. Jupsy was right.
The El Paso motel room scene possesses great ambiguity, yet we know instinctively that it has great significance, that in it lies the “key” to the film. That’s why it has spawned much speculation, some entirely wild and totally unsubstantiated elsewhere in the film, i.e., that Sheriff Bell took the money earlier, that Bell and Chigurh were working together, that Chigurh may have been chased down by ambulance drivers. Come on. If the Coen Brothers had intended any of these wild, unsubstantiated possibilities, they would be bad film makers indeed. They’re not. Outcomes must be the inexorable result of prior events and the actions of the characters must be consistent with their character as revealed earlier. What happens must result from the internal logic of the film or it is a bad film. Questions like “Could the money fit in the vent?” are interesting but entirely trivial. Is it really important whether the money was in the vent or whether Chigurh got it from there or at all? Not at all. This is not a caper movie. It’s a movie about living in a world full of unpredictable danger, a world where “you can’t see what’s coming next,” as the girl at the swimming pool tells Llewelyn right before they are both killed. As some have pointed out, Chigurh is like the living embodiment of this. He is like God or the Grim Reaper. And Sheriff Bell goes back to the room that night for only one reason–to confront Chigurh. He suspects he’s there because right before that scene the local lawman reminds him that Chigurh has gone back to the scene of the crime before.
What is important to ask is what makes Tommy Lee Jones so despairing at the end? What makes him quit sheriffing? What makes him visit his uncle who he hasn’t seen in a long time and question him about what he would do if he encountered the man who shot him and talk of his disappointment in not finding God? What makes him dream of death at the end? Sheriff Bell has undergone an enormous emotional/spiritual change. He can no longer go on. What caused this?
There are too possible theories. For the sake of my argument, assume that Chigurh is in the room when Sheriff Bell enters. The Coen brothers have gone to great pains to show us he’s in there and that he didn’t exit from the window. Chigurh hides under the bed or in the closet but doesn’t emerge while Bell is there. Sheriff Bell leaves and the change that comes over him is merely because he finally has grown weary of the country that has become no place for old men, a world he no longer understands and no longer wants to be part of. We know that Chigurh is in the room hiding and he is lucky that he didn’t kill him, but Sheriff Bell doesn’t know that. It is a tense scene but otherwise hasn’t much significance. It is a scene where something big almost happens but doesn’t.
But I think there is more depth there. I think the coin we see at the end of the scene is a clue. The camera stays on the coin for a long time–three seconds–before the scene ends. Why is it there? It’s not there to show us Chigurh had been there. We and Sheriff Bell already know he was there because the lock was blown out by his bolt gun. We but not Sheriff Bell know he is still there because we saw him in two separate shots and we know the window is locked. What if the coin is there to remind us of the God-like choice he foisted on the store clerk earlier in the film and does later on to Carla Jean? Think about Chigurh’s character. When elsewhere in the movie has Chigurh hid from anyone? Why should he suddenly do so here? He’s God, the Grim Reaper. He has no fear. It doesn’t make sense.
The interpretation that works best for me, that answers all the questions I’ve asked above is that after Sheriff Bell holsters his pistol and sits on the bed, Chigurh emerges from the closet or from under the bed and has the drop on him. Like he has done before and will do again, Chigurh makes Bell call the coin toss. He is lucky and Chigurh lets him go. But he is shaken by his so close encounter with sure death and feels weak and helpless. He also feels ashamed because of his cowardice in submitting to Chigurh’s test. (Only Carla Jean shows the courage to defy him and refuse to play his game.) That’s why he no longer feels up to the job and quits. That’s why he feels “overmatched.” That’s why he tells his uncle he thinks God has a low opinion of him. That’s why he asks him what he would do if he encountered the guy who shot and paralyzed him. That’s why he dreams of death at the end.
Wonderfull thread. My daughter and I watched the movie only a couple of weeks ago and neither of us can stop thinking about it. There are many thought provoking points and interpretations provided. I had not thought of Bell’s name similarity with Anton, nor considered Bell and Anton to be the flip side of the same coin. The idea of a schizoid Bell creating Anton I would never have come up with.
