Friday, November 16, 2007
Until the Mess Gets Here
Several times over the past week I’ve run into other people who have seen NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and we just found ourselves nodding over some unspoken agreement about the film. We obviously felt the same way about it and maybe weren’t saying much because we still wanted to let it percolate in our heads a little.
It’s clear that people are going to have opinions about things that occur late in the film—none of which I’m going to talk about here. During a key scene in the final section, with my mind still reeling over the directions it was going in, it started to sink in to me what the film was about. The thing is, it was such a personal connection that I was drawing—no way I’m talking about that either—that of course the movie isn’t really about those things and days after seeing it the connection doesn’t really hold up. An icily dark thriller with patches of black comedy shot mostly in the deserts of New Mexico, NO COUNTRY stars Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson and Kelly Macdonald—each role expertly played. And of course there’s Tommy Lee Jones, basically the protagonist though some people will have differing opinions about that, in a role seemingly designed to feed off audience expectation of what we expect his Sheriff character to do in the course of the film. There’s no reason for me to discuss the plot in detail right now, though it would be all too easy to talk about the best things on display here. Just go see it, marvel in how good it is and we’ll discuss the details later.
After the broadly comic double bill of INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and THE LADYKILLERS—neither is their best work, but that’s for another time—I strongly suspected that the two would retreat for a little while before they reemerged with something surprising and that’s exactly what they have done. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN dispenses with their expected stock company (with the exception of the great Stephen Root) and while the mastery of the suspense sequences can be traced all the way back to BLOOD SIMPLE there’s a feel to it unlike anything they have presented in recent years.
In his excellent piece at The House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz briefly mentions Kubrick in relation to the Coens and it was my own personal thoughts about the film that made me think of an oft-quoted opinion attributed to the late director: “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” I’m undecided how much the Coens subscribe to this theory and since this film originates from another source maybe it’s a moot point. The question of whether previous Coen characters such as Barton Fink, Tom Reagan or H.I. McDunnough encounter indifference further complicates matters—it’s possible that they do, but maybe not in a Kubrickian way. It’s this presumed indifference in the world that is what gave me a sinking feeling during the final scenes in NO COUNTRY, thinking that maybe some things in life do just happen, no matter what importance we try to assign to them. The emotions that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN brought up in me have next to nothing to do with the film, but I have to believe that that’s ok. If a film causes you to sit there during the end credits and ponder stuff in your life that you weren’t expecting to think about when you walked into the theater, there has to be an element of success in that.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN isn’t just the best film from the Coen Brothers in years, it’s their first film since BARTON FINK that left me both dazzled and floored. I can't get it out of my mind, but the greatest reasons for that will have to remain my own.