No Country for Old Men (film)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
No Country for Old Men is a critically acclaimed, award winning 2007 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film features Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem. Faithfully adapted from the well-received novel, No Country for Old Men draws heavily on McCarthy's themes of chance and fate. It tells the story of a drug deal gone very wrong and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama as three men crisscross each other's paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas.
The film has been highly praised by critics. Roger Ebert called it "as good a film as the Coen brothers . . . have ever made." A Guardian journalist said the film proved "that the Coens' technical abilities, and their feel for a landscape-based western classicism reminiscent of Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah, are matched by few living directors."
West Texas in June 1980 is desolate, wide open country, and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) laments the increasing violence in a region where he, like his father and grandfather before him, has risen to the office of sheriff.
Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hunting pronghorn, comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry: several dead men and dogs, a wounded Mexican begging for water, and two million dollars in a satchel that he takes to his trailer home. Late that night, he returns with water for the dying man, but is chased away by two men in a truck and loses his vehicle. When he gets back home he grabs the cash, sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) to her mother's, and makes his way to a motel in the next county where he hides the satchel in the air vent of his room.
Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a hitman who has been hired to recover the money. He has already strangled a sheriff's deputy to escape custody and stolen a car by using a captive bolt pistol to kill the driver. Now he carries a receiver that traces the money via a tracking device concealed inside the satchel. Bursting into Moss' hideout at night, Chigurh surprises a group of Mexicans set to ambush Moss, and murders them all. Moss, who has rented the connecting room on the other side, is one step ahead. By the time Chigurh removes the vent cover with a dime, Moss is already back on the road with the cash.
In a border town hotel, Moss finally finds the electronic bug, but not before Chigurh is upon him. A firefight between them spills onto the streets, leaving both men wounded. Moss flees across the border, collapsing from his injuries before he is taken to a Mexican hospital. There, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), another hired operative, offers protection in return for the money.
After Chigurh cleans and stitches his own wounds with stolen supplies, he gets the drop on Wells back at his hotel and kills him just as Moss calls the room. Picking up the call and casually raising his feet to avoid the spreading blood, Chigurh promises Moss that Carla Jean will go untouched if he gives up the money. Moss remains defiant.
Moss arranges to rendezvous with his wife at a motel in El Paso to give her the money and send her out of harm's way. She reluctantly accepts Bell's offer to save her husband, but he arrives only in time to see a pickup carrying several men speeding away from the motel and Moss lying dead in his room. That night, Bell returns to the crime scene and finds the lock blown out in his suspect's familiar style. Chigurh hides behind the door of a motel room, observing the shifting light through an empty lock hole. His gun drawn, Bell enters Moss' room and notices that the vent cover has been removed with a dime and the vent is empty.
Bell visits his Uncle Ellis (Barry Corbin), an ex-lawman. Bell plans to retire because he feels "overmatched," but Ellis points out that the region has always been violent. For Ellis, thinking it is "all waiting on you, that's vanity."
Carla Jean returns from her mother's funeral to find Chigurh waiting in the bedroom. When she tells him she does not have the money, he recalls the pledge he made to her husband that could have spared her. The best he will offer is a coin toss for her life, but she says that the choice is his. Chigurh leaves the house alone and carefully checks the soles of his boots. As he drives away, he is injured in a car accident and abandons the damaged vehicle.
Now retired, Bell shares two dreams with his wife (Tess Harper), both involving his deceased father. In the first dream he lost "some money" that his father had given him; in the second, he and his father were riding horses through a snowy mountain pass. His father, who was carrying fire in a horn, quietly passed by with his head down, "going on ahead, and fixin' to make a fire" in the surrounding dark and cold. Bell knew that when he got there his father would be waiting.
Themes and analysis
Principle, higher laws and fate
Gillmore states that “I read the sudden and violent crash that occurs right after Chigurh leaves the house where Carla Jean was staying as a sign that there are higher laws yet in the universe than Chigurh’s principle. As Chigurh is to Carla Jean, so are the higher laws to Chigurh. What the nature of those higher laws is I am not sure, but Chigurh’s principle is no defense against them. Since these laws are higher and counter to Chigurh’s principles, there is some reason to hope that they are also more sympathetic to human wishes and desires than Chigurh is, but is a small hope indeed.”
Enda McCaffrey focuses on the theme of ‘fate’. “The absence of an authentic value system in Chigurh is further intimated in the riposte ‘You don’t have to do this’, first used by Carson Wells in his exchange with Chigurh and repeated in the scene between Carla [Jean] and Chigurh at the end of the film,” he said. “Both scenes highlight Chigurh’s ethical wasteland. In both exchanges, Chigurh does not respond to the moral reproaches inferred by the riposte; to do so would be a tacit acknowledgment of the secular morality he opposes … In requesting Carson and Carla to choose life or death on the toss of a coin, Chigurh is not just deferring choice to the realms of gratuity but he is also handing responsibility over to ‘fate' in an act of bad faith that prevents him from taking responsibility for his own ethical choices.”
Richard Gillmore states that “each of [the main characters in the film] is expressing a twofold understanding about the world. On the one hand, there is an inevitability, a sense that the world goes on it its way and that it does not have much to do with our human desires and concerns. On the other hand there is a sense that we contribute to our own inevitable futures with every decision we make, with every act we commit, that what is perhaps hardest to live with is not the inevitability that is associated with future we are looking at that is the result of what we have done in the past. In biblical language, we reap what we sow.”
Religious values and theological beliefs
McCaffrey explains that “Moss lives and experiences his alienation in his action, choices and decisions. We are first introduced to him as a nomad in the desert, an eponymous drifter who lives off the land and his own self-acquired skill in shooting pronghorn; his Vietnam blues and trailer lifestyle, coupled with his new found ‘profession’ as welder, bear witness to a washed-up life on the fringe. Moss and his actions embody acausality; an ‘unsuccessful’ rifle shot leads illogically and ironically to blood to reveal the presence of [a limping dog], which in turn leads Moss to a drug bust and the fated loot. Ironically, it is his return to the scene of the drug bust the next day (a move mirrored later in the film in the sheriff’s fated return to the scene of the crime – both further demonstrations of the triumph of inconsequentiality over sense and reason) that proves significant in the film’s acausal trajectory, in Moss’ ‘ethical’ profile and in his existentialist self-projection." [Author Douglas] McFarland … explains Moss’ return to help the lone survivor as a moral choice, motivated by (religious) compassion and an obligation to pre-established values.”
