Coen Bros: No Country For Old Men part 4

In which I chat about some of the things that occurred to me while watching the movie, in no particular order. Many spoilers within.

1. In the opening narration, Sheriff Bell talks about sending a boy to the electric chair. In the book, he sends him to the gas chamber. I assume the Coens made the change in order to link the criminal to Ed Crane and George Nelson, both of whom die in the electric chair in their movies (or perhaps to more accurately reflect the reality of Texas executions in 1980).

2. When Moss stumbles upon the suitcase full of money while trying to track down his wounded antelope, for some reason I was reminded of Jed Clampett. And it occurs to me that The Beverly Hillbillies would have been a better show if Jed was forced to flee his home to a number of dingy motels, outrunning ruthless killers every step of the way, in order to protect his family, before finally losing everything. Although obviously that would involve a title change. (It also occurs to me that There Will Be Blood, in its final 20 minutes, becomes a deadly serious take on The Beverly Hillbillies.)

3. I was impressed with Josh Brolin’s performance in No Country, as I’ve been impressed with his performances in Grindhouse and American Gangster this year as well. The kid’s come a long way since The Goonies.

4. The movie Carla Jean is watching when Moss comes in with the suitcase full of money is Flight to Tangier, a 1953 thriller about, yes, a bunch of people pursuing a large amount of missing cash. The movie was made in 3-D and three-strip Technicolor, but Carla Jean seems happy enough to watch it on her black-and-white TV — a comment on the diminished lives of the characters of No Country?

5. If I haven’t done so enough before, let me now again praise the Coens for the shooting style of No Country. For directors who know more about cool cinematic tricks than just about anyone else out there, the Coens pare back their vocabulary in No Country to the bare essentials, to match the spare, no-quotation-marks-please style of the novel. Most of No Country consists of uninflected shots of men performing simple tasks — picking up a shell casing, walking through the desert, sawing off a gun barrel, cutting the hook off a wire clothes hanger, driving a car, so forth. There is little narrative beyond the recording of physical activity (another thing No Country shares with There Will Be Blood). The Coens had faith that the story would contain enough novelty and suspense (I cannot see how it could contain more than it does) that they would not have to resort to flashy technique to “sell” it.

6. When Sheriff Bell goes to see his Uncle Ellis in order to get some perspective on this madness, Ellis reminds him that extreme, senseless violence has been with us since the country’s conception and counsels him against thinking he can stem the tide of blood. “You can’t stop what’s comin.’ It ain’t all waitin’ on you,” he says, “that’s vanity.” This line is not in the book, although it could have easily. And then I note that, in the very next scene, when Carla Jean comes into her bedroom to find Chigurh there, she says “I need to sit down.” In the book (and in the screenplay), she sits down on the bed, but in the movie she sits at, yes, the vanity.

7. Carla Jean, while fleeing her home with Moss, says “I’m used to lots of things — I work at Wal-Mart,” another reference to the “breakdown of mercantile ethics” that the movie sees as the central cause of the escalation of violence that informs its narrative.

8. For a movie about hunters and trackers all pursuing and eluding each other, its odd that no one in the movie seems concerned for a second about fingerprints. Moss leaves them all over the place at the crime scene (in the book he takes time to remove all his prints), and when Sheriff Bell sees that Chigurh has left a milk bottle sitting on Moss’s coffee table, he sees no reason not to pick it up and have a drink himself.

9. For a movie about a breakdown of mercantile ethics, there seem to be damn few customers around. The cafes, the stores, the shopping districts, they’re all hugely devoid of people. The sporting-goods store where Moss shops has a gun clerk and a camping-supply clerk, but no customers. Moss asks the clerk at the clothes store he patronizes (twice) if they get many customers without clothes, but he might as well ask if they get any customers at all.

10. In the book, when Chigurh shoots Moss during the fracas at the Eagle Hotel, Moss is shocked and wounded but still takes the time to stop, examine his wound and say “Damn, what a shot,” a marvelous character moment I am surprised didn’t make it into the movie.

11. It’s worth noting that, for a movie so bleakly, relentlessly violent, the Coens leave out a substantial number of killings that are in the book, a good twenty or thirty by my count. Think of that.

12. I see a thematic link between Moss’s body and the Dude’s car in Lebowski — each gets insulted and damaged repeatedly, in novel ways, until finally both are destroyed.

13. The Coens’ narratives often involve conflicts between talkers and non-talkers. No Country features a narrative between three non-talkers, all kind of challenging each other to a non-talk-off. The one talker, Wells, is insulted by Moss for talking so much even as he’s trying to save Moss’s life. This is, I’m guessing, why Wells has to die.

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14 Responses to “Coen Bros: No Country For Old Men part 4”
  1. kokopopo says:

    Loved this movie, and your insights. Not bad for an old dude. (Three weeks older than me.) Chigurh’s response to Carla Jean when she tells him “you don’t have to do this” made the movie for me.

  2. jbacardi says:

    #4: Since the movie was set in 1980, it would make sense that she was watching it in black and white- that was way before cable channels dedicated to presenting classic films a la TCM, and most local TV stations aired films in the cheaper black & white versions, or at least in my experience they did.

    This may be entirely coincidental…

    • igorxa says:

      given those constraints, they could have easily picked any other film, but they specifically chose that one, so either way i think the point is made.

      • jbacardi says:

        I didn’t mean the choice of the film was coincidental, I meant the choice to show it in black and white may have been.

        • Todd says:

          Oh, I think she’s watching it in black-and-white because she can only afford a black-and-white TV. I myself watched things in black-and-white until about 1997, and on a TV much smaller than Carla Jean’s. With a coat-hanger stuck in the broken antenna yet.

  3. Anonymous says:


    On #6, the resonance is nice. But the decision to show Carla Jean sit at the vanity may have come from Kelly Macdonald. It’s instinct: a woman who comes home to find a strange man in her bedroom would not sit on the bed.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Vanity

      To further complicate things, in both the book and screenplay, it is Chigurh who suggests she sit on the bed. Maybe, at the last moment, the Coens decided it would sexualize the scene too much.

  4. craigjclark says:

    12. I see a thematic link between Moss’s body and the Dude’s car in Lebowski — each gets insulted and damaged repeatedly, in novel ways, until finally both are destroyed.

    Good connection.

  5. communicator says:

    Speaking of odd thoughts, the black dog in the prairie at the very start made me think of a spirit animal of some kind, some warning of death. I’m British and the black dog is British folklore, sometimes called the Barghest or Black Shuck.

  6. chrispiers says:

    Just bought and watched it last night. What an amazing film.

  7. marcochacon says:

    Well, I’m loving your stuff: it’s the kind of writing I sometimes try to do and you’re doing it so much better. I love insightful analysis combined with personal perspective (and a little story-telling).

    This movie killed me. I did write a review of it. But reading your analysis is so much richer. Very well done.