McCarthy’s renowned novel, “No Country for Old Men” was superbly handled by the duo directors, Joel and Ethan Coen in their adapted version for the screen, one of the most praised films of 2007 of the same name. The movie had the format of a crime thriller. Just like the novel, the film deals with the exciting adventurous plot of a drug deal which goes wrong and the cat- and- mouse drama among the three major characters of the novel, Llewelyn Moss- the protagonist, Anton Chigurh- the antagonist and the old man Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who supervises the investigation.
Before getting into the main discussion whether the film version has done proper justice to the novel or not, it is important to know some of the basic details of the novel itself. “No Country for Old Men” gets counted among the finest works by the American author, Cormac McCarthy. The story revolves round the incident of an illicit drug deal in a remote location, United States and Mexico Border in around 1980. There are four major characters in the novel apart from Carla Jean Moss, the young wife of Llewelyn.
Llewelyn Moss, the protagonist is a welder who is the victim of the deal and Anton Chigurh is the antagonist, the psychopathic character with eyes “Blue as lapis. At once glistening and totally opaque. Like wet stones…” (McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. 2005) dark brown hair and dark complexion. In short, Chigurh is not a pleasant character. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, the old man is a World War II veteran who is asked to carry out the investigation of this drug deal. It is he who has to experience the horrors of numerous crimes and murders. He tries his best to solve it and his reminiscences form the
Page 2 core part of the narration. Carson Wells is the fourth man who gets into the action. He is the former lieutenant Colonel from Vietnam War and another hitman who has been specially hired to retrieve money from Chigurh. Most of the story is being narrated in third person which is interrupted by the first person reminiscences from Ed Tom Bell. The novel comes up with the minimum dialogue but McCarthy could create the mystical air which the readers enjoy most. According to the critics, Anton Chigurh is “one of McCarthy’s most memorable creations.
” Chigurh’s relentless loyalty to recover the cash made him the most unusual character of the plot. He is ready to eliminate anyone who comes in between Moss and him. He knows his job and he is loyal to it. His use of homemade weapons like coffee- can silencer or air driven cattle gun make him even more interesting to the readers. Sheriff Bell, the old man is thus not suitable for the mission he has been assigned. The modern era is in need of another brutal man to combat the psychopath like Chigurh. The novel ends with the revelation of the harsh truth that the old men will not find an ideal country to live in this modern era.
The novel is an excellent crime thriller with the revelation of the biggest truth of the “mercenary civilization”. ”(The Official Web Site of the Cormac McCarthy Society, No Country for Old Men 2005). The Coen brothers did a brilliant job as far as their handling of the theme of “No Country for Old Men” is concerned. The movie is based on a well knit script which focuses on the episodes of the novel. The setting of the film is exactly the same which the readers have Page 3 visualized while reading the novel by McCarthy. The first scene of the film introduces us to the desolate country side of West Texas.
Josh Brolin is Llewelyn Moss in the film who plays the perfect role of a tragic protagonist who is chased by the psychopath Anton Chigurh, acted by Javier Bardem. The Coen Brothers did not forget the use of the unique weapons by Chigurh. A captive bolt pistol is shown to the viewers in the scene where Chigurh strangles a deputy of Sheriff. The movie involves lots of shooting, hiding sequences, driving and running scenes to keep the pace of the crime thriller in tact. The objective was that the viewers must feel the pulse of the thrill. The real man of the plot is surely Sheriff Bell acted by Tommy Lee Jones.
Lee Jones did a wonderful job in the film playing the aging man who could not find an ideal country to live in. He realizes that he is not suitable for today’s era. The main characters serve as the loose ends of the mystery that revolves round the drug deal. It was the task of Coen Brothers to tie up these loose ends in such a fashion that the viewers get the theme of the novel. The objective of McCarthy was not to show the shooting skills of these characters but the consequences of exercising free will, game of chance and the predestination.
