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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Posted Live from Nedra's Party

The first rule of being lame at a party is to borrow someone's computer so you can update your blog. The first rule of blogging is to go back and edit for spelling and content later.

I came here directly from dinner at the 611 Supreme. And we went there directly from the theater where we had just seen The Golden Compass, which was full of pleasant surprises. My biggest fear, having read some of the reviews and clamorous complaints, was that they would strip the shockingly anti-Christian content out of the storyline. The GC and its companion books of the Dark Materials trilogy are brilliant fantasy fiction partly because of the brave theological stand they take. They focus on a villain far more real and terrifying than Lord Voldemort... Pullman instead takes steady aim at those among us (hint... it rhymes with matholic murch) who would ask us to sever ourselves from maturity, sin and human complexity. I didn't find the cinematic version to be bowdlerized at all. Far from it... it's almost as incendiary as V for Vendetta... or at least it will be (hopefully) once the series is finished.

I have only two real complaints... the story feels incomplete and audiences will no doubt have to wait until next Christmas for the second chapter. And secondly... they need to turn the cheese factor and the volume down about 2 notches on the soundtrack.

Secondly... while eating dinner and talking about the film, Diane and I also discussed No Country for Old Men... which she had just seen as the first half of a double dip at Pac Place. And... drumroll please... I think I have a satisfying interpretation for the film at last. I've been bothered with my last review (in which I dismissed the film as a curmudgeonly rejection of the modern world.) I felt like I was missing something, and I actually invited someone to disprove me in the post. Today I struck upon a theory that makes much more sense to me... and gives me a chilling new possibility to ponder.

Warning: Spoiler Alert (seriously folks.)

The story of NCFOM revolves around two parallel characters who never exactly intersect. Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem coexist like binary stars; their gravitational fields causing a mutual orbit without any contact. But I wasn't quite sure how to interpret one pivotal scene. The biggest climax of the film comes when Jones goes back to a hotel room that serves earlier as a "scene of the crime". We see Bardem waiting in the dark of the room and Jones nervously come inside. This is where we expect a showdown between the ultimate goodguy and the ultimate badguy... but instead nothing happens. The camera cuts away and we follow the two characters going about their lives with no apparent consequences to their meeting... in fact, it feels like they didn't actually meet at all.

A primary conceit of the film is that the audience has to fill in certain blanks. Early on, a character notices that a quarter is from 1958 and someone says that the quarter is 22 years old. Thus we know the film is set in 1980... other than that, no one mentions what year it is. Late in the movie, Bardem's character kills a woman in her home. We don't get to see what happens. We have to piece it together based on the fact that he checks his boots when he walks out the door. We know from earlier scenes that he is conscientious about having blood on his boots... thus we know he actually killed her. Clearly the Coen brothers have set up a movie where you have to be observant and infer what happens during certain missing scenes or solve little puzzles to make sense of the narrative.

But the biggest gap is what happens during the big showdown when Jones goes into the hotel room. WTF actually happens there?! It seems impossible to infer such a huge gap in narrative. But today I struck upon an elegant solution. I don't know if everyone else already figured this out... or if other critics have already postulated this theory... but my new thought is that Bardem's sociopath gets the drop on Jones's old sheriff character. Having easily overpowered him, Bardem falls back on one of his tricks... the coin flip. The movie is actually bookended by scenes featuring a coin flip. Call it correctly and Bardem lets you live... call it wrong and you're a dead man. For whatever reason, Bardem's character enjoys letting things unfold based on a random chance. If Jones flips the coin and calls it right (which results in Bardem letting him live)... it would explain two major things: 1) How Jones and Bardem wind up just going along their separate narrative paths after their showdown, and 2) Why Jones is radically shaken after this point... after this he is intently focused on his own mortality and ready to retire. I don't know if this is what McCarthy or the Coens intended... but it makes sense to me.



At 12/08/2007 10:58:00 PM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

Jones is not radically shaken after this point. He is clearly in a reflective state of mind throughout the entire movie.

But you're right about parallel paths. Think of blood trails...and how Moss got involved in the first place.

Also Chigurh does not believe in random chance at all. He believes in Fate which decides who lives, who dies, and how things come to be on the path they're on.

It's Two-Face who believes in chance.

At 12/09/2007 02:22:00 AM, Blogger soapysteve said...

I have two theories.

1. I think Chigurh, aka Shoo-GER, does not kill the sheriff because without the sheriff Chigurh could not exist.

He may seem emotionally detached from everything, but I'm certain Chigurh likes what he does - killing with impunity. He definitely takes some pleasure in it. But he's not reckless. To borrow another D&D phrase, Chigurh is lawful evil, acting like he's on some kind of mission, forcing his reasoning (and his internal logic is VERY strict) on others, laughing when they say he has a choice not to kill them, etc., so clearly he believes he has a specific role to play in the grand scheme of things. He does not suffer from low self-esteem or ennui.

As Patrick Bateman said in "American Psycho," perhaps Chigurh, as a serious psychopathic character, feels blameless because evil is not something you choose to do, but something you just become without consent. He does what he does because that's just what he does - and we're back to "Endless Nights," eh YJ5?

I believe that, were he to destroy the sheriff, a supreme force of good and also the primary force working to solve the puzzle laid out with bodies as pieces, Chigurh's identity would vaporize. In a world of total chaos and nihilism - which the sheriff fears is inevitable - the killer would just become part of the scenery. I think Chigurh's relationship to the sheriff is symbiotic, and Chigurh knows this.

2. I think he watched the sheriff without killing him for the lust. The way a cat studies a cornered mouse before batting it to death. Like delaying gratification or savoring the taste in the air just to get oneself excited. He did seem to get an orgasmic charge out of choking that deputy in Scene 1.

