The allegory that is No Country for old men.

Discussion in 'Entertainment' started by Persephone, Jan 24, 2008.

  1. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    I posted this in another thread but seeing as though so many people enjoyed the movie and most didn't fully understand it I figured it deserved it's own thread.

    Enjoy folks.

    NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is an ALLEGORY.
    The title is from the first line of Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, a poet classically trained and considered by many to be the greatest 20th Century poet.
    Death is Anton Chigurh. His hair style (hood-ish, shroud-ish) and black clothing suggest Death. Death kills the innocent as well as the guilty and has his own set of rules. When the witness to the high-rise killing asks, “Are you going to kill me?” Death answers, “It depends. Do you see me?” When the kids on the bicycles help him after the car accident he tells them, “You didn’t see me.” If you see Death, you die; if not, you may live. Chigurh seems to come and go at will and seems to know where Moss is without trying very hard. His rules are his rules and they seem arbitrary and random. He is referred to by the sheriff as a “ghost” and he seems to be able to go wherever he pleases.
    Death kills with a cattle stun gun, almost like a member of the clergy administering a cross to the forehead of a parishoner. Death is often portrayed as a hooded figure with a scythe; in this case he’s a “hooded” figure with a cattle stun gun.
    Man is Llewellen Moss, part sinner, part saint. He is offered a deal with Death when Death offers to ignore his wife but take him. Instead, Llewellen challenges Death and chooses declines the offer. This is straight Faustian bargaining. By declining Death’s “This is the best deal you’re gonna get” Moss signs not only his own death warrant but his wife’s, too.
    Llewellen challenges Death to a showdown and when his wife tells the sheriff, “He won’t quit, neither. Never has.” the audience expects a later showdown because we’ve been trained to see the protagonist take on the antagonist at the climax of a story — but before that can happen life’s randomness gets in the way and the Mexicans kill him. This is the major turn in the movie and the one that takes the sail out of the audience, which has been cheering for Man in his struggle against Death without realizing it.
    Free Will is Carla Jean. She chooses at the end of the film not to allow Death to be random. She has a 50% chance of saving herself but chooses not to avail herself of the opportunity. She is the bravest of the lot, choosing to die by her own decision and not the randomness of Death.
    The sheriff is the philosopher trying to understand the universe. He cannot and is defeated by Death in his attempt. At the movie’s end the Sheriff bemoans the fact that God never entered his life. One of God’s creatures, Death, was in the Sheriff’s life but he didn’t realize it (see “Scene with Sheriff” below). The story is the Sheriff’s, his quest to understand Life, and the dream he tells at the end of the movie explains that his own father, long dead, has gone before him into the darkness of death and awaits him.
    Interesting parallel — Moss pays money for a coat as he crosses into Mexico; Chigurh pays the kids money for a shirt after his accident. What is meant by that? Cannot be a coincidence.
    Chigurh walking away from the accident at the end shows that Death cannot be stopped. It will always walk the streets. It is a part of our existence forever.
    Scene with the Sheriff and Death at the same hotel room at the same time but the Sheriff does not see Death. This scene is vital — it solidifies the allegory. The Sheriff enters the room but does not see Death and so he does not die. Death sees the sheriff but chooses not to kill him because he’s not seen in return. This scene is the “supernatural” scene which signals that we’ve watching an allegory, that what we’ve been watching is more than it appears.
    Why 1980 for the book/film when it was written in 2005? Could it be it was begun then and the author simply chose not to update it? What is the reason? Must be one. Might be nothing more than the author started this 25 years ago and didn’t feel like updating it to present times.
    This is a wonderful movie!