The film version succeeded in inducing the link between fate and circumstance into the minds of the viewers. The motifs of the novel like predestination, chance and free will or the ironic relation between fate and circumstance have been finely weaved in the scenes of the movie. Chigurh decides his faith by flipping coin and this episode has been used by both the novelist and the directors to show the immense importance of the theme of chance in life. Scott Foundas wonderfully summaries the end of the film in “The Village Voice”, “In the end, everyone in No Country for Old Men is both hunter and hunted, members of some
Page 4 endangered species trying to forestall their extinction”. (Scott Foundas, “Badlands”, Village Voice, Nov 6, 2007) A. O. Scott of New York Times comments Bell, Chigurh and Moss “occupy the screen one at a time, almost never appearing in the frame together, even as their fates become ever more intimately entwined”. ( Scott, A. O. 2007-11-09, “He Found a Bundle of Money, And Now There’s Hell to Pay”, New York Times: Performing Arts/Weekend Desk1) This was the objective of McCarthy and Cone Brothers and they succeeded in giving a proper shape to this mission in their film version of the same novel.
Even Roger Ebert states that “the movie demonstrates how pitiful ordinary human feelings are in the face of implacable injustice” in the Nov 8, 2007 edition of Chicago Sun- Times. In short, it can be said that the film is the perfect adaptation of the novel with very little alterations. It captures everything from the mystery of the plot to the unique portrayal of the characters to the claustrophobic urban night to the mid day open sky of the desolate land of Texas.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins shot numerous landscapes to signify that the film is not about any heavenly redemption but earthly sin which is devoid of any divine intervention. The novel has been brilliantly adapted in the film and masterfully altered to serve the purpose. The critics have pointed out that each and every dialogue and scene has been taken from the pages of the novel. Thus, Coen Brothers did not allow the critics to raise the issue which one is better, the novel or the film version. Both can be considered to be a single creation.
The movie highlights the theme of fate which actually picks up the man who is going to die next. It is a game of destiny and the characters are Page 5 mere puppets in the hands of the same although they think they are deciding the following actions. Coen Brothers could deliver the message of the death of society and evil cannot be defeated which McCarthy wanted to show in his novel. It is not about the death of any particular individual but the death of the human society. The great actors should also be credited for the success of the film along with the directors.
They delivered their best natural performances. Just like the book the film is quite violent and bloody and thus it accurately reflects the essence of the original source. The Coen Brothers knew that casting is the most difficult task for the making of “No Country for Old Men”. Sheriff Bell is the soul of the movie and the directors were pretty serious about the selection of the actor for the role. They picked up Tommy Lee Jones and succeeded in their mission. The directors knew that they were in need of a truly great actor and Lee Jones being a Texan was the most suitable for the job.
But the task for selecting an actor for the role of Moss was even more difficult. Ultimately Coen Brothers found the actor Josh Brolin, the breakthrough screen actor who could understand the reason why Moss was introduced in the plot. Josh Brolin played his natural role in the film. Now, the Coens were in search of Chigurh, the dark character lacking the sense of humor as portrayed by McCarthy. Bardem was chosen after his immense success in Before Night Falls and The Sea Inside. Thus, casting was done brilliantly by the Coen Brothers to deliver the message of McCarthy.
All the major actors and actresses were nominated either for the Oscar or Emmy Award including the Scottish actress, Kelly Page 6 Macdonald who was chosen for the role of Carla Jean. (Interview with Joel and Ethan Coen in Emanuel Levy after the film was premiered in the Cannes Film Fest 2007) The Cannes review states Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures everything from mid- day open- sky vistas to claustrophobic night time urban action; in timing and tension, No Country for Old Men is one of the most suspenseful films the Coens have ever made, which says a lot.
Cormac McCarthy’s novel has also been impressively well- adapted- improved and altered, but nonetheless full of McCarthy’s clear, concise yet poetic voice. With all of the seemingly standard- issue thriller plot devices in the piece-money, guns and trouble- there’s dim chance that some might not catch the smaller, subtler themes of No Country for Old Men, which would be a shame; this is a story about death, not just murder; this is a story about want, not just money; this is a story of principle, not just pursuit. …. How we live, how we die, what we regret, what we fear.