Sort of like the killer in "Silence Of The Lambs" reaching out for Jodie Foster's hair in the pitch black basement rather than just knocking her out, which he easily could have done. Now THAT was a chilling moment.

At 12/09/2007 12:15:00 PM, Blogger John said...

At a deeper level, I agree with your contention Soapy... that Chigurh needs the Sheriff in order to balance his existence. But on a superficial level, I needed some explanation behind what happens in the hotel room. The idea of the coin flip works for me. It gives Chigurh a mechanism for letting the Sheriff go.

And I'll have to watch it again in order to put the scenes in better order... but Jones does seem different to me after this moment in the movie. After this scene, I don't think there's any more humor with his character (there's a fair amount of it before this scene.) His recounting of a dream is clearly talking about having a vision of his own mortality, and he seems to feel that his time is done (that he is useless.) Truly he has decided that this no country for old men. And staring down the barrel of Chigurh's shotgun while flipping a coin for his life would surely do that to a man.

At 12/09/2007 01:14:00 PM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

It is too vital a missing piece in the story-line to have occurred. In my review, I say that I believe the Coen's DELIBERATELY did some things off-kilter (the fate of Moss, the Sheriff and Chigurh confrontation that doesn't happen) to keep the movie from being a classic, all neatly tied up with all questions answered.

Consider this: It's a cat-and-mouse game between Moss and Chigurh. It's a pursuit. Welles comes in pursuing Moss, so he must be eliminated. But what does the Sheriff, who is two steps behind Moss and Chigurh have to do with the money?


Moss' wife--she was a part of Chigurh's "mission" from the phone-conversation from the hospital. No, the only guys left to go after is the truckful of Mexicans.

Chigurh is controlled by Fate. He thinks Fate is the reason for everything. We're all at the point where we are because that's WHERE we're supposed to be, where we're fated to be. The coin-flip isn't determined by chance. Fate has already made the decision and the coin-toss only confirms it.

We could say that the coin that Bell sees on the floor is the one from the flip, but we know it's what he used to open the vent.

And Bell is feeling that way from the beginning (I feel), but CERTAINLY after he stares at the abyss of the television screen that previously held the image of Chigurh.

I think this movie calls for a sit-down-together-discussion.

At 12/10/2007 11:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick Bob said...

I agree with Mr. 5, in that the Sheriff wasn't a part of the knot tied around the money, so he would die only if he got in the way. "Nothing", indeed.

My guess is that when a second viewing of the scene is taken, that we will see that the vent cover was in place when the Sheriff went to check the bathroom. When he sat on the bed and saw the cover removed, he was hit with the realization that he had just brushed by the man responsible for the cold-blooded deaths that had made such an impression on him from the beginning. It's doubtful that such a careful man as Chigurh would allow a lawman to see his face, knowing him to be what he is, and allow him to leave the room alive. I certainly don't see him putting his own life at risk on a coin flip.

I certainly feel less safe tonight in my otherwise snug home.

At 12/10/2007 11:25:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Nick! I'm glad you made it to the blog and posted thoughts on this one. Are you suggesting that Chirgurh escapes through the vent? That seems way too loud and clumsy to work, especially when Chigurh could just opt to shoot TL Jones. And I don't think he'd have time to do it given that he's looking at TL Jones's reflection in the missing lock cylinder as he's about to enter the room. And I really don't buy that he escapes during the time Jones is in the bathroom.

I agree that it's a huge portion of plot to be missing. I guess I'm proposing that this movie is doughnut shaped... and the big old hole in the middle is the most important part.

At 12/11/2007 04:09:00 AM, Blogger Nick Bob said...

Glad to be here.

No, I'm suggesting he was removing the cover as the Sheriff arrived, so he stops and waits in the shadows as TL Jones enters and inspects the front room, moving finally to the bathroom. Chigurh methodically finishes the removal, takes the money and quietly leaves through the front door. I pose the question: isn't it significant that he hadn't noticed the removed grate on the first walk-though? Maybe because it hadn't been removed yet. Perhaps murdering a sheriff would bring unwanted attention his way, and he'd avoid it unless it became unavoidable. The sheriff seems to have seen clearly all through the film to this point, there would be little doubt in his mind how easily he would have ended up like all the rest of them. That ought to be sufficiently unnerving to conclude he 'was overmatched', and likely for the only time in 40 years as sheriff.

That makes the final murder even more cold-blooded, as it was not even a matter of finding the money, he already had it.

I'm glad I met you at Ned's, John, I would most likely have put this film off for another month, and it was a great pleasure. Golden Compass is next!

At 12/11/2007 05:48:00 PM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

Personally, I think you'll find the vent was already off, and that Chigurh took the time when Bell was in the bathroom to quietly leave.

One of the thing about Chigurh's character is that he gets away with eveything...the police won't even know about him in the accident ("I already left"), and he is ONLY able to walk the path of evil by not being known to the authorities--he's not on any "WANTED" posters--he's not on John Walsh's show--he can do as he pleases, and he leaves no trace. He doesn't even have a gun that can be traced by its caliber.

Chigurh spares the Sheriff (and I don't think it's a matter of "spares"), so that he can remain anonymous and free (except to those in the underworld, of course)

You know Richard--the guy who plays trumpet in front of games. Quite handicapped. But he has a list of people he wants to meet--in the order of the list. Pat Cashman went up to talk to him, and Richard ran...he didn't want to meet him yet, because he wasn't next on the list.

I think Chigurh opeartes on the same loopy logic of Fate and Purpose.

I still think this requires a sit-down discussion, and I'm in town on Wednesday.

At 11/13/2009 02:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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