I had some observations during the movie that I have not seen in this discussion. I think that there are several religious references that are important. The passage that I remember, but must paraphrase, is” When I was thirsty, you gave me water,when I was naked you clothed me. As you treat the least among you, so you treat me.” Llewelyn relizes his sin of not giving the dying mexican water when he asks for it only to late. He tries to make up for this error by taking him water, but he has allready made his “choice”. I think the coin toss is about making a choice. You have to choose. Carla did not choose, and she died.
Crossing the bridge into Mexico, Llewelyn needs cloths, and offers to buy them from the teenagers. They want more money, and they want to charge him for the beer. Later in the movie, Anton offers to buy the kids shirt and the kid offers it for free. Anton gives him some money, but clearly it was not expected. Wells asks Llewelyn if he was in Veitnam and Llewlyn responds “Yea, what is that supposed to make us brothers?” Later as Llewelyn is crossing back into the US, the border agent, who is ready to give him a really hard time, and probably deny him entry, changes his tune when he finds out he was a Veitnam Vet. The border agent,I thought < cut a fellow vetern a break. Am I my brothers keeper and all that.
Makes you wonder bout your own life, doesnt it?
Amazing what people can read into a piece of crap like “No Country for Old Men.” McCarthy’s “The Road” also suffered from the same pointlessness and lack of denouement, apparently a characteristic failing on the part of this writer who, for all his imaginative writing throughout, can’t seem to manage a conclusion to his stories.
Great comments. They have really helped me understand this movie. I have watched it twice and was still wondering about its meaning. I have been hung up on what happened at the end.
There are 2 points I would like to make.
1) Isn’t it interesting that Chigurh’s name is so easily confused with Sugar, something so sweet and enjoyable? If Chigurh represents evil and temptation/greed, this is so opposite. It must have been intentional.
2) When Ed Tom was talking with the other policeman in the diner, didn’t that officer say something about someone going past the police tape, in essence compromising a crime scence? It is after this that Ed Tom goes back to the motel. I don’t know what the meaning of this part is, but I know I want to watch the movie again.
I have never blogged about a movie before, but this one is unforgettable. I loved it!
incredible movie . . . I’ve never before read so many diverse comments on a blog like this about one movie . . . that alone is amazing!!!
I’ve moved from initial disappointment to eventual enlightenment about it’s probable meanings . . . how does everyone remember so many details from so many impressions? THANK YOU for reactivating my memories, and stimulating deeper thinking about something I rented on iTunes, and viewed on a 17″ computer screen.
the blackout middle transition of the film still intrigues me, as does what really happened in the hotel room between Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and Anton Chigurh? the confrontration and Bell’s winning of a coin toss resonate as a high probability, when considered in context with other events.
McCarthy’s book translated to film by the Cohen Brothers is a masterpiece that has held our interest well beyond the few hours we spent watching it . . . I’ve already easily spent 10 times that length in reading your comments and considering the interpretations presented here.
Many people didn’t like this movie. This is understandable if you saw the movie as a very interesting chase story set in western style, and then suffered a huge letdown when there was no final showdown between the apparent protagonist and the bad guy, the other good guy fails to nab the bad guy, the bad guy gets away, and then the ending leaves them flat. But that is not what this movie is about.
The movie is an allegory about death, how we see it (or don’t), how we face it (Moss), how it comes to us, what control we have over it (Carla Jean), and how we value our own worth in the contemplation of it (Bell). What’s truly genius about this movie is how the Coens relate this broader meaning into a very exciting chase story.
Chigurh is a symbol of death. His appearance, that fact that he rarely changes clothes, appears suddenly at places without explanation as to how he arrived all indicate an otherworldly presence. His odd dialog and philosophy make much more sense if you view him in this context. He is present at all on-screen deaths. Why? Because he’s a witness to death, but he’s not the cause of it. He’s the grim reaper with shroud and scythe. He’s death and he’s there to take the person, but he’s not the cause of the death.