    Having had more time to ponder this fabulous film a few more things have become evident:
    Carson Wells, when asked by the businessman in the tall building, compares Anton Chigurh to the Bubonic plague. The plague, one recalls, was vectored by rats, upon which contaminated fleas resided. Where I grew up, one small flea-like parasite was called a “chigger”. Yes, like “Chigurh”.
    Sheriff Bell at the story’s end bemoaned that God hadn’t come into his life. The irony was that God had. God had visited a plague upon Sheriff Bell’s land in 1980 and it, like the Great Death of 1348, chose its victims pretty randomly.
    There’s no question both Chigurh and Bell were in the same motel room. Bell did not see Chigurh and therefore lived.
    The story is narrated by Bell. It’s his story, not Llewellen Moss’s, though we certainly misinterpret the protagonist until later, that’s for sure. Excellent misdirection by the filmmakers. The High Noon showdown never occurs. That which does is off-screen, to boot! Some have criticized that after Moss’s death the story is anti-climactic. Viewed with Moss as the protagonist it certainly would be. But Moss never was the protagonist. Bell is. Though a case for Chigger might be made, too, but would fail to the near-soliloquy by Bell at the end.
    No filmmakers chose a time 30 years ago to film a story unless it’s relevant to the story — it costs extra money to rent those old cars and to be sure the backgrounds are authentic and the prices of items are retro’d and the clothing is non-anachronistic. 1980 was chosen deliberately for a very good reason. I’m still working on it. It may be obvious to others but I don’t see it yet. Perhaps the Barry Corbin (Ellis) scene near the end is a clue — he says “it’s coming”. By now it’s here. Maybe that’s the message. Stay tuned.
    I’m also pondering what it was Carson Wells represented. Was he perhaps a symbol for the attempt to reconcile Man (Llewellen) to God’s creature Death? No, I don’t see him as a Christ-figure but am open to suggestions.
    Both Death and Carson Wells were sent forth by the man in the high glass tower to do specific things. I don’t want to stretch the allegory too far here but “man in the high glass tower” has obvious symbolic religious connotations. And Death obviously rebels against that man later so let’s not jump to conclusions about Death rebelling against God, etc.
    There were significant differences between the book and the film — specifically, Carla Jean refused to call the coin in the film; the hitchhiker was eliminated in the film, probably because of time limitations and the fear some might misinterpret Moss’s intentions toward her. I think the changes in the movie increased the effectiveness of the allegory. Free will and self-determinism are more evident in Carla Jean’s film portrayal than in the book. It is also possible the book’s author, McCarthy meant something different than the screenwriters did. The film also omitted Bell’s “confession” and one great cause of his regret. Again, to the betterment of the film.
    Carla Jean’s mother probably just died of the cancer from which she suffered. There’s no thought that the Mexicans killed her, too, as well as Llewellen. Presumably, Carla Jean had already buried her husband then later her mother died and Carla Jean then buried her. A period of weeks or even months might have taken place here. It was then that Death showed up to claim her, after she’d settled her affairs, so to speak. He advised her not to worry about the unpaid bills. Her refusal to call the coin was the self-deterministic free will mentioned earlier. And there’s no question Death took her then — checking his shoes eliminated any possibility of any other result.
    Another thing — please do not consider Death to be evil. Death is as much a part of life as its other facets and remember Orson (not Carson) Welles’s quote, “Without death, life would have no meaning.” It does make one wonder whether the screenwriters recalled this quote when assigning the name “Carson Wells” to the Harrelson character.
    I’m fascinated by Moss’s purchase of the coat at the bridge and Death’s purchase of the shirt from the bicycle boys. This was intentional and has meaning but I’ve not nailed it down.
    The scene where Chigurh shoots at the bird as he drives across the bridge puzzles me — was the bird a black bird (also symbolic of death) or another colored bird? Why shoot at it? I could use some help on this one as well as others, obviously.
    I just noticed another thing — Ellis, in the Blue version of the screenplay, is described as having “one clouded eye”. I also mentioned that Yeats’s classical Sailing to Byzantium offered the title of the book/movie. In the Coen brothers’ hillbilly tribute to Ulysses/Odysseus they utilized classical mythology — remember John Goodman’s portrayal of the Cyclops and the blind Homer figure on the handcar at the beginning? Is Ellis the Greek Sophoclean chorus? There’s no question that the screenwriters have used allusions effectively before, so why not now, too?
    Ellis says, “You can’t stop what’ comin’” and Llewellen, when asked by the girl at the motel, answers, “Lookin’ for what’s comin’”. Her answer to him is “Yeah, but no one ever sees that.” This is good thematic planting and I wish other moviemakers took the time and effort to produce quality work like this instead of offering us the drivel they do.
     
  2. yawgmoth

    yawgmoth nine > ten OT Supporter

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    interesting take on the movie. I read all this too. I agree on most parts but I guess I haven't really thought about the movie to truly make my own opinion about it.
     
  3. Jaykro

    Jaykro New Member

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    great topic! read it all. I really enjoyed the movie as well. My buddies weren't too thrilled I guess because you actually have to think about the movie to understand it.
     
  4. Kazmont

    Kazmont Active Member

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    yup, i can see a lot of that.
    And the messicans really did add one great twist!
     
  5. A Juggalo

    A Juggalo Active Member

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    I like. nice job
     
  6. Kalypso

    Kalypso New Member

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    I get the allegory, but here is the problem you're having- Regardless of what the film means, the way it is constructed breaks story structure.

    As for 'The sheriff is the protagonist,' that's like saying Pulp Fiction is about Pumpkin and Hunny Bunny. Protagonist is largely determined by screen-time and story arc, and until the off-screen killing of moss more than 90% of the screen-time establishes Moss as the protagonist, Chigurh as the antagonist.

    Whether or not this was the intention of the Coens, nor the literary author, this is how it's going to be percieved by any film viewer who isn't going out of their way to see the movie in a non-traditional light.

