Sunday, January 17, 2010

a Few of My Favourite Things: No Country For Old Men

In this edition of a Few of My Favourite Things I would like to discuss a recent film. Film as a medium can do things that a painting or sculpture can never do, beyond the fact that films traditional use of narrative inherently includes the viewer in the action in a way that painting cannot ever truly accomplish; however, even films with less traditional or no narrative structure still can grab the viewer by using things like time to heighten the tension or amplify the catharsis. Take for example, the recent Coen Brothers film, No Country For Old Men. Just like the Cormack McCarthy book that it is based on the film is an allegory. One is not meant to take the events presented as real and actual. There is in actuality no Anton Chigurh, No Llewelyn Moss; likewise there is no money or drugs or cross state murder spree. Anton is not a man and Llewelyn is all young men. Young men, with their arrogance and bravado, men who still think they can work the system in their favour. Men who haven’t realized that we are but a grain of sand in all of the Sahara desert. Men who this world still has a use for because they are the fuel that feeds the beast of nature. And Anton, Anton is the beast’s messenger. Throughout the film Anton flips a coin to allow his victims to feel they have some say in their fate. This represents God’s gift to man of free will. As the film sees it, God gave us free will only to abdicate the guilt that is at the root of His ambivalence. The film is the fever dream of Sheriff Bell, a man at the end of the primordial journey who has for his entire life walked a straight line and played by the rules and has stepped over the corpses of failed hustlers who thought they had all the angles accounted for and who now has found the prize for all this hard work. The prize of course is the same one all the bagmen and grease men found waiting for them. For you can’t fight the beast, we all meet our fate and grace of god or not, we all end up six feet under. I could watch this film everyday until I have no days left and still marvel at how perfect it is. No shot is superfluous, every frame is captured the only way it could be. Like a Rembrandt or a Rothko this film is the work of master craftsmen at their peak. Their confidence in their ability to tell this story is what allows them to avoid so many of the pitfalls that beleaguer even the greatest of filmmakers. It is so easy to get cocky and throw in shots just because you can or get sheepish and cut something amazing because you aren’t sure but the best artists exist in that perfect middle where confidence and humility dance. Take the scene where Anton mends his wounds after his encounter with Llewelyn outside the hotel. The Coens treat this scene with an objective tenderness that belies the carnage that Anton has wreaked. We feel as if we are watching an animal lick it’s wounds, in that moment we don’t see Anton as a beast but instead as a force of nature playing it’s part in a grand awful tragedy. In that moment the Coens give us a quiet glimpse of the beauty that is the mess of life. Yes, people suffer and yes, the bad guy often wins and we don’t control our fate but at the same time these shackles also free us. We are not perfect, we do not control our destiny; but like being strapped to the back of a wild horse traveling at breakneck speed down a gorge to certain death this ride called life can be a wild and amazing trip if you understand the rules that the universe abides by. The Coen brothers give us a glimpse of the beauty amidst all the pain. And oh, the beauty; this is one of the most beautifully photographed films that has ever been made. They show us the awe and wonder of nature and how small we humans are in comparison. This film is a travelogue for the human condition and it capture the quiet beauty amidst all the savage pain.

1 comment:

  1. I started this comment but before I could continue, I went to a review and watched a trailer of “No Country for Old Men.” I agree that a film with sound can convey a powerful message when done masterfully. I only watched a quick trailer but the man that was flipping coins seems like one mean son-of-a bitch. I realize his role in the movie is to be the grain of sand in the oyster shell but it can become extremely tedious when all you hear whispered in your ear-, “life is no bed of roses” or that “the day you die the world will continue on without you.” Sometimes people refuse to go near the path that leads to the ‘wild horse”.
    Your essay stirred emotions and began a dialogue, which is its purpose.