Alan Noble finds in Sheriff Bell’s dream at the end of the film “a hope for redemption outside of mankind”. “By the film’s end,” he says, “Bell seems to come to the conclusion that the evil that he has witness[ed] is unstoppable, and so he retires from his job as sheriff. This hopelessness concerning man’s ability to confront evil leads Bell to comment to his uncle, ‘I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn’t.’ Quotes like these have caused some critics to mistakenly label the film as nihilistic. The strikingly bleak cinematography, the lack of any music, the unrelenting violence, the absence of a show-down/confrontation between good and evil, and the sheriff’s retirement all lead the viewer to conclude that humans are ultimately and unchangeably evil. But the Coens (like McCarthy) leave us with a glimmer of hope in the form of a dream Bell relates to his wife. Going beyond nihilism, No Country‘s final scene (if properly understood) gives viewers a hope for redemption outside of mankind. While I would not recommend this film to everyone, for those who are not uncomfortable with violence and profanity, No Country compellingly exposes mankind’s profound need for salvation outside of itself.”
Jeffrey Overstreet adds that “we've never seen the Coens descend so far into the abyss of human depravity. Their primary endeavor—from Blood Simple to Miller's Crossing, from O Brother Where Art Thou? to The Big Lebowski—has always been to ask if the human heart might discover grace in a world spoiled by greed, murder, and folly. Mining the brittle stone of McCarthy's nihilistic narrative, the Coens can't find any trace of hope … ‘You can't stop what's coming,’ a prophetic old man tells Sheriff Bell. And Bell, so proud of his heritage of lawmen, is miserable at his insufficiency. ‘It ain't all waitin' on you,’ the old man cautions him. ‘That's vanity.’ And we're left facing questions that haunt so many great works of art: Who is the world waiting on? If God exists, why doesn't he intervene to prevent such apocalyptic violence? Whatever the answers might be, No Country for Old Men suggests that truth, justice, and the American way are not enough to save us from the dark and deadly winds of change.”
Tim Cawkwell highlights certain events depicted in the film and more predominantly in the novel that reflect attachment of characters to religious values. “This story set in the southern USA might have been about religious nuttery (end times, rapture and all),” he says, “but it is as much about the absence of religion. Towards the end, Bell muses that he had hoped to find God as he got older but hadn’t. Very close to the end (p. 304), his wife Loretta, his moral center and comfort (and who is largely marginalized in the film), is reading the Book of Revelation. ‘Any time I got to talking about how things are,’ says Bell, ‘she’ll find something in the bible.’ Bell says something quizzical about Revelation (the nuttiest book in the [ New Testament ]), and Loretta parries it without McCarthy allowing us to mock her. It is as if he is nostalgic for the possibilities of religious belief, and for the common values religion creates, as for a country before it was occupied by alien forces. All of value that remains is a sense of marital fidelity (Moss declining to go to the brothel because he’s married – p.85), of decency (Bell’s campaigning for the position of sheriff was ‘hard’ because he had to be, but he ‘tried to be fair’ – p.90), of manners (Bell removes his hat on his visit to Carla Jean in Odessa – p.125; he opens the car door for his wife – p.68), and of respect for religion (‘no cussing’ – p.67; no ‘making light of the dead’ – p.44).”
William Deresiewicz of The Nation elaborates on the religious upbringing and practices of author Cormac McCarthy. “Whether McCarthy remains a practicing Catholic is not known, he says, “(he is famously jealous of biographical detail), but he had a Catholic upbringing, and his work is driven by a Catholic sense of sin and evil. This is not to say that his novels articulate an identifiable theology. While they are obsessed with good and evil, sin and suffering, fate and death, their imaginative power and philosophical depth are founded on the agonized perplexity with which they approach such questions. Call it Catholicism minus revelation. McCarthy has a hundred ways of describing a sunset, but this signature image isn't deployed for mere decoration. Darkness is his master metaphor, the nightly reminder of our indefeasible ignorance. Daylight, knowledge and life are alike the briefest of intrusions on an eternal abyss. So while his work is saturated with religious emotion, it asserts no belief in God, redemption, heaven or hell, only in what the world of experience, he suggests, incessantly demonstrates: the wickedness of human nature and the overwhelming power of evil. Goodness exists in McCarthy's world, and it is beautiful, but it is also innocent, fragile and weak. Goodness exists, but only where evil has yet to hunt it out … [McCarthy’s style is] supremely audacious, biblical not only in its rhythms but in the right it claims to speak of the highest things in the highest language. No one since Faulkner has attempted this kind of thing, but McCarthy's daring surpasses even his master's, for his authorial voice seems designed to fill the place of an absent God.”
Crime of theft and variant ethical perceptions
Alison Young states that “in terms of plot, No Country for Old Men centers on one man’s theft of two million dollars from a drug deal, and the pursuit that follows on from his theft (and which results in his death). The film is a chase movie, but it is also, unusually, both a crime movie and a detective story. Although ostensibly a criminal, Llewelyn Moss is the film’s hero, an Everyman figure who commits a crime in unusual circumstances, and the spectator is thus able to view his theft an understandable rather than reprehensible.”
Stacey Peebles adds that “… later that night [after the theft occurred], he makes the decision to return to the circle of cars to give water to the wounded man who had begged him for it. He admits to Carla Jean that he’s about to do something ‘dumber’n hell’, but that he has to do it anyway. Moss has demonstrated his opportunism as well as his caution, and here he shows himself to be principled, even though putting those principles into action conflicts with his highly developed pragmatism.”
Roger D. Hodge of Harper’s Magazine believes that leaving the money behind “would be unthinkable.” He adds that “it is not only the old people in this novel who have lost their way. Moss takes the money he finds in the desert with the full knowledge that in doing so he will forfeit all that he loves. And yet he cannot leave it. Leaving it would be unthinkable; the world in which he finds himself has foreclosed that possibility. That world, of course, is precisely the world of the thriller, and it could very well be that the impoverished world of the thriller is the one in which we find ourselves as well.”
