No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Probably my favorite movie of the 21st century and one of my favorites of all time. It's my birthday, so it was the first movie I thought to rewatch to celebrate.

What makes this movie special is it can be watched on a more surface level as a neo-western, with some twists and turns thrown in; it can be watched as an older man coming to terms with the chaos of a new violent world; or it can be watched as a movie of violent karma, where the universe rains down immediate punishment for your actions.

To do that latter reading, you need to look at the red dot of retribution that life puts on your forehead the moment you make a choice. When Llewellyn Moss comes across the aftermaths of the shootout at the beginning, he has a choice to save the remaining Mexican who is still alive or take the money he finds and go home. He chooses the money. Sure, later, he finds his conscience and returns, but it's too late then. The man is dead.

From that moment on, Anton Chigurh is after him. I have a metaphorical reading of the Chigurh character, though I also feel it may be literal as well. Chigurh is the grim reaper. He's not even necessarily a human, he's just the embodiment of punishment. Everyone who gets in his way of his mission, to kill Llewellyn Moss, dies. Like a bullet firing at his target, it cuts through anyone in the way.

Occasionally, however, Chigurh runs into other people who are more benign to his mission. As he is not so much a human who makes decisions, he then flips a coin, allowing fate to decide. This abolishes Chigurh from making a choice and allowing him to be a force.

The reason I think this reading may be as literal as it is metaphorical is the talk from Chigurh about people not being able to see him. After shooting Stephen Root's character in his office, the other man in the office asks if he's going to kill him. Chigurh responds with "It depends on if you see me or not." Later Woody Harrelson's character Carson Welles makes a comment about being surprised Moss has seen Chigurh and lived. And then in one of the more tense moments in the movie, in the third act, Tommy Lee Jones' character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, enters a hotel room of where Moss was murdered. You clearly see Chigurh is in the room, but when Bell enters, Chigurh is nowhere to be seen.

Like the Grim Reeper, when you see him, it's your time.

The moment Chigurh starts to become human is when his mission of revenge starts to become personal. On a phone conversation with Moss, he tells him he knows exactly where Moss is (a hospital) but instead of going right for him, he chooses to go after Moss' wife instead. He is angry that Moss is hard to catch, and his anger makes him want to do more than kill Moss.

Then, out of nowhere, Moss is killed off screen by a second group who was after him. I know this moment is considered frustrating to some viewers, but the frustration is intentional and made to mimics Chigurh's frustration that he didