Thursday, January 31, 2008
In defense of No country For Old Men...yep...I kind of want it to win Best Picture Oscar. I haven't seen Atonement yet...probably this weekend...but I have a feeling I will still be rooting for the Coen Bros. after seeing it, the story of Atonement just doesn't sound like something that would interest me...I didn't really like The English Patient I was a little like Elaine on Seinfeld "That's not a love story. Give me something I can use!"
Asterisk wrote a good movie review of NCFOM a few days ago...and the discussion is really worth checking out. The movie seemed to generate a lot of questions and mixed feelings...and two dozen comments! I was pretty impressed. Although I loved There Will Be Blood (which is like Treasure of Sierra Madre meets Citizen Kane)...and I think it is a brilliant story and good movie...I don't think it has as many innovative and incredible aspects as NCFOM. Something...not much mind you...is missing in TWBB.
I have been surprised to find, that many things I thought were amazing about the movie No Country For Old Men were not of interest or even noticed by many viewers. It seems many viewers see it as a genre film exclusively and therefore a cliche. Same old same old. I do not agree. I believe it's a movie where the audience takes from it what they choose...
So here is a quick list defending the storytelling of the film No Country For Old Men
1) Although it functions as an action film and crime genre it offers other layers and themes.
2) The Coen Bros have made another "anti-Hollywood" film. Trailers sell the movie as an action film when the moral of the story is to reject the action offered by our society...recreate your own action.
3) The off-screen death of James Brolin's character Moss has been a contentious weakness for many viewers. "Off-stage deaths" are a literary device of ancient tragedy. The purpose is to reveal a "false protagonist" (like Janet Leigh in Psycho was a false protagonist...even though Hitchcock wasn't using an off-stage death). Brolins character is a Vietnam Vet who feels he is entitled to a little "summin summin" seeing as he never got his as a war hero from his country. We care about him, especially American audiences understanding the context of Vietnam vets...and we want him to "get away with it".
4) There are two "false protagonists" in the movie. The other is that wicked and compelling bad guy "ant on sugar" played by Javier Bardem. Whoops! Nope he is not our hero of the story either folks!
5) Instead our "hero" is a stodgy conservative old man...who is always several steps behind the bad guys and action. We follow a slow moving...day dreamy anti-hero who is more and more disillusioned with life and "justice" each minute of the film. He seems to want to take a nap rather than be in the movie role. He is terribly sad, almost impossible to relate to...at first...
6) The movie proposes that the game of life...as it's played now...is not at all "fun". When will people get it through their heads: the house always wins.
7) The idea that two former Special Ops guys (Harrelson and Bardem) not only knew each other from the past but also both work for some corporation that smuggles drugs is a really fun plot idea...and interesting when compared with the recent release of a Rambo sequel.
8) The movie offers an "anti-showdown" too. This one tense scene outside a hotel room might be the very reason this movie should get best picture...and it has stumped audiences. Here is a site that tries to understand what happens in the "show down" between Chigurh and Sheriff.
9) Maybe the biggest risk the Coens took with this movie was the ending. We heard people complain about the ending in the theatre, on web boards, in reviews on blogs. The final scene between Sheriff Bell and his wife reminded me of the scene in Fargo when Marge visits an old school chum Mike. You can read that scene right here. In amongst all the story of Marge in Fargo this oddball meeting occurs. It has nothing to do with the plot, action and seems so out-of-place. But it tells us a lot about Marge, about love and company and in my mind is linked to this final scene of Sheriff Bell and his wife. (and remember Fargo also ends with a cozy scene of husband and wife in bed talking about stamps and birds)
10) Loretta Bell: How'd you sleep?
Ed Tom Bell: I don't know. Had dreams.
Loretta Bell: Well you got time for 'em now. Anythin' interesting?
Ed Tom Bell: They always is to the party concerned.
Loretta Bell: Ed Tom, I'll be polite.
Ed Tom Bell: Alright then. Two of 'em. Both had my father in 'em . It's peculiar. I'm older now then he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he's the younger man. Anyway, first one I don't remember to well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he's gonna give me some money. I think I lost it. The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin' through the mountains of a night. Goin' through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin'. Never said nothin' goin' by. He just rode on past... and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. 'Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.
11) The pagan references to dream analysis, vision quests, a father figure and the horn relate to mythology and rebirth and wisdom...like Marge in Fargo with her husband, talking about the blue-winged teal, the future, new life a mallard duck disguised in prosaic talk of postage stamps! The father carrying the horn with fire "like we used to" is a reference to unicorns, to Father Helio, to Goddess Moon...the horn was associated with the moon's ring of light. Anton Chigurh may have had his own pagan games with his coin toss reminding his victims of the idea of fate and randomness of death...but Sheriff Bell's sleep of ancient mythology is the anecdote. The idea that we can play the game and win is beaten down: it is our vanity that thinks we can beat darkness with its own game and rules.
12) There are no clean get aways.
13) We can't beat evil or people like Chigurh by playing in the same game. We can't fight the challenges of society with it's own rules or laws. We can fight darkness by consulting our own inner wisdom represented by "the light inside the horn".
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