Degenerate times, evolving evil, and ageing anxieties
William J. Devlin analyzes the opening narrative of “the traditional western hero portrayed by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Bell relates the following about himself and his life in the West: ‘I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty five [years old]. Hard to believe. Grandfather was a lawman. Father too … You can’t help but compare yourself against the old-timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would’ve operated these times.’ Here, Bell acknowledges that he is part of a tradition – and not simply that of generations of lawmen in his family … But it is now 1980, and times have changed in at least three significant ways. First, the western frontier is no longer characterized as the ‘Wild West,’ where the land is unpopulated and unsettled, power-hungry tycoons dominate the innocent, and legal order is yet to be established. Second, though the ‘Wild West’ has been ‘tamed’ in one respect, the modern West has a new breed of lawlessness, [where] Bell explains in his opening narrative ‘… The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure.’ … Third, the hero of the West has grown old. Bell is no longer a young, twenty-five-years-old sheriff, ready and willing to act accordingly to his moral duties … Instead, he is now weary and cautious: ‘… But I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard.’ … Though the western frontier has been tamed so that towns have been settled and cities have developed, a new kind of wildness has now spread and ravaged the world. Bell, part of the tradition of the ‘old-timers’ … is confused as to how to handle this new immoral wildfire.”
William Luhr focuses on the experiences of the retiring lawman played by Tommy Lee Jones at the beginning of the film. “[He] feels that the evil surrounding him has metastasized beyond his comprehension and that he can no longer even pretend that he can deal productively with it," he said. "On one level, such comments reflect anxieties shared by many older people who feel that their world is passing them by, that the securities upon which they have built their lives are becoming ignored or invalidated. But [ David Fincher’s 1995 film ] Seven, No Country for Old Men and other recent neo-noirs indicate that more is involved, that a new era of evil is emerging. Such films partake of a millennial sensibility, a sense that the world is entering a phase so degenerate that traditional agents of law, stability, and continuity can no longer cope with, or even understand, it. Such films offer no hope for a viable future, only the remote possibility of individual detachment from it all.”
Richard Gilmore explains that the “evil man is of little interest to either Cormac McCarthy, the author of the novel, No Country for Old Men, or to Joel and Ethan Coen, the makers of the movie. What is of interest to McCarthy and the Coens is rather what happens when a good, but flawed, man encounters this force of nature in human guise. In this sense, No Country for Old Men recapitulates the patters of ancient Greek tragedy. As in ancient Greek tragedy, a good but flawed man will become enmeshed in events that will prove to be his ruin. It will be what is good in him as much as what is flawed that will engage him in these events, and his ruin will be complete. Oedipus is a kind of paradigm of the way the ancient tragedies begin and end. It is because Oedipus is so smart, self-confident, competent, and passionate that he ascends to the throne of Thebes and rules as a good and noble king. It is also because Oedipus is so smart, self-confident, competent, and passionate that he is able to complete the mysterious task sent [to] him by the Oracle of Delphi and to find the murderer of the previous King of Thebes, King Laius. Unfortunately, as it will turn out, it is Oedipus himself who killed the previous king, as predicted by the same Oracle of Delphi long ago … Llewelyn Moss is similarly smart, self-confident, competent, and passionate. His intelligence and competence lead him to the ‘last man standing’ (as Moss puts it to the man he finds dying in a truck, saying, ‘there must’ve been one’) and to the money. His compassion compels him to return to the site of the drug deal gone bad to bring water to the dying man who asked for it. It is not clear whether or not Chigurh or the Mexicans would have ever picked up the transponder signals if he had not gone back, but it is certainly clear that once they have found Moss and his truck at the scene, they will be on his trail wherever he goes. A fate similar to Oedipus’ disastrous ruin awaits Llewelyn Moss: both he and his young wife will be brutally murdered; all that he has will be lost … the ancient Greek tragedies were meant to serve [the] same function, that is, warning about especially human temptations that would lead to disaster.
Gilmore adds that “a key element of the Greek tragedy is the idea of the protagonist’s hamartia, the fatal flaw. Hamartia is a term derived from archery and literally means ‘off the mark’, signifying that one’s aim has been slightly off. The protagonist of a classic Greek tragedy must be essentially a good person, a person whose intentions are good but who does not really or fully know himself or herself. And this lack of self-knowledge is mixed with a bit of hubris, which puts off one’s aim. This is quite literally suggested of Llewelyn at the beginning of the movie when he is hunting for antelope and ends up shooting one in the hindquarters. In a sense, the entire movie is prefigures in this scene. It is a scene that shows Llewelyn to be highly competent, an expert in hunting … but the scene also shows his ultimate hubris, literally and figuratively. Instead of killing the antelope, he only wounds it, the worst possible outcome for a responsible hunter … His experience is a Greek tragedy in miniature.
Gilmore additionally explains that “there really are no easterners in No Country for Old Men. They are all, basically, westerners: tough, stoical, doers instead of talkers. There is one overarching wisdom that seems to be shared by Llewelyn, the old man Ellis (Barry Corbin), Bell, and even Anton Chigurh [Gilmore describes him “as a kind of avatar of death, a remnant of the ancient Greek gods, and his function is to undo or to make irrelevant everyone’s rules.”] It has to do with a sort of fatalism, which is very characteristic, I might add, of Greek tragedy. This fatalism is not quite a mechanistic inevitability, but it is definitely based on the idea that you are what you do and that what you have done cannot be undone, what decisions you have made cannot be unmade, and, finally, that what you do, what you have decided, will have its natural consequences in the world, and there is no avoiding or evading those consequences.”
Philip C. DiMare explains that “in the stories of ancient Greeks, tragedy was marked by the unfolding of fate, brought down on the protagonist because of one tragic flaw, the moral weakness within the hero that allowed the gods to have their way with him. Sometimes the gods acted directly. At other times the Furies would be unleashed to wreak their terrible and implacable vengeance. Set against a hardscrabble landscape, and richly cruel in its depiction of fate, the harsh tragedy of the 2007 film, No Country for Old Men, is like one of those ancient tales brought to life in the American Southwest. As in ancient tragedy, the hero brings his fate on himself, in this case by performing an act of mercy, and as in Greek tragedy his fate is personified by a frighteningly unstoppable personal Fury,” while Lewis Beale states that “on one level, No Country for Old Men, although set in the present day, plays like a classic western, one filled with quirky characters (a Coen trademark) and numerous shootouts. But it’s also a Greek tragedy of sorts, dealing with issues like greed and the increasing brutalization of social interaction. Thanks to Roger Deakins’ fine photography, it’s also a portrait of an out-of-the-way corner of the U.S. (southwestern Texas, along the Mexican border) invaded by outside forces it cannot possibly control.”