    The film is built to make you see Moss as the protagonist.

    And as we all know, films build toward a conclusion. Any screenwriter knows the most important part of the film is the ending, you write that before you write anything else, and when you're writing a script the centerpiece of the film is the ending.

    The obligatory scene of No Country is the showdown between Moss and Chigurh. This has nothing to do with Hollywood, it's been this way since Greek and Shakespearian Theatre, it's story structure not a Hollywood film convention. The entire movie builds toward the logical conclusion of their battle, and it is cut out of the film, shown offscreen.

    Now whether or not you enjoyed the movie (I did), most people aren't going to enjoy that. It's nothing to do with 'understanding it,' it's a bait and switch. This post seems to be trying to enlighten everyone as to what the movies intentions very well could have been, but at the very least the presentation is deceiving, and the outcry against the ending is not random, nor a bandwagon.
     
  7. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    Funny, you're wrong. :wavey:
     
  8. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    I don't mean you're wrong in an assholish way either but you just are overall.
     
  9. Kalypso

    Kalypso New Member

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    Descriptive :x
     
  10. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    Sorry, really busy at the moment. I'll try and explain more tomorrow.
     
  11. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    You are correct and there is a reason for that, to distract the viewers and make them think that he is when in fact he is only a sub character in a much LARGER story. The story is again, about the sheriff and the world of evil that is plaguing his land. This has been explained in depth in the above posts. There is no reason for me to continue to explain it over and over again.

    All of this is explained above, I don't see why you ask a question that's been answered over and over. It is an unconventional film and they leave out the showdown for a reason.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. It has a lot to do with understanding the movie though. It's not even so much what they could have been, it's what they were and are. The outcry is mostly from people expecting a bloodbath and that's not what they got.

    Thanks but please, try and read the post next time.
     
  12. Kalypso

    Kalypso New Member

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    Traditional story structure (In any medium) builds toward a conclusion, and the conclusion built towards in No Country is not shown on-screen.


    Persephone- I wasn't so much responding to your post as responding to the implication in your post and in the argument of everyone else arguing the kind of thing you're arguing that people 'don't get it,' and there's something to 'get' that totally changes the movie, and makes certain things acceptable that otherwise wouldn't be.

    My post was not refuting your OP. I watched it again today, and you've got a pretty solid point, although again only .01% of the films viewers are going to think about it enough to give a fuck. I was responding from the POV of the average viewer who just see it and respond to what they saw (Your post is clearly geared towards someone who saw the film and disliked its differences from a more standard film).
     
  13. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    Oh ok I miss understood then. I apologize. I do agree though, you do have to give the movie some thought to really understand what's ACTUALLY going on "behind the scenes" so to speak.

    I think that's why it did so well in the eyes of movie critics and people who really WATCH films. Again, sorry for the misunderstanding.
     
  14. Kalypso

    Kalypso New Member

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    np
     
  15. no come down

    no come down ..... and in this place you'll see me OT Supporter

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    thanks for your recap Pers.. i saw this film today, and while i did enjoy it, i left feeling it was one of those "only critics understand it" type of film.. However, your analysis has shed a whole new light onto it... viewing Chigurh as death was a pretty big revelation to me
     
  16. Pitt

    Pitt 1-1-11 — Never Forget OT Supporter

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    needs more paragraphs
     
  17. Persephone

    Persephone New Member

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    Anytime broseph. I loved the movie and saw it 4x in theaters. One of my all-time favs.
     
  18. 2angelmd

    2angelmd New Member

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    Well said sir!
     
  19. Zeromancer

    Zeromancer Pampita's Love Slave

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    Such a strange movie, but I liked it.
    I watched it without knowing anything about it.
     
  20. CelticElite

    CelticElite New Member

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    interesting outlook!
     
  21. mitch25

    mitch25 New Member

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    Great interpretation, and makes me appreciate the movie much more now... Just saw it this weekend, and I want to go back and watch it again with this insight.
     
  22. 1house3kids0vette

    1house3kids0vette Member

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  23. bitcrusher

    bitcrusher New Member

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    what he said is that things are somehow correct if the masses simply view them as such.

    he couldn't be more wrong.
     
  24. PunkInDrublic

    PunkInDrublic Active Member

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    I'm pretty sure shooting at the bird meant to pay homage to Lenoard Smalls from Raising Arizona. In that movie, he would shoot at small animals. He, like Chigurh, personified the unstoppable force of evil that is a theme in many Coen movies. Whether or not this part was in the book and what else it may mean in that case, I believe the Coens included it in the movie partially for this reason.
     
  25. PunkInDrublic

    PunkInDrublic Active Member

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    sounds, reasonable. was shooting at the bird specifically in the movie though? if not, im convinced it was a good way to tie in the bird symbolism with the homage to leonard smalls
     

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