Now to make the movie work as an allegory the Coens had to integrate Chigurh as a human into the chase story. That there were able to accomplish this is a testament to their filmmaking genius and the reason they won all the awards. This is why the Coens purposely showed several scenes to depict Chigurh with human qualities, suffering pain, mending his wounds, choking on a cashew etc. Otherwise the story becomes a fantasy with Chigurh as some sort of superhuman comic book character and the Coens didn’t want that.
The moment where Bell pushes the motel room door open is the last moment of his life, he is blasted by Chigurh’s shotgun as he stands in the doorway. Bell’s double shadow is symbolic of his spirit leaving his body. The rest of the scene and his visit to Uncle Ellis represent Bell’s transition into the afterlife. The tool (dime) being left on the floor, and not in Chigurh’s pocket, indicates his task was not complete and Chigurh was interrupted by Bell’s approach to the door.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter where Chigurh was in the hotel room or at what point Bell’s life ended. It’s like arguing about whether the boy saw one wolf or two in “The Boy who Cried Wolf”. It’s a detail that regardless of its nature does not alter the broader meaning of the story the author is trying to relate.
The final two scenes with Bell represent his journey into the afterlife. The first, a visit to his dead uncle is a recounting of his failures in life and inability to deal with a world he thought was changing, only to be disillusioned further that it hasn’t. As we ponder death do we not question our value in life? This is the conversation he relates to his dead uncle.
The final scene with Bell is also telling. The word “retired” is a euphemism for “dead”. Moss was a retired welder, Carla Jean retired from WalMart, Wells a retired Army colonel, and the retired Uncle Ellis are all dead. Bell desires to remain with his wife, to go riding with her, but she says “I can’t, I’m not retired (dead). Bells two dreams lament his life and his future. His father gave him some money and he lost it. His father passed down the legacy of a lawman and entrusted him to protect his people (Moss and his wife), a job he failed miserably at. The second dream relates his father movement into heaven as he goes ahead of Bell carrying the light and the warmth. Bell knows his father is waiting for him and wants to get there but can’t. The fact that he wakes up before reaching his father, the warmth and the light, and is stuck in the dark and the cold, indicate Bell feels he isn’t worthy to join his father.
The whole idea of Bell joining his father was foreshadowed in the comment Moss made to Carla Jean about his dead mother: “Well, then I’ll tell her myself”.
Moss was a thrill seeker who challenged death. He did not return to drug deal scene to bring the Mexican some water. He couldn’t have cared less about this dying drug dealer, who most likely would have been dead when Moss returned anyway. That was just an excuse in his own mind to justify his return to the excitement of the hunt, of the chase. Moss was an unemployed welder who longed for the excitement of Vietnam, exemplified by his volunteering for a second tour of duty. He thought himself quite the hunter and tracker. Finding the money and running with it was the most excitement he had experienced since Vietnam.
When Carla Jean tells him she has a bad feeling about this Moss says: “Well I have a good one”. He enjoyed it! Moss disregarded the warning of two guardian angels, the first being the black man who picked him up hitchhiking. The man warns Moss “You shouldn’t be doing that”. Why does Moss ask the man, who theoretically can’t have any idea what Moss has been up to, to clarify what he meant? Because Moss suspects the man is talking about running with the money. Which of course he is. Moss ignores the warning.
The second angel Wells (note angel wings as he sits across from Chigurh) gives Moss an even more explicit warning to include the consequences of his actions, causing the death of both himself and his wife. Again, Moss rejects the advice but possibly changes his mind, sadly too late. The death of Wells, his disintegrated angels wings visible floating down as dust, signify the ultimate end for Moss. Then Chigurh’s comment to Moss tells him that his guardian angel is no longer there to help him “Carson Wells is not here in the sense that you mean” and then right after, “You need to come see me”, indicating that Moss needs to be visited by death (is going to die).
Chigurh did not go to Carla Jean’s mother’s house to kill Carla Jean. He appeared there (as death) because she killed herself. That is why earlier in the movie Chigurh remarks to Moss, “It doesn’t matter where she is”. If Chigurh intended to set out and kill Carla Jean, why wouldn’t it matter where she is? How would he find her? The reason Chigurh isn’t concerned about finding Carla Jean is because death finds us all, one way or another.
