Monday, December 19, 2016

Better In Your Head?--NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

SPOILER ALERT, 'cuz ain't no mercy for lazy readers.

Cormac McCarthy

-We got another execution here Sheriff?
-No, I believe this one's dead of natural causes.
-Natural causes?
-Natural to the line of work he's in.

Texas. Fella named Llewelyn Moss stumbles onto the aftermath of a botched drug deal. He snatches a satchel with over two million bucks. That should be that. But that ain't that. He returns to the scene later that night to belatedly honor a dying man's request.

That's where he messes up. Now he's runnin' from some bad fellas. He fought in the last war, this Moss, so he ain't a bag of hammers. But it's all of them angry fellas against this one desperate fella, so you can tell how that's gonna end.

Shame. He has a wife, and they have some crackerjack conversations. She's 19, he's in his 30s, roundabout. They met in a Wal-Mart.

Fella named Ed Bell. He's the sheriff, an old-school lawman, laid-back but razor-sharp. This "new kind" of criminal confuses him. The savagery. He rides the leather around the parched landscape, haunted. By wars large and small, won and lost. By the way reality weaves its way in and out.

All the paths have gone crooked, and lead to nothin' but madness.

The last fella is a stun-gunnin' hitman--Anton Chigurh. "The ultimate bad-ass." Blood cold as a polar bears balls. He treats people like people treat small insects. One thing about Anton, he doesn't have a single enemy in the whole world. 'Cause he killed 'em all. 

These are three men carrying around minimal waste. They do one thing that needs to be done, then they do the next thing that needs to be done. Surely along the way at least one of them sneezes, or scratches. The author isn't concerned with the little things, though.These are terse men inhabiting tense environments, with country ways of speaking, acting, thinking and (on occasion) speaking.

Together, they comprise a stupendous story shimmering with suspense. Typically an author will set a scene. McCarthy sets a scene, offers it coffee, takes its temperature, then snaps its last known photo.

Apostrophes and quotation marks are both MIA. Some readers may find that off-putting. Their loss. Moss looks at himself in a mirror a few times, but always resists the urge to take in what he sees. Adverbs are almost as scarce as hope. One page panting, the next glistening.

No Country For Old Men is a crime thriller, an Old West parable…and much more.

Directors-Joel & Ethan Coen
Writers-Joel & Ethan Coen

Two hours in the DMV, and you can feel a flu bug ready to bite. Ten minute drive to the pharmacy, and you can feel a tire ready to blow. Four hours at the auto shop, and you can feel an artery ready to rupture.

Life and death has been the way of the world since its creation, with suffering and pleasure meted out in between. Who deserves what, when, and how much will be argued over until its destruction.

Watching as Llewelyn Moss, the self-saboteur of his own dumb luck, faces challenges that would immobilize a lesser human is oddly invigorating. "Oddly," since I knew his ending would not be a happy one (by my standards) and since he's not precisely a righteous protagonist. He's stubborn, selfish, and Josh Brolin.

Everyone lives and everyone dies, even the "wet-eyed" killer, with his compressed air tank of unorthodox death, walking as though anticipating quicksand or a landmine underneath each step.

Javier Bardem received awards for his indelible turn as Anton Chigurh, but (just like the book) the hero of the piece is Sheriff Bell. Craggy-faced and plain-spoken, Tommy Lee Jones is a perfect throwback of a lawman, a good guy fighting the good fight in a bad-to-worse world. He respects the vitality of life and the finality of death. But he doesn't always understand, especially not the threat of Chigurh, whose stoic devotion to the duty of murder is emblematic of society's decline.


Wow is this close. I mean I'd almost rather get beaned by a horse shoe or juggle hand grenades than decide. The Coens took McCarthy's work and amplified it. The movie grabbed well-deserved Oscars for Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Director and Adapted Screenplay. The bros do nothing audacious with the material, but then again, the fact they adapted No Country For Old Men was itself audacious. Both book and film even conclude in the same abrupt, stark way (although only movie audiences acted cheated out of something. Movie audiences also don't like it when the good guy is killed, much less off-camera).

The written word can't match the immediacy of a bullet-storm, but flickering images won't allow languishment in the aftermath. McCarthy is a master, the Coens are masters, but a master novelist is worth three master directors.

Unlike Coppola with The Outsiders, the Coens were not so besotted by the original novel that tweaks and twists were unthinkable.

Take Moss's last stand, which isn't much the stand at all, in either. Book Moss meets up with a hitchhiker chick. She's all about new starts; sounds good to him. Their prickly verbal volleying is the hot sauce shaken on the eggs scrambled. G's go missing, ponders get pondered, and the air is filled with noise always, since they both understand that quiet=death. Awesome to read, not so awesome to watch. So the Coens make the hitchhiker a "Poolside Woman" at some godawful motel, and give us no insight into who she is or what she wants. Besides to share a beer with a married guy.

The most egregious alteration, and one that I find utterly brilliant, is the death of Carla Jean Moss.

Every once in awhile, ruthless motherfucker Anton "Ruthless Motherfucker" Chigurh decides to embrace the arbitrary. Rather than just blow a hole in someone's head, he'll pull out a coin. Heads? Tails? "That's the best I can do," he explains.

Early in the film we see Chigurh ask the question of a bumbling Texaco station clerk. The man makes the right call, and saves his life. Near the end, Carla Jean is offered a way out.

In the book, Carla Jean is a pleading wreck of a woman who (just like her husband) makes the wrong choice and seals her fate. In the movie, though, she is either petulant or noble (depending on your point of view) as she refuses to say "heads" or "tails," insisting that Chigurh is in control and will do as he wishes regardless of the result.

Leaving us with hellacious ponders: what drives this seemingly indestructible man? Does he indeed abide by an ethical code, even as he mows down over a dozen people? Chigurh is a fatalist. Those who die by his hand have it coming. They have done wrong by someone somewhere and must thus atone. Mr. Moss must die, and Anton must be the man to make it happen. And since he did not cooperate in order to save his wife, she must die as well. Maybe? Would Chigurh have spared a game Carla Jean? Was that even a possibility?

Neither Llewelyn nor his wife placed much stock in the idea that man is helpless to the demands of destiny. Each espouses the concept of free will, be it Llewelyn telling Chigurh that he will escape his wrath or Carla Jean calling out Chigurh for capriciousness. Could Llewelyn Moss have really resisted the lure of that "forty pounds of paper"?

So, great decision to give Carla Jean the gift of defiance, and makes up for not being treated to the sight of Javier Bardem sitting in his hotel room watching soaps. (He would totally be a Roger Thorpe guy.).

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