Relating the character of Sheriff Bell to the literature of Greek tragedies, Greg Grooms observes that “the old man of the title is Sherriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who tries in vain to protect Moss and arrest Chigurh, but in the end serves only as a sort of Greek chorus, observing the tragedy as it unfolds and commenting on it. It's tempting to see Sheriff Bell as nothing more than an angry old man unhappy with the world and his place in it,” while Gary Carden adds that “Sheriff Bell doesn’t have a major role … He seems to be a mere bystander — a law officer who makes a belated appearance at the crime scene, picks up a few spent shells and makes occasional observations like the Chorus in a Greek tragedy.”
Nihilism and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
Claude Mangion believes that “the character of Llewelyn Moss reminds us of the frailty and futility of the human will as it struggles to overcome meaninglessness. It was Nietzsche who pointed out, in [On] the Genealogy of Morals … that it is not suffering per se that bothers humans, but pointless suffering. Humans are ready to die – as testified by the Christian martyrs – if they believe there is a point to their death, if their death can be re-configured within a larger framework of meaning, a metanarrative. It seems that a necessary feature of the human condition is that the world within which persons live is meaningful, that there is a metanarrative to give coherence the seemingly random sequence of events. But what if this assumption is mistaken? What if, rather than meaning, order and reason, we find the forces of chaos, meaningless-ness and irrationality at work? Llewelyn Moss is confronted with this situation in the form of the capriciousness and ruthlessness of Chigurh.”
William J. Devlin notices that “in No Country for Old Men, without the final showdown between the hero and the villain, good cannot triumph. And so we see that the good either is killed (Llewelyn) or runs away (Bell). But does this mean that evil triumphs over good? Not necessarily. Bad guys, such as Wells and Chigurh’s boss, are killed, but it takes an even worse person to do it. Though that may seem to suggest that in the end evil wins, the film ultimately suggests something even worse: what is good and what is bad is all a matter of chance. Whether it is the attendant who lives by correctly calling the coin flip, Carla Jean who dies, Bell who ends up not confronting Chigurh, or Chigurh getting into a car accident–all of these events occurred by some degree of chance. This suggests that the question of good versus bad is no longer a significant question since these values can no longer be applied to individuals … This leads to nihilism in the western frontier. As Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) explains, nihilism occurs when one infers ‘that there is no meaning at all’; ‘everything lacks meaning.’ According to nihilism, life and the world are meaningless because there are no inherent structure, stability, order, or framework to them. As such, all the values that were once held to be significant are now seen as empty. Or as Nietzsche puts it, ‘the biggest values devalue themselves.’ We can see the sense of nihilism opening up toward the end of No Country for Old Men … Ellis, an old man in a wheelchair (which we can infer was caused by a criminal who shot him as deputy), learns that his shooter died in prison. When Bell asks him, hypothetically, what he would have done if the criminal had been released, Ellis cynically responds, ‘Nothin’. Wouldn’t be no point to it.’ He explains to Bell, ‘All the time you spend tryin’ to get back what’s been took from you, there’s more goin’ out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it.’ That is, Ellis suggests that there is no meaning, no value, to our actions in life. Acting according to moral justifications of justice, duty, courage, and so on is pointless. Further, as Bell explains his feelings of being ‘overmatched,’ he is disturbed by the thought that God hasn’t helped him: ‘I always thought when I got older God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn’t.’ For Bell, God’s presence in his life would help him to see his life as meaningful; without God, Bells falls into nihilism and is discouraged. Finally, Ellis summarizes the situation to Bell: ‘What you got ain’t nothing new. This country is hard on people … You can’t stop what’s comin’.’ … As such, the West is now a world where there is no rhyme or reason, and those within it are never held accountable. It has become a country without meaning and without any inherent value. The country, in short, has collapsed into nihilism.”
Anton Chigurh characterization
Manuel Broncano describes Chigurh as the ‘Antichrist’. “Of the three major branches of Christian eschatology,” he says, "No Country for Old Men orchestrates an apocalyptic rhetoric by which drug dealing is described as a devastating and biblical-like plague and Anton Chigurh as a true Antichrist. Furthermore … the text identifies him as the human agent of the demon Mammon. All this we learn through Sheriff Bell’s remembrance, in his attempt at making sense of things that go beyond his understanding … The opening monologue provides an interesting clue about the religious architecture of the narrative: the unnamed convict is depicted as a man who ‘knew he was going to hell’, a man who by his own admission has no soul. It is therefore evil at its purest, in close resemblance to Anton Chigurh, ‘the true and living prophet of destruction’, a being that is ‘real’ beyond doubt, for the narrator has been witness to his deeds. The sheriff is an individual who does not want to put ‘his soul to hazard’, a requisite to confront evil.”
Don Graham states that “we are introduced to one of Satan’s chief subalterns, Anton Chigurh, he of the pneumatic device, an otherworldly psychopath possessed of a philosophical bent … Chigurh’s philosophy doesn’t come from Christianity but from a source that’s not identified and is therefore sure to intrigue the intrepid McCarthy exegetes on the Internet … Bell is anti-abortion, anti-drugs, and anti-kids who dye their hair green and put bones in their noses. He thinks the disintegration of civic polity is much advanced. He thinks things begin to fall apart when people stop using ordinary manners … Bell’s forebodings, his absolute certitude that evil, however mysterious, certainly does exist, his very seriousness –all of this deepens and extends the [film] beyond the predictable boundaries of thriller.”
Jim Welsh assures that “there is no ultimate showdown between the professional lawman and the professional assassin, and one wonders if this is by accident or by design … Sheriff Bell is tracking a killer, but there will be no clear, dramatic confrontation, perhaps because Sheriff Bell knows he can’t cheat Death or kill the Devil, that the deck may be stacked against him. If not the Devil, then maybe a ghost, as Bell himself suggests? So who said he was chasing an abstraction? … The killer, the ‘ghost’, Anton Chigurh, seems too spooky, too otherworldly to be ‘real.’ Considering what happens to him in the story, Chigurh ought to be dead, but at the end, after being broadsided by an auto accident, he limps away to continue his never exactly specified mission. The man and his motives are utterly mysterious. Chigurh would seem to be the very personification of the Antichrist.”