Carla Jean returns from the funeral and sits at the dining room table. As she looks out the window, her look of sorrow and depression reflect her situation. She has no money. She has bills to pay. Her husband’s death has left her a widow with no means of support. This is what runs through her mind as she sits at the table, and is brought to the screen for the viewers’ benefit in her “conversation” with Chigurh. As she contemplates suicide Chigurh appears, their “conversation” is a metaphor for Carla Jean’s inner struggle as to whether to kill herself now or let her future existence be subject to rotten hand of cards she has been dealt (i.e fate). Chigurh is arguing for the latter, but loses the argument. She chooses to take her life now, at a time of her choosing (represented by her refusal to call the coin toss) rather than die later as a result of the fate her husband doomed her to, a lifetime of misery and poverty followed by death anyway. Carla Jean’s testament of free will rocks Chigurh’s world. All he can manage to say is “Call it” with more emphasis. She has upset “the rule he has followed”. His rules are then symbolically killed in the car crash. Chigurh’s rule set is killed but as death he is resurrected and continues on, walking down the street, passing into the tree of life, as death is and always will be a part of life. Death can never be killed.
Carla Jean’s lesson learned from Bell was that in the contest between man and steer, nothing is certain, a lesson she bequeaths to Chigurh. He learns it the hard way, losing the use of his arm, just as Charlie Walser had in his contest with the steer.
The fact that Chigurh left Carla Jean’s house without a weapon is further indication her death came internally (i.e. by her own hand) and was not caused by an external force (typically depicted in the movie as Chigurh shooting someone, strangling someone, or striking someone with a vehicle or cattle gun). If Carla Jean died from something other than her own hand, Chigurh would have departed with a weapon.
Was not impressed. Anyone can make a vague, ambiguous, stylized movie but it needs to have substance to be a great movie. Everyone seems to be looking very hard for something substantial in this movie and it just isn’t there.
toss a coin in every doubt you have ….. and there is the answer.!!!! eg. did his wife lived or not??? toss a coin.
I think that the entire movie is about living in the moment, and realizing that one can never truly understand and control their lives.
If you notice, everyone in the movie tries to understand what is going on around them. Each time one of the characters thinks they finally understand and have a sense of balance restored to their lives, a curve is thrown their way.
For the sheriff, he keeps waiting to understand the purpose of the violence, and to let it pass. He refuses several times to go back to the crime scene, wishing for it to be over. Each time he thinks he has washed his hands of the mess, it comes back again. He even tries to be proactive, and protect Moss. But that backfires, and he arrives to late.
Chigurh keeps trying to gain control of the money. Everytime he gets close, something occurs to prevent his accomplishment of his goal. Even as focused and controlled as he is, he never able to bring closure to the situation. When he finally wraps up the scenario by (in my opinion) killing Moss’ wife, he is not done. He is hit by a car, and has lost his “understanding” and control of the situation again.
For Moss’ wife, she is completely lost for most of the movie, not understanding what the source of danger and discord in her life is. She is always a step behind, not really sure what is going on. When she finally thinks that she has regained control, even though it was done through the loss of her husband and mother, it turns out that the nightmare is not over. Chigurh is waiting, and reawakens the horror.
Finally, the dream tells us that we can not be certain of anything; that we are surrounded by a perpetual uncertainty, the cold darkness. But, we can find hope, waiting for the time when we finally do arrive to the warmth of the fire. We just can’t force it, but instead must keep traveling forward, until, in some ways, the fire comes to us.
Just my two cents.
Amazing set of posts! I’ve really enjoyed reading them, especially the “it was all a dream” angle. I’m coming into it a bit late, but, for what it’s worth…
Like another person, I saw the car crash coming. I laughed. It was Chigurh being smacked down by his own philosophy that fate governs everything. I guess it does, after all! I was pondering whether to him it merely was a convenient self-deception because it relieved him of personal responsibility for his actions.
I thought the kids’ lack of fear of Chigurh (personified evil) was particularly chilling; they walked away more interested in how they’d share the money. Of course, if you see Chigurh as the hand of fate, it’s less disturbing; they’re well adjusted not to obsess over what they can’t control.
I’m about to watch it again. To respond to a couple of points in earlier posts:
1. I took the milk-in-the-trailer scene to contrast Ed Tom and Anton. They could follow the same path, perform similar actions, but they fundamentally differ in attitudes.
2. I also took Woody Harrelson as a foil to Anton. As a hit man, he’s much more relatable than Anton, who someone pointed out is almost inhuman and kills not just for money but according to his own philosophy. Woody Harrleson seems much more like “one of us,” and a business man. Anton seems to make calculated killings to pursue the money (as with the two drug bosses he shot at the shootout location) but also seems motivated by more than that.
What I find amazing about the movie, is the number of opinions and viewpoints on how it actually turns out.
In the end, the viewer has none of the omnipotence, none of the certainty that most movies give.
With this in mind, I feel its a movie of great caliber.
As dream-like as it is, it is also a mirror of your own reality.
Take a look at your own life. Try to define meaning — create a narrative. Our views are narrow and unable to create a definitive 360 on what has happened.
I think “Sugar” is the perfect metaphore for death. (“Sweet, as sugar”, unpredictable and nobody is able to avoid it, however, if this was not your day, you would choose heads…)
People always believe there is a “meaning” or “message” behind something. Greed, evil, blah blah blah…There is no meaning to this film, it is a work of fiction. I don’t see how this long page of posts served its real purpose. The real question that I have, and I doubt anyone from previous explanations can answer, is what was the authors’ intentions for making this a film?
Great comments and im surprised that nobody has brought this to the table. The three main characters, Moss, Bell, and Chigurh, do not share any screen time together? Which some of the comments I read about being his conscious and “greed” could be the case. Anyhow, I enjoyed this movie and want to watch it again!
One last thing, and I’m gathering my info from IMDB. The only character to talk to all three main characters is Carla Jean. And When Moss is lying hurt on the floor, after crossing the Mexican Border, a mariachi group starts singing to him. What they say, in English, is: “You wanted to fly without wings, you wanted to touch the sky, you wanted too much wealth, you wanted to play with fire”, probably in a reference to the story of the film.
I just saw it. It was good.
WILSON’S comment on Chigurh’s character was very interesting.
I don’t know if this has been touched upon yet but:
I thought the whole time Chigurh, was pronounced Segura, or “sure” in Spanish.
One could argue that “sure” equals certainty, certainty of death/inevitability.
I think a ton of themes here can be expounded on: greed, fate, death. The validity of each lies in the (well thought out)exposition of one’s point.
I won’t go into detail myself, because well, I’d write way too much and might as well hand it to a professor to proofread. ;)
But I will add this: there are a few of you who fail to see meaning in this movie and that’s too bad. It’s dripping with it. Learning to seek meaning isn’t fluff. It engages one’s imagination. Of course all opinions aren’t equal and they shouldn’t be, but to simply reduce art to (it is what it is) connotes to me laziness and an inability to think, challenge; to merely consume.
saw old men 2 wks ago w/#2 son. his take was “the love of money is the root of all evil, and chigurh is all evil”. it’s haunted me ever since. i sensed that chigurh was the angel of death, and though we think we have sway over fate, or can direct outcomes–it’s an illusion. but then i find this blog, and through these comments, there’s a whole lot more in this story than i found by my own devices. i gotta say the entry from simcoe on may 2,08 entails the most comprehensive and insightful narrative of all..thank you! i think i’ll sleep better now i have the essence of this disturbing tale arranged in my mind as comprehensible now.
movies that make one think, ponder, even brood over are just too few and far between.
but as part of the pepsi generation, we want it given to us–not have to work at it (like reading a book) or thinking to “get it”. though this film doesn’t tell us it’s meanings, most of us know that this story is multi-layered and worthy of reflective thought…i will look for the next installment by the coen brothers. maybe even venture to read the book…
God does not play a role in this film. Javier Bardem’s character is definetily not the hand of God. He symbolises inevitability. This is illustrated by his weapon of choice(gas tank, leaves no trace) and his slick dialogue(after killing the contractor, he says to the other customer, “I mean, can you even see me?”) He is only a hypothetical character. He was never meant to be caught nor to be killed as he cannot be killed because in truth he is not a real character. He leaves absolutely no trace of his killings(the gas tank).
