No Country for Old Men, adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen from Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-Prize winner novel, is plain, scary and brutishly violent. Though the title appears neither in the book nor in the movie, is part of the first line from William Butler Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium”:
THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
The film was honored with numerous awards, garnering Three British Academy of Film awards, Two Golden Globes, Four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).
No Country for Old Men is a wild cat-and-mouse drama, with a purebred psychopath (Javier Bardem) at its center. Instead of an expected resolution, the movie turns into one man (Tommy Lee Jones) understanding himself and the new world. The film takes place in a small Texas border town in 1980. Sheriff Bell has ruled the land for years, as his Grandfather and father did without a gun yet the new kind of evil and brutality flow has seeped into the world-to his world and made it impossible for him to fight without the use of a gun. Llewelyn Moss, a welder and a Vietnam veteran who lives in a trailer with his devoted wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) is an innocent common man. Through Llewelyn the themes of fate and circumstance, pessimism, nihilism, motifs of chance, free-will, & predestination, which are familiar territory for the Coen brothers in their earlier movies Blood Simple and Fargo
is examined when he “comes across” a drug deal gone deadly and finds two million dollars which he is determined to keep for himself. But there is a problem: one of the most evil psychopaths that the white screen has ever seen tracks him down! Anton Chigurh using a pressurized weapon that’s used to murder cattle, keeps on his mission to return the money to its rightful owners to save his own life. Whereas the chilly sensation created by Chigurh is a sign of terror, it is also a symptom of delight. As the tension rises, the number of the murders begins to rise, confirming Sheriff’s inability to battle this new wave of modern brutality.
More attention should be paid to Anton Chigurh to make his mentality clear: Anton the killer lives under a simple discipline- if your “fate” brings you to see him then you’re destined to die just like how a coin comes to your possession. Thus he does not feel guilty, he thinks that it is destiny not him to put the blame on. The best he could do for you is an appeal to the destiny of the coin- a coin toss.
The movie is not a simple face-off between the good and the evil. It does not justify only one deed. It just tells you that things are complicated and interpenetrated.
“No Country” is unexpected not because of its abrupt end but because of its every minute, every little nimble shot and faultless sound design. What impresses me most, generally speaking about all kinds of art, is that the work of art should not say or show what feeling it aims to have on you but rather it should make you feel in the way. Instead of saying “the whole summer was so boring and dull”, it should bore you with its narration and it should establish such an atmosphere that you would hardly finish “the summer”. And “No Country” does it exceptionally good. Many modern films today use bombastic music or tatty “tricks” to create tension or to impress. The Coens, contrastingly, know how using little or no sound drums up a scene’s anxiety and tension level. It stretches your senses out but not with. The silence and the slowness make you feel “home” as if you are in the hotel room with Llewlyn watching tide from the closet and the only thing you hear except for your vigorous heart beats is the creak of floorboards and the beeping of a transponder. This silence awakens your senses. Your attention is absolutely absorbed and you do not want to image what is going to happen even if you know what will happen. Another astonishing scene appropriate as an example for the “silence technique” is towards the very end. After we witness the tension between Anton Chigurh and Mrs. Moss, everything seems ordinary, children are riding their bicycles, we are relieved, Chigurh crosses the road slowly when the green light is on and suddenly he is hit by a car. Thus your relieved nerves are suddenly tense again! This is perfect.
Upon watching the film you are not just struck by what you have just witnessed but also how faithful the film is to novel. Therefore, it does deserve the Academy Award for the Best Adapted Screenplay. Yet there are still some differences:
The book is clear about the end of the confrontation of Mrs. Moss & Anton but the film is. She also doesn't refuse to call heads or tails on his coin: She calls it incorrectly. The first hotel confrontation between Moss and Chigurh plays out very differently: In the book Llwelyn holds Anton to ransom at a gun point and then the tale of stalker vs. prey starts. A hitchhiker, a teenaged girl who Llewely befriends in a way in the novel doesn’t exist in the movie but the same impact is given the movie, too. There is a lot of Ed Tom Bell narration that isn’t in the film. For a film I think it was just enough of Bell’s thoughts and i believe it was cut on purpose.
What the film does better: The film is richer and less “desert” with more of an oppressed dread. And also without really changing anything, the movie stretches out some of the book's quick-sketch processes, turning them into little mysteries. At several points in both the book and film version, characters gather ordinary objects and use them step by step to a suprising end. McCarthy tends to spell it out in bare sentences while the Coen Brothers strech it out thus raising the ongoing question "What is he up to?" and emphasizing the innate cleverness and creativity of the two leads in particular.
What the book does better: Mostly, it's more thematically consistent. You hear more from Sheriff Bell who opens, ends and spaces out the book, making it more clearly about him and his conviction that America is falling apart, becoming the kind of place where fellows like him just don't belong anymore.
After he finishes telling his dreams to his wife, he says that “Then I woke up”. He awakens, he opens his eyes to reality and he knows that he cannot handle this bare brutality thus he realizes that there is no country for old man. See? The movie achieved what I mentioned: Without literally saying “there is no country for old man” it says that “there is no country for old man.”
The dreams have symbolic meanings, the sheriff had two dreams: First Dream: The sheriff lost the money and is accused by his father. Second dream: He follows his father to the warmth of the fire in the midst of a cold world. The former refers to the legacy that the sheriff received from his father - he was a lawman. The sheriff lost this heritage. In the beginning of the film, the sheriff marvels over lawmen who didn't wear guns. The meaning is that lawmen, even with guns, are rather impotent in the face of evil. These lawmen of the old days knew that a gun couldn't protect them - the sheriff realizes this when he's in the dark motel room with Anton.