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Co-Director Joel Coen believed that Chigurh "is the one character in the book that actually departs from a certain sense of realism, he’s both sort of real in the book and an idea.”
While discussing shooting techniques in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Cinematographer Roger Deakins wondered whether Chigurh was present in the motel room (where Moss was murdered) when Sheriff Bell returned at night to the crime scene. “I wanted the motel room to be totally black,” he said, “because [ Javier Bardem's character ] Chigurh is hiding in the corner. Or is he? So you wanted this kind of mystery.”
“Or [opposite such interpretations of Chigurh’s character], to quote [Director] Joel Coen from a bonus DVD feature on the making of the film, ‘It’s about a good guy, a bad guy, and a guy in between. Moss is the guy in between.’ (‘The Making of No Country,' 2008) … This is a very serviceable genre story for the Coen brothers to transform into an Oscar-worthy motion picture, and a playground of archetypes (from the mythical Celtic to the Bible) and stereotypes raised above the level of cliché’ and taken beyond the realm of allegory.”
Actor Josh Brolin described the character of Anton Chigurh as "the Grim Reaper." He added in a press interview released by Miramax: "He's the devil incarnate ... You don't understand [his violence], you can't pigeonhole it. You can't categorize it. He's very malleable, but not malleable on your terms, malleable on his own terms." Javier Bardem said of his character: "That's his power: You cannot really understand him completely. The good thing about Anton Chigurh is that he can't be described. He's not even described in the book by Cormac McCarthy. He doesn't need to be explained. It's a character that comes out of the land and, at the end, comes back to the land, which means everything ... What Anton Chigurh does is a new kind of violence, and I guess one of the issues that the novel, and the script and the movie, is talking about is the way to understand this huge wave of violence that has taken the world. Chigurh more than represents, he symbolizes the violence. [He] shows that violence doesn't really have an explanation sometimes, or any roots. It just happens, and it's unstoppable."
Alison Young states that “when Carla Jean refuses to call the coin toss on the grounds that the decision to kill her is being made by Chigurh rather than by a coin, he dismisses her protest: ‘But I got here the same way the coin did’. It is because of this code that he kills Carla Jean.”
William J. Devlin provides us with “an insight into Chigurh’s twisted moral consistency. First, Chigurh does not appeal to money or power as the greatest end for which one should strive. Second, Chigurh does not appear to be acting purely out of self-interest. By murdering his boss and Carla Jean, he gains nothing for himself. These two points help us to see why the traditional villain couldn’t make sense of Chigurh. His actions are not motivated by what normally drives the bad guy; he is not selfish and egotistical. Third, Chigurh’s own justification of his actions doesn’t appeal to the consequences that are produced; rather like Kant’s deontology, he justifies his actions insofar as they are ‘good’ in themselves. He kills his boss on the principle that his boss made a wrong decision. He did not stick with the one right tool, and so this bad decision entails the act of Chigurh murdering him. Likewise, Chigurh admits that there is nothing he gains from killing Carla Jean. But he must do it because he gave his word.”
The Hunter, the hunted and triplet occurrences
Scott Foundas stresses that “‘Hold still’ –it’s what the hunters say to the hunted in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men … [when] the out-of-work Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) whispering optimistically to the antelope he spies through his rifle sight while perched on the crest of a West Texas ridge … [and when] the steely assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) instructing the terrified motorist to whose skull he has just placed the lethal end of a pressurized cattle gun.” Foundas claims that “in the end, everyone in No Country for Old Men is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction. Even Anton Chigurh, it turns out, bleeds when wounded.”
Lydia R. Cooper focuses on the chase of the hunter to the hunted [in the novel] and claims that “events happen three times … [and] No Country for Old Men follows three central characters, Llewelyn Moss, who steals a suitcase full of drug money; Anton Chigurh, who chases Moss to retrieve the money; and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who chases Chigurh. The chase is segmented by major plot events that occur in triplet. For example, Moss encounters Chigurh three times. He escapes from Chigurh twice but is killed during the third encounter. First, Moss runs to Del Rio and cleverly outwits Chigurh, barely escaping him … next, Moss goes to Eagle Pass and gets in a shoot-out with Chigurh but manages to escape … and last, Moss takes his wife to El Paso, puts her on a bus, and flees … but when he stops at a hotel there, he is caught and killed in a shootout … Likewise, Chigurh narrowly escapes death three times. He is first caught with a distinctive murder instrument that could be linked to his past crimes and earn him the death penalty, but he escapes by killing the deputy … next, he gets shot in Eagle Pass but lives … and finally, he goes to El Paso to shoot Carla Jean and gets hit by a car but lives… Bell almost encounters –but just misses– Chigurh three times as well, completing the tri-episodic narrative patterns for the three characters. First, arriving at Moss’ Desert Aire trailer after Chigurh has left … second, Bell surveys the wreckage after the shoot-out in Eagle Pass … having missed Chigurh … and last, Bell arrives at the Van Horn motel while Chigurh is (presumably) still in the parking lot, but Chigurh manages to escape.”
The violent act of seeing and politics of visibility
Alison Reed explains that the film is “about seeing and who has the power to see: Chigurh [destroys] everyone who wields the gaze within a country that excludes him on the basis of [the] violent act of seeing …When Llewelyn calls asking for Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), Chigurh answers the phone and demands: ‘You need to come see me’. Chigurh is obsessed with the sight of his victims. Those who threaten to ‘see’ him (beyond the literal meaning) have little chance of survival. Wells is shocked to hear that Llewelyn has seen Chigurh: ‘You've seen him, and you're not dead?’. At a gas station Chigurh buys a bag of cashews, but this transaction quickly goes awry when the gas station proprietor makes friendly conversation: Gas Station Proprietor: Y'all gettin' any rain up your way? / Chigurh: What way would that be? / Gas Station Proprietor: I seen you was from Dallas. / Chigurh: What business is it of yours where I'm from, friendo? This man's attempt to pin Chigurh down geographically triggers the chance chain of events that wagers his life on a coin toss. Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald) thus irreversibly seals her fate when she says: ‘I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me’ … When the accountant in the businessman’s office asks if Chigurh is going to kill him, Chigurh responds: ‘That depends. Do you see me?’. The accountant’s lack of sight and resulting inability to fix a racialized identity on Chigurh saves his life. Chigurh’s desire to control and redirect the gaze also explains the outcome of Sheriff Bell’s encounter with Chigurh. After Llewelyn’s murder, Bell returns to the crime scene, noting that the door has seemingly been opened using Chigurh’s trademark weapon. Suspecting of Chigurh, Officer Bell draws his gun. Bell and Chigurh see each other’s reflections in the shot-out lock, but Chigurh does not murder Bell because Bell does not acknowledge this moment of seeing. Bell’s pretending to have not seen Chigurh suggests his own resignation to the force of inexplicable, lawless violence in the film: the force that Chigurh wholly embodies. Yet what goes unsaid in this scene, and the politics of visibility therein—explain Chigurh’s motivation for not killing the cowardly, unseeing accountant and for killing Llewelyn’s brave, seeing wife—Chigurh murders those who fix meaning on his appearance.