Another very important though short scene, after killing Lwellyn’s wife, he walks out of the house and then suddenly stops. He then lifts up both his boots as if to check if he has left no trace. He is happy and just continues his journey. He is then in a crucial carcrash and is left with a bone sticking out of his arm. Most people would lie there but the truth of the matter is, he is not real so he cannot be stopped. So he stands up and walks on.
One of the most revealing parts is when Carson is with Lwellyn in the hospital. Carson tells him that Chigurh is a man with no personality and that many people fear him. Many people fear the inevitability of life because the majority is so afraid of what is coming. That is why the line “YOU CAN’T STOP WHAT’S COMING” is so relevant in this movie.
The title is also of utter importance. Teh scene when Tommy Lee Jones visits the old man stranded with his cats illustrates what is coming. As this old man is threatened by the now, he hides himself in a small house with only cats to keep him busy. This scene says that people are to scared of the present and of “WHAT’S COMING”, they hide themselves away. That is why this is no country for old men. They are threatened by the now. That is why, in the beginning when Tommy Lee Jones gives the opening speech, he says that he does not carry weapon. He is too scared of the present and tries to hide it by not carrying a gun and thus he generates a thought that says no violence will happen. This sad thought comes to an end as it is inevitable that this thought catches up to him(Chigurh).
the wife i believe was killed.
the one thing that convinced me on this is this:
when Chigurh leaves the house he looks at the bottoms of is shoes
(checking for blood) As the scene earlier in the movie he lifts his feet to avoid them getting blood on them. He also removes his shoes and socks in a scene.
Is this anything to do with vanity?
(the retired deputy in the wheelchair mentions vanity)
I supposed that Chigurh got the money, right? Money was the root of all evils as usual. The film was good but I hate it when it keeps me wondering why Chigurh had to kill the wife when he had the money with him. After all all the bad guys were after the loot. In someway, somehow, the evil won in this film.
It’s a very unusual thriller film confusing though. Chirugh is the evil who turned to be a hero in such a way that he was a ghost who could just walk away from all the merciless killings he did. He got the money and yet he shot dead the wife of Moss. My overall opinion is that the Devil won in this particular story and that the good ones, like Sheriff Bell could just do nothing about it. Of course I do expect that Sheriff Bell would finally extinguish him but he was just an old cop who doesn’t bother anymore to do what he ought to: Uphold the Law whatever it takes…
Thank you all for taking this movie seriously. Needless to say, Cormac McCarthy’s vision of the modern universe is bleak and existentialist. The Cohen Bros are a perfect match to bring his nihilism to the screen. I feel that the movie is presenting us with this lesson: the only morality and justice in our lives is what we craft ourselves. Chigurh just is. I don’t think he symbolizes anything, but maybe he DOES represent the implacable senseless, violence that is synonymous with terrorism, imperialism, and drug wars. Chigurh just kills. After awhile, Chigurh doesn’t even seem to care about the money.
The movie reminded me of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the witches are much like Chigurh. Do they or he control fate? No. They are just playing with human vanity.
Llewelyn is a foil to the Sheriff. He is driven by greed. The audience wants him to be the hero–but we are robbed of this hope. We last see Moss lying in his own blood. At first, I couldn’t even believe it was he that was killed! I think the point is that there are no heroes in our modern universe, so don’t pin false hopes on any outside force. It’s all up to each of us as individuals to create and follow our own morality.
The Sheriff is driven by justice and the preservation of goodness. Moss is killed, and the Sheriff survives. The only way to stay good–and alive–in this violent, immoral world is to mold your own morality and live by it. Don’t compromise, stay true to your own honest principles. There is no morality handed to us from above or protecting us. We create it, and it’s up to us to live by it. That’s our only recourse in a nihilistic, cruel universe that we have created and now inhabit.
I recommend reading The Road. In this novel, the father struggles to maintain his principles, and his sole role is to protect his son from despair in a world of ashes and encroaching cannibalism. This is the same image in Sheriff Bell’s dream: a horn of light, the color of the moon. A father’s promise. Something to live for and keep you directed in a world of darkness. Bell’s first dream, as I recall, is about his father giving him money, and his losing it. (He’s not driven by greed.)
