No Country for Old Men, a novel written by Cormac McCarthy in 2005, follows the events surrounding three central characters: Sheriff Bell, Anton Chigurh, and Llewelyn Moss. The story focuses on Moss as he attempts to escape his mortality at the hands of Anton Chigurh, a hitman hired to retrieve the large sum of money that put Moss in his current predicament. In the meantime, Bell, a WWII veteran who is appalled by the violence he witnesses in modern day Texas, follows Chigurh’s trail in an attempt to thwart the fulfillment of his contract against Moss. A central theme present throughout the book is the presence of evil in the world (represented by Chigurh) and its constant clash with the forces of good (represented by Bell). An additional theme that can be recognized is that of the choices one makes in life and how they impact the surrounding world and people within.
The film adaptation of No Country for Old Men was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen in 2007 and follows the same plot as the book. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Bell, Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, and Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss and is shot in a manner reminiscent of classic Western films but employ the use of graphic violence in order to emphasize the evil such strife represents through characters like Chigurh. The film also utilizes the time of day as a means to give the film a very dark feel being that the majority of its scenes are shot at dusk or in the evening. Contributing to the sense of reality portrayed by the characters in the film, the soundtrack chosen by the Coen Brothers is quite understated and leaves some scenes completely devoid of musical accompaniment.
As a whole, the Coen Brothers effectively translated McCarthy’s work onto the silver screen with very few inconsistencies. The film manages to carry over most of the central themes of the book but, due to the time constraints involved in film-making, some of the deeper analyses of said themes are lost even though the audience is still given moments of introspection through Sheriff Bell through his own narration. Like the book, the film has a very heavy emphasis on violence which was done in a way that prevents it from seeming excessive (e.g. Tarantino films). The graphic nature of the film takes a page (no pun intended) from McCarthy in that the conflicts are still scene as being more meaningful than “violence for the sake of violence” and manages to maintain the feeling that the conflicts are more representative of something much larger (e.g. Good vs. evil, Submission vs. Death).
3rd Party Sources
A post from Jim Emerson’s “Scanners” blog which explores the alternative possibilities involved in deciding what each character in No Country for Old Men represents.
An interview conducted between John Patterson of “The Guardian” and Ethan & Joel Coen where they discuss the difficulties presented through the use of violence in film-making.
An interview with composer Carter Burwell in which he describes his initial expectations for the musical score and sound design of the film as well as how effective the understated musical score was in the final product.
C. This interview grants the reader/viewer a rare opportunity to watch the Coen’s film from the perspective of the sound design team and lead composer; an experience that gives one a deeper appreciation for the pivotal role that music plays in a film. The amount of thought and detail described by Burwell in this interview is staggering as he relays just how difficult it is to strike a balance between the emotionally-driving effects that music can cause, and its more fantastical traits that can result in a disconnect when the director(s) are striving for realism. For instance, during the gas station scene between Chigurh and the proprietor, Burwell describes a method he employed in which he snuck in very subtle notes that were almost indecipherable from the hum of the refrigerator. The musical analysis given by this interview makes for an infinitely more fruitful and enjoyable experience.
The character of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men has been cited as an example of nihilism, a philosophy that holds life has no meaning and that there is no such thing as objective truth. Does this label fit Chigurh (does he have a value system?), or is he just a psycho-killer?
A proper analysis of Anton Chigurh’s character is a rather daunting task that will certainly differ depending upon to whom the question is posed. Despite the fact that Chigurh carries out his work with a cool, calculated callousness that is unique to sociopaths, I feel that nihilism is not the proper term with which to describe his character. After watching Chigurh’s interactions with Moss’ wife, the clerk at the gas-station, and Carson Wells, it becomes obvious that he leads his life with a conviction that would be incompatible with nihilism. I believe Chigurh views himself as a tool of fate who, like his coin, is merely a messenger of destiny who does not take responsibility for his actions. For example, Chigurh flips his coin throughout the film as a means to make decisions of great significance. He does not blame his coin for the outcome, and by this token he does not feel he can take responsibility for carrying out his contracts. The blame/responsibility lies with the hiring party and Anton considers himself as an extension of their will. Thus, at face-value, Chigurh views himself as a tool of man, but in a deeper sense he most likely views himself as fate incarnate. Were he to kill his victims indiscriminately, I might subscribe to the “nihilist” theory, but it’s quite obvious he adheres to his own code. Perhaps a better word to associate with him would be “amoral”.