Chigurh evades the dominant order’s gaze by escaping un-interpellated from white suburbia. In Chigurh’s final scene, he is hit broadside at a suburban intersection. With one of his eyes bulging from his skull and a bone poking out from his elbow, he sits down on the sidewalk. In addition to the noonday sun, this scene has an under-saturated, bleached-out quality, and Chigurh is momentarily paler due to the impact of the crash. Two boys riding bicycles approach him, at which point Chigurh offers one of the boys money for his shirt to fasten a makeshift sling for his arm. The boy tries to decline, but Chigurh replies: ‘Take it. You didn’t see me. I was already gone’ … Chigurh ultimately escapes unseen into white suburbia on the nearly corrupted innocence of a kid, who does not identify him as the other. His inability to “see” Chigurh also saves his life. Chigurh quickly leaves the scene of the car accident, and in so doing, remains outside of the law.”
Ethno-racial perceptions and the US-Mexican border
Alison Reed states that “it seems no coincidence that the Coen brothers’ filmic reproduction of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men erupts in a xenophobic political era obsessed with national boundaries … Between U.S. and Mexico border stations lies the Rio Grande River, which disrupts the fixed line between the Spanish-speaking, dark-skinned other and the Western cowboy. In this fluid, ambiguous space on the bridge between Mexican and American land, Llewelyn first confronts the American subject as racialized other. Suffering potentially fatal wounds from Chigurh’s semiautomatic machine gun and leaking blood from his boots, Llewelyn stumbles past the U.S. border checkpoint. In this in-between space, Llewelyn meets a group of college-aged men returning to the United States … When Llewelyn’s appearance cannot be explained by a car accident, these white men in turn codify him as the Mexican other … As the figure of the abject at the border between Mexico and America, life and death, self and other, he decides to throw the rest of the money over the bridge before entering Mexico. His jacket, concealing his blood-stained shirt, and his beer, excusing his sweaty, dirty, damp and otherwise unkempt appearance, carry him safely into Mexican territory without hassle from the uninterested border patrol guard.
Upon entering Mexico, Llewelyn forfeits his markers of whiteness—the cowboy hat, the crisp white work shirt, the stiff denim—and thus all too easily slides into otherness. After his encounter with the three American men, he wakes up in a Mexican hospital with the bounty hunter Carson Wells at his side. The bouquet of flowers that Wells holds out in front of him starkly contrasts the white walls and sterile furniture of the small hospital room. Llewelyn, stripped of the visual cues that mark his whiteness and instead draped in a nondescript hospital gown, appears Mexican only in relation to his environment: his darkly tanned skin, slick black hair, moustache, and four o’clock shadow juxtaposed against the whiteness of the hospital walls and of Carson Wells. Wells, hovering over him with blond hair, blue eyes, and a cowboy hat, replaces Llewelyn as cowboy: without the visual markers of his Texan identity, Llewelyn no longer clearly reads as white. When Llewelyn walks back into Texas, still wearing his white hospital gown, he must convince the Border Patrol agent to admit him back into the United States. Unconvinced and threatening, the border patrol agent admits Llewelyn only at the moment in which Llewelyn secures his status as a Vietnam War veteran. Unable to be pinned racially, Llewelyn proves his whiteness only by virtue of his military service.
Bringing the ethno-racially ambiguous Llewelyn into relief is the Mexican other—unspoken, unspeakable, dangerous. The Mexican actors in this film, all extras, are the butt of racist jokes. For instance, Bell notes that ‘Supposedly, a coyote won't eat a Mexican’ and Carla Jean’s mother exclaims that ‘It’s not often you see a Mexican in a suit’. The film’s sensationalist depiction of Mexicans as drug trafficking criminals goes unrecognized because they are depoliticized, nameless faces. Llewelyn’s and Chigurh’s visual ambiguity points to the ease with which categories of race and ethnicity slide into indeterminacy.”
The role of women
Ryan P. Doom claims that “the women in No Country for Old Men serve no purpose other than to offer support. They do not influence the story in regards to action or the decisions that the men make. It’s as if the setting were indeed in the Old West, as if the women lacked the right to vote. Tough minded and independent they might be, but both Carla Jean [ Kelly Macdonald ] and Loretta Bell (Tess Harper) mainly just complement their husbands and care for them. They exist outside the men’s world and cannot understand the unrelenting violence the men face until faced with it themselves.”
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times believes this issue is observed in many Hollywood pictures. “IRON MAN, Batman, Big Angry Green Man [ The Incredible Hulk ] — to judge from the new popcorn season,” she says, “it seems as if Hollywood has realized that the best way to deal with its female troubles is to not have any, women, that is … That’s as true for the dumbest and smartest of comedies as for the most critically revered dramas, from No Country for Old Men (but especially for women) to There Will Be Blood (but no women). Welcome to the new, post-female American cinema.”
Monica Hesse of The Washington Post further complains that “[Awards committees] decide that "No Country for Old Men" -- dark, stark, violent -- is better than "Juno," a comedy about a pregnant teen. They nominate Cate Blanchett for playing a man, but judge her against women. (This was really a mind-trap.)” [Blanchett played Jude Quinn, a portrayal of Bob Dylan in the 1965–1966 era, in the 2007 film I'm Not There].