Remember the “undertow” in John Irving’s The World According to Garp? That’s what operates in No Country for Old Men. You either succumb to it (greed, violence) or you stay afloat and swim to shore. The violence that drug cartels spread, the terrorist response to U.S. imperialism–I have no control over. But I do have control over how I live my life, and the movie reminds me that it’s up to me to define my personal universe, as Sheriff Bell does when he decides to retire.
This movie sucked. I just saw it yesterday and I think that it should be nominated for “worst” picture.
I know I’m pretty late to this game, but found this blog to be quite enjoyable. The movie has haunted me for more than a year and I have watched it several times. After crunching and crunching the “meaning” of the story, I decided to Google “No Country for Old Men” and “meaning”, which led me to this blog. I might add that I found several hundred thousand hits with this search. The movie may or may not be many things, but it is most certainly art with its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I learned new perspectives from others on this blog, and thought the original review was well written. One thing I noticed was that nobody posted an observation of how much Llewellen and Chegur were the same. Tracking blood from their prey, buying shirts from innocent bystanders for their own survival, nursing their wounds, etc., etc. In fact, the cactus pulled from Llewellen’s arm looked very similar to the buckshot Chegur pulled from his leg. Further, Llewellen’s wife’s refusing to call the coin toss may have, nonetheless, affected her fate. Enjoyed the movie very much and will more than likely watch it another time or two.
the killer is like “death” from family guy
he is like the devils son.. you now how jesus is gods son..
personally i dont believe in faith or free will, everything has
cause and effect, and to think you make your own decisions is retarted.
I found this page because I was looking for an explanation as to where Chigurh was when Bell entered the hotel room near the end of the movie. I still don’t know for sure. I need to watch the scene again, but my feeling is that Chigurh was in the room when Bell entered and that Chigurh either (a) left while Bell was looking in the bathroom, or (b) was hiding in the room and left after Bell left.
The comments on this site have made for some interesting reading, but I think that some of the posters have taken it too far, trying to read too much into things. Chigurh obviously represents certain “ideas” (evil, death, fate, etc.), but I don’t believe he actually is anything but human (i.e., he is not a ghost, nor is he an imagined part of either Bell’s or Moss’ psyche). I also don’t think any part of the movie was just a part of some dream that Bell was having.
I also do not believe that Chigurh confronted Bell in the hotel room and flipped a coin. That would be an incredibly important event to (1) not show, and (2) merely hint at in an incredibly ambiguous and unsubstantiated manner. The coin was shown on the ground to establish that Chigurh had removed the vent and retrieved the money(as he had done earlier in the movie also with a coin).
The interesting thing about Bell is that he never actually seems to want to track down Chigurh. There are several scenes in the movie where he is given an opportunity to pursue the case further and he always makes an excuse to avoid doing so. He wants to help Moss, but he doesn’t appear to have any desire to actually track down Chigurh or the Mexicans. Bell does go back to the hotel room at the end (when he realizes that Chigurh might have returned to the scene of the crime) but he is clearly apprehensive and it appears as though he really doesn’t want to find Chigurh there.
Bell ultimately reaches the conclusion that he is not cut out for his job anymore and he retires.
As for Bell’s dreams, the first dream (his father gave him some money, but he lost it) seems to represent Bell’s feelings that he was a sheriff like his father, but he let his father down because he wasn’t able to truly confront criminals like Chigurh. The second dream (that he will eventually catch up to his father and the fire) seems to represent the idea that, eventually, everything will be alright. However, Bell then says “Then I woke up,” which literally means that he woke up from sleeping, but metaphorically suggests that Bell realizes that the notion that everything will be alright is actually just a dream.
At the end of the day, everything is definitely maybe. On the other hand, everything doesnt really matter; simply because there is no country for old men.
Given said that, it means despite of all indefinities that one has to, and faces in life, at the end of the day, one will still has leave earth.
Well, i guess that is what the movie (and its title) means.