Analysis of the Book
No Country for Old Men is Cormac McCarthy’s commentary on the displacement of traditional values as modernity invades society. Through Sheriff Bell, McCarthy imbues conservative viewpoint resistent to change, he is a character who believes that modern values are what’s making the world a deplorable place to live in. He is a jaded man of law who has been around long enough to see how crime has evolved and escalated into something more ruthless and grotesque. The methodical hitman, Chigurh, embodies this modernity as he doesn’t adhere to traditional morality, relishes in violence, and is concerned with only himself. Llewelyn is the middle man, grappling with both worlds and demonstrating the struggle between moving forward and adhering to old ways of doing the right thing by not only himself but with others.
Analysis of the Film
No Country for Old Men is reminiscent of great American westerns of yesteryear, as it is set in small towns of western Texas and it’s outlying deserts and at times has a noir feel to it. There is the morally upright sheriff on a mission to find the hopelessly evil murderer, Chigurh, who brings death where ever he goes. Like old noir films, we get an insight into the Sheriff’s mind through his voice over and his dialogue that shows him trying to figure out the crime and his values. This murderer causes him to doubt the beliefs he grew up with and question the cultural shift in the world around him. Directed by the Coen brothers, this film’s central theme is the displacement of traditional conservative values in the shift towards modernity. Tommy Lee Jones excellently characterizes the emotionally and philosophically troubled sheriff. Javier Bardem’s performance of Anton Chigurh brings to life his cold, calculating, and apathetic nature towards human life. Viewers are captured by the cat and mouse hunt between Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss and by the enigmatic motivations of Chigurh. This film ultimately tries to criticize and figure out America’s modern moral character in a time just before our society turned highly technological.
Analysis of the Adaptation
Aside from the voice over narration at the beginning of the film, Sheriff Bell’s internal commentary, which is scattered throughout Cormac McCarthy’s novel and reads as a type of diary, is noticeably absent. Although these stand alone monologues are transformed in the context of dialogue with other characters, which changes the impact and interiority seen in the novel. It also diminished Sheriff Bell’s central role (as seen in the novels) into a subsidiary role. He is pushed to the dark corners of this film and not a huge focus, which embodies McCarthy’s idea that in the swiftly changing modern times, old men like Bell are no longer paid attention to and their roles in society are seen as less essential to move forward. In fact, every time Bell is on screen he seems to be mourning the past in some way. He talks about neighbors not caring about each other, children not calling their parents “sir” and “ma’am,” and even laments the old way of killing cattle. Besides this, the Coen brothers managed to make a movie that was almost identical to every scene in the novel, making it one of the most accurate adaptations seen so far in this class. Chigurh is excellently acted by Javier Bardem catches the stoic, darkly determined spirit of Chigurh while Josh Brolin exhibits excellently a man in desperate conflict trying to outrun his decisions. Tommy Lee Jones plays the nostalgic, world weary sheriff fed up with people’s indifference towards each other. The Coen brothers force audiences to pay attention to the little details that McCarthy points out in his novel by omitting a sountrack and forcing audiences to see the scene for all its elements.
- An interview for Empire Magazine where Javier Bardem discusses the nature of his character in No Country for Old Men and how he and the Coen Brothers arrived at Chigurh’s look in the movie.
- James Wood of The New Yorker reviews No Country for Old Men the novel and analyzes McCarthy’s style of prose and what it signifies to readers.
- Matt Zoller Seitz reviews No Country for Old Men and tries to figure out some of the themes that the Coen brothers were trying to explore in this film.
What is the title No Country for Old Men supposed to signify? Is the “country” the land of the American Southwest, the United States as a whole, or both? And why do the “old men” no longer belong there?
The country refered to in the title is America as a whole and old men are losing their refuge in the last American frontier because of the progress of modernity. The American West and South West were the last frontiers for America in the early 1900s, around the time that Bell’s father and grandfather were growing up. Land was being claimed and it was a place where a man could roam free on the land he claimed as his. Bell is nostalgic for a time when men would look out for one another and brotherhood was rampant especially in a small town like the one he has to help protect. Instead, he now sees a changed world where neighbors don’t even know who they live next to. Due to the swift stream of modernity starting to hit the country in the 80s, old men were starting to see a new America that was foreign to them. The movie opens with Bell’s narration and promptly cuts off and isn’t heard from again is telling that what McCarthy and the Coen brothers are trying to say, which is he doesn’t belong and there is no more room for him. Bell is an old voice, a patriarch from another time, whose values are no longer valid and seen as obtrusive.