Erin K. Johns, however, disagrees. “First portrayed as an obedient and subservient wife,” she says, “Carla Jean gains agency as the film progresses; she becomes a woman at odds not only with her husband, Llewelyn, but also with Anton Chigurh, the systematic and cold psychopathic killer who relies on the system of fate … Carla Jean Moss and Loretta Bell, Ed Tom’s wife, recognize and work with and against all of the different and constantly adapting masculine systems. The two major women in the film offer the only places of resistance to the ultimate masculine system: the justified fate that Chigurh inflicts through death.
In the scenes involving Ed Tom and Loretta, Loretta always functions as the voice of reason and common sense; her attitude is one of great confidence and mockery in her position as responsible wife and homemaker. As Ed Tom loads the horse and attempts to placate his wife, Loretta responds by laying out the “law” he should be following at work: [Loretta: ‘Be careful’ / Ed Tom: ‘Always am’ / Loretta: ‘Don’t Get hurt’ / Ed Tom: ‘Never do’ / Loretta: ‘Don’t hurt no one’ / Ed Tom: ‘If you say so’]
Codes, whether original or new, are thus inscribed in the masculine gender throughout No Country for Old Men regardless of whether Chigurh is a psychopath or not. The real psychopathic system is the law, the patriarchal system that demanded subjects, objects, and no resistance–a system that both Loretta and Carla Jean recognize and attempt to resist in different ways.
By refusing to call the coin toss [in the scene with Anton Chigurh], Carla Jean proves that the coin really has no say and that in the end it is just Chigurh; she exposes the insignificance of the code that Chigurh lives by because she realizes that it is yet another masculine code. The coin toss code is the same as Llewelyn’s hunter code and Ed Tom’s law.
Although set in the 1980s, No Country for Old Men exposes the rapidly changing gender structure of the twenty-first century: one where stereotypical and traditional male roles are constantly being resisted and replaced by roles that have traditionally been termed feminine … Perhaps, as the end of the movie suggests, a man can either wither away quietly into retirement or fashion himself a sling for his broken body–still disappearing from the scene like a ghost. In either case, No Country for Old Men shows that a ghost is all that is left of masculine or patriarchal systems and codes.”
West Texas: Landscape, settings and history
In an interview with The Guardian, Joel Coen emphasized the importance of landscape in his films. “There's a very direct relationship of character and story to landscape, or location,” he said. “It's hard for us to come up with a story unless we establish that pretty early. It's hard for us to write a story that can take place just as easily here or there. It has to be specific. The 'here' is where you start.”
Co-Director Ethan Coen explains that “the setting is actually part of the reason that we wanted to do this film. We'd done our first movie (Blood Simple) in Texas, although that was in Austin, but we'd also traveled through West Texas, and were attracted to it even before we read the book. The setting is so integral to the book, to the story — it’s about where it takes place as much as anything else. It is a very beautiful landscape, but in a bleak rather than picturesque way. It's not an easy place to live in, and that's important to what the story is about — the human confrontation with this harsh environment.” Joel Coen concurs that “it’s a place with a history of violence and of being inhospitable in a way. As with all of Cormac McCarthy’s novels, the location is a character itself — and it can't be separated from the story.”
Ryan P. Doom refers to the effect of landscape in the Coens’ films. “In the Coen world, characters and settings always remain fused,” he says. “Both Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men’s Texas landscape evoke clichéd tough-Texas-cowboy characteristics while Fargo and Intolerable Cruelty embody the eccentrics of the North and West.”
Richard A. Blake states that “a Coen film looks ‘real,’ yet the landscape plays an eloquent mythic role in the dramatic action. In their earlier masterpiece, Fargo (1996), the barren North Dakota countryside provided a menacing counterpoint to Marge Gundersen’s (Frances McDormand) hugely pregnant body: cold and warmth, evil and goodness, death and life. In their current film, the Coens lead us through the desert of the Texas border country. This is not the vast ennobling desert of John Ford’s Monument Valley that our heroic ancestors crossed as they built a nation. This is a land of scorpions, rattlers and flies … The skies over the desert press down over the characters as though the vast landscape of Texas can provide no hiding place from the monster that dwells within. Neither the glorious colors of sunset nor the bleaching light of noonday can mask the horror.”
Nathan Kosub calls No Country for Old Men “a great Texas film.” He adds that “it is great unequivocally, but Lone Star pride is a rare opportunity in Hollywood. Texas has always been a popular myth for directors, from the Texas-in-Utah of John Ford’s The Searchers to the Texas-in-Canada of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. Joel and Ethan Coen made their first film in Austin (Blood Simple) and cast Lubbock musician Jimmie Dale Gilmore as Smokey in The Big Lebowski (‘Mark it eight, Dude’). But No Country for Old Men is a whole other state entirely. In West Texas, there is no purer indication of the landscape’s isolation than the silhouette of a pair of boots on a man sitting alone beneath a single tree. Llewelyn even calls him ‘el último hombre [the last man],’ and waits until he dies to approach him. Here, too, is the horror film’s essential nature: one frame of a truck parked on a ridge at night, followed by a second frame of a second truck parked beside it. When the lights on the second truck go bright, we’re running with Llewelyn towards the river.”
Jim Emerson describes the landscape and settings as reflected in the film’s opening scene. “The land is black, swallowed in the shadows,” he says. “The sky is beginning to glow orange and blue. This is Genesis, the primordial landscape of No Country for Old Men. We may think we’re looking at a sunset at first, but the next few shots show a progression: The sky lightens, the sun rises above the horizon to illuminate a vast Western expanse. No signs of humanity are evident. And then, a distant windmill – a mythic Once Upon a Time in the West kind of windmill. So, mankind figures into the geography after all. A barbed-wire fence cuts through a field. The camera, previously stationary, stirs to life, and pans (ostensibly down the length of the fence) to find a police car pulled over on the shoulder of a highway. There’s law out here, too … The movie intensifies and heightens your senses. Light is tangible, whether it’s sunlight or fluorescent. Blades of grass sing in the wind. Ceiling fans whir (not so literally or symbolically as in Apocalypse Now). Milk bottles sweat in the heat. Ventilation ducts, air conditioners and deadbolt housings rumble, hiss and roar.”
Richard Gaughran states that “we visually encounter the bleak, endlessly flat terrain of west Texas. The published screenplay refers to the landscape as ‘broad, bare, and lifeless’ … In No Country for Old Men (2007) the filmmakers return to west Texas, with much of that film’s action playing out against … a desolate landscape … the setting becomes a character at least as important as any of the human characters … Paul Schrader says of typical noir settings, ‘When the environment is given an equal or greater weight that the actor, it, of course, creates a fatalistic, hopeless mood. There is nothing the protagonists can do; the city will outlast and negate even their best efforts.’”