(Rocchi James, May 20th 2007, Cannes Review: No Country for Old Men, Cinematical. com) No Country for Old Men was not the first venture of Coen Brothers as far as handling a crime thriller is concerned. In fact they are quite specialists in this genre. They handled the same genre in Blood Simple 1984. Joel wrote the story and it had the same kind of Texas setting as in McCarthy’s novel. It was all about A shady Texas detective (M. Emmet Walsh), on the trail of an adulterous couple, is smarter than everybody else in the movie but not luckier, as he realizes when his hand
Page 7 gets stuck on a window ledge. (Ranked among the 10 Best Coen Brothers Moments by TIME in an article by Richard Corliss) Blood Simple was not that popular as No Country for Old Men. But it is quite evident that Coen Brothers were not freshers when they took up the story by McCarthy for a successful film version of the same. In Fargo 1996, Coen Brothers filmed the story of a car salesman who hired men to kidnap his own wife for a sum of eighty thousand dollars. The crime ultimately led to a chain of murders and an investigation process.
Coens managed to get seven Academy Nominations for this film and won the Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress Award. The film also earned positive response at the Cannes Film Fest 1996. Thus, Coen Brothers had already mastered the art of filming a crime thriller plot by the time they ventured into No Country for Old Men. No Country for Old Men is definitely a film of better quality than Blood Simple and Fargo. This film bagged three British Academy Film Awards, four Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay along with two Golden Globes.
But the film No Country for Old Men is not appreciated by all. Some critics are not happy with the film version of the novel although the film is the accurate adaptation of the same. The reminiscences of Ed Tom Bell at the beginning of each chapter of the novel are missing in the film. The viewers admit that the movie is interesting and they were impressed by Bradem’s performance but they complained that “the entire film is very Page 8 slow paced, and the ending is incredibly abrupt and thoroughly unsatisfying”. (Film review posted by Melissa Niksic on 3rd Apr 2008 in amazon.
com) The film language has to be different than the language of the novel simply because these are two entirely different media of expressions. There was almost no music in the entire film. The objective was to deliver the message through the silence. It is true that this is not a movie for everyone. Those who love to watch crime thrillers or are well acquainted with Coen Brothers’ style, they will surely love it. Otherwise, the movie is too much about chasing, murder, blood and pursuit. But we cannot blame the directors for that because that is what is there even in the novel.
Although Coen Brothers have altered few scenes and ignored few chapters from the novel, that really did not affect the message that need to be delivered. Every director chooses the scenes that will contribute to the development of the plot and ignore the ones that are not relevant. The objective is to give a proper shape to the novel and Coen Brothers have definitely done that with wonderful casting, superb cinematography, and their techniques to weave the intrigue plot of a crime thriller, minimum dialogue and minimum use of music.
The film raises important theological questions regarding Truth and Justice and Judgment. It would be wrong to criticize the film as a misinterpretation of the novel rather it has given a new dimension to the concept of the death of society highlighted by McCarthy. The movie is indeed a fine adaptation of the novel with slight pardonable alterations to suit the language of film. We can draw the veil of this discussion as it was summarized by Ryan Parker, The Graduate Theological Union in the film review for No Country for Old Men in JRF, Page 9
The Coen brothers’ ability to weave comedy and drama of the utmost seriousness, along with spot- on casting and flawless performances have all resulted in one of their best films to date and certainly one full of fodder for theological discussion. (Vol 11, No. 2 October 2007) Page 10 Work Cited Interview with Joel and Ethan Coen. Emanuel Levy. Cannes Film Fest 2007 Melissa Niksic, film review, amazon. com, posted on 3rd Apr 2008 McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. 2005 Richard Corliss, Ranked among the 10 Best Coen Brothers Moments.
TIME Rocchi James,Cannes Review: No Country for Old Men, Cinematical. com, May 20th 2007 Roger Ebert. Chicago Sun- Times. Nov 8, 2007 edition Ryan Parker, The Graduate Theological Union in the film review for No Country for Old Men in JRF, Vol 11, No. 2 October 2007 Scott, A. O. “He Found a Bundle of Money, And Now There’s Hell to Pay”, New York Times: Performing Arts/Weekend Desk1. 2007-11-09 Scott Foundas, “Badlands”, Village Voice, Nov 6, 2007 The Official Web Site of the Cormac McCarthy Society, No Country for Old Men 2005