gather me into the artifice of eternity
I’m watching No Country For Old Men for about the 10th time this afternoon when it hits me. If you’ve never seen the movie you’ll have to forgive me if I make references you don’t understand. Truth is, if you haven’t seen it you might as well click out of this blog and find something more to your liking. I tend to view the world as people I like (those who have seen No Country For Old Men and enjoyed it) and those I have no use for (everybody else) so you’ll forgive my impatience at those that fall into the latter category.
What was I saying again?
I know, a truly hideous and self-absorbed thing to say in a monologue where clearly I could have just stopped typing and reread what I just typed but honestly I hate to lose steam when I’m clacking along.
Anyway. No Country is nothing more than the classic ‘What If’ scenario. The whole damn thing boils down to 1 moment. 1 decision. Moss decides to return to the scene of the crime to bring a dying man some water.
That’s the whole movie. There are countless other decisions made before and after that one but the whole movie is about that decision. You might interpret this as him doing the “right” thing but clearly this ignores the morality about stealing drug money to begin with. Smarter men than I could write books about what makes him choose this path over the others available to him but the bottom line is simply he made a decision and the filmmakers obviously found this decision to be the more interesting one because they wrote the damn thing and this decision is what drives the plot.
Could there have been even a small chance of writing as engaging a film had they chosen to follow his exploits of not bringing the dying man water and living out the rest of his life as a content and wealthy family man? Probably not.
The Coen brothers make amazing movies. There can be no argument. In this one they paint with dark brushes but still allow a few twinkles here and there for good to raise its ugly head. The extremes of Sheriff Bell and Anton Chigurh play perfectly against the flawed but decent character of Moss. There is grayness all around, why let it ruin a perfectly good story?
And always it returns to the pivotal decision. Now myself I couldn’t actually believe that a man would be dumb enough to have returned to the scene with water. Especially not someone as pragmatic as Moss. I think it’s apparent that the Coen brothers find stupid decisions much more entertaining than rational ones. Every time I watch the movie now I find myself imploring Moss not to go back. Not only do I know what happened but I get the weird feeling that even he, as he is written, knows what this decision is going to bring him.
And yet he still does it every time I watch it.
This decision is the only one that could have put him into contact with Anton Chigurh. The fact that Chigurh is the most memorable character sort of reaffirms that there truly is no country for old men here in the ‘real’ world. You could argue that if there was any moral to be had it would be to be on one side or the other. Both the black hat and the white hat live to see another day while the man in the middle finds only death. I’ve even heard it said that Moss was committing suicide by bringing water to a man he knew was already going to be dead to atone for his first sin of greed. I don’t put much stock in that interpretation.
It boils down to this. The most interesting stories come as a result of mistakes. For anyone who doesn’t already know, the title of the film comes from the first line of the Yeats poem “Sailing to Byzantium”. If you’ve never read it then I would highly suggest it. It echoes the themes of the finality of our decisions. Who could argue that the self-destructive nature of man creates the most fascinating situations?
Or maybe it’s vice versa.