Alison Young also observes that “a strong sense of place is evoked: In No Country, rural West Texas is made palpable in the characters’ accents, the widescreen shots of the harsh landscape, and the buzzing of flies around the bloated corpses found by Llewelyn Moss as they lie rotting in the desert sun,” while Richard Schickel of Time Magazine adds that “the landscape is as bleak as the moon’s dark side and its relatively few inhabitants lead lives that are scrubbed down to the basics. That is to say, it is pretty much kill or be killed.”
Douglas McFarland quotes Joel Coen on how the character of Anton Chigurh relates to the landscape depicted in the film. “In an interview published in The New York Times upon the release of No Country for Old Men, Joel Coen describes his conception of Chigurh: ‘He’s like the man who fell to earth. … He’s the thing that doesn’t grow out of the landscape.’ This rings true as far as it goes. Chigurh does seem to be some alien menace who operates outside categories of human understanding, certainly ethical categories.”
Roger D. Hodge of Harper’s Magazine presents a brief history of the West Texas region where the events in the novel took place, and describes its effect on McCarthy’s literature. “The stories I have heard of Indians and outlaws and Mexican revolutionaries,” he says, “cattle drives and gunfights, droughts and floods and other frontier hardships, may be the products of a world that in large part is already extinct, but they are not figments of a merely literary imagination. McCarthy's novels are the works of an artist who has excavated the tailings of that dying world.”
Hodge further investigates how the author may have chosen the West Texas region as a setting for his novel. “Why [did McCarthy] not set his novel farther south and west, in the Big Bend,” he wonders, “where volcanism and mountain building produced the most graphically violent landscape in the state? Perhaps because the area near Langtry remained wilder longer than any other part of the state. Because it was, and is, a place of outlaws and smugglers and rustlers. It is also the site of a lost culture whose traces are still visible in the ancient rock shelters along its canyon walls.
In No Country for Old Men, as in every other novel he has written, McCarthy insists on the relics of ancient, vanished peoples in his landscapes. And he makes no secret of his view that those whose lives he describes are no less ephemeral. Indeed, what the landscape of West Texas suggests is that the ranchers who have peopled [his] last four novels [ Cities of the Plain, The Crossing , All the Pretty Horses , and Blood Meridian ] are a good deal more likely to vanish without a trace than were the Indians, whose art, exposed to the elements for thousands of years, still bears witness to their lifeways. The metal implements used by the ranchers to make horseshoes and axes and elaborate irrigation systems have rusted and are crumbling into dust, together with concrete water troughs and cedar picket stock pens. Some of these artifacts may survive to be puzzled over by future generations, though perhaps it will be the opium tins and pipes and iron woks of the Chinese workers who populated railroad camps for a year or two along the Rio Grande in the 1880s. Or other nameless implements that were used to chisel passages and tunnels for the railroad. Or the clever wire swivels used by Mexican goat herders to stake kids under rock lean-tos in kidding camps. This landscape, which appears almost empty today, is a palimpsest of cultures. All of them lost, undone.”
Film ending and final scene
Co-Director Joel Coen stated that “the ending of the movie is taken verbatim from the end of the novel. That was one of the things that interested us when we first read the novel, just as a story, the way that Cormac set up an expectation of a genre piece in a way, and sort of pulled the rug out from under you as you read it.”
Dana Stevens of Slate criticized the film ending. “Even in their best films”, she said, “the Coens have trouble with endings (witness the mood-destroying Sam Elliot speech that weighs down the final minutes of the otherwise delightful The Big Lebowski). The last scene of No Country for Old Men, in which [Sheriff] Bell recounts his dreams to his wife Loretta (Tess Harper) is a tacked-on chunk of Meaning that seems to bear no relation to the tragically futile bloodbath we've just witnessed.”
Curt Holman of CL Atlanta also argues that “there's something deflating about the film's final scenes. McCarthy raises the ancient problem of human evil: Is it an inherent flaw of human nature, or the net result of random fate? McCarthy seems to conclude that it's a generational thing. ‘Anytime you quit hearing 'Sir' and 'Ma'am’, the end is pretty much in sight,’ says [Sheriff] Bell, and you suspect he's only half-kidding.”
Actor Josh Brolin, however, defended the ending of the film. "I love that people are talking about this movie. I love that people leave the movie saying, 'I hate the ending. I was so pissed.' Good, it was supposed to piss you off," the 39-year-old star told MTV News. "You completely lend yourself to [my] character and then you're completely raped of this character. I don't find it manipulative at all. I find it to be a great homage to that kind of violence." After being chased by Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh the entire movie, Brolin meets his violent end off-screen. Soon after, his wife is brutally murdered off-screen as well. After all that build-up, all that destruction, the film ends, not with an orgasmic culmination of violence, but with a quiet monologue from Sheriff Tom Bell Tommy Lee Jones. "If you were expecting something different, Brolin argues, that "says more about you than the movie. You wanted to see his death, why? Because you're used to it. Aren't you so pleased to see a different take on the same cat and mouse game?" he asked.
Ciro Discepolo emphasizes that “the key to understand the whole film … is the two dreams that Tommy Lee Jones relates to his mate in the final scene,” he said. “In his first dream, the sheriff sees his own father handing over some money that he would lose: old generations handed over to us values we have lost. The other dream shows the sheriff and his father riding a horse. They have to pass through a narrow and dark mountain pass. His father overtakes him and lights a natural torch; he then settles down and lights a fire that gives light and warmth, then he waits for his son. This is the hope that the country – that country and every country – could eventually find out the right way to a place with a warm fire and much more light.”
Lucia Bozzola explains the meaning of the "dream" in the final scene. "Considering that [Sheriff] Bell opened the film by musing that his law enforcement progenitors wouldn’t know what to make of the violence nowadays", she said, "not to mention all of the references to Chigurh as a ghost, it’s not that tough to figure out why Bell’s dream matters, or why he’s chosen this path. He’s never going to be able to do what his father did as far as law and order because there’s always going to be a specter that’s ahead of him. Or a Terminator. If he’s going to survive in this country, a good man has to give up. I suppose this is how the West was lost."