I saw No Country For Old Men while down in DC visiting my friend Will. We watched the film with a dangerous, alert focus, awakened from our banter and daily motions by the actions and words unfolding on the screen. It was as if the Coen Brothers had used McCarthy’s novel to peel back a layer of obfuscation from the world with a sharp paring knife, cutting deep into the haze that covers everything and then trapping that layer between blade and thumb and pulling it away to reveal a stark and stunning reality.
The movie is brutal, stark, visceral, and brilliant. The violence is matched by the dialogue and the vitality of the characters, such that rather than distracting, detracting, or overwhelming the movie, it compliments and underscores the message being revealed: the world is a hard place, with no room for fairness, fairy tales or justice. People fight to live as they will, people die doing so, people die for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The world is without compassion, a merciless millstone that grinds all who seek to traverse its stage into scoria and dust. Strength of character, whether good or ill, is what might see you through; but even then accidents may happen, and the strongest may be struck low by ill fortune.
But what saves the movie from bleak nihilism is the beauty of the land and people’s attempts to understand the why of things. There are no answers, but in their questing, in their seeking, set against backdrops of expansive West Texas grandeur we find a fundamental resonance with our own questions. Even though this film gives no answers, it speaks with a bleak authority that makes us listen intently to the musings and words of the characters. They squint at the horizon, they look down upon mangled bodies, they gaze at their own reflections and we feel that through their eyes we are apprehending the problem of living in a manner stripped of all illusion.
It is a hard movie to watch, a film that challenges you, that dislocates you from comfort zone, a film that is perhaps too intent on revealing one certain facet of life at the expense of others, but you emerge from the movie theater alarmed, alert, deep in thought and challenged to examine your precepts and assumptions. Perhaps that is and of itself is better than any answer it could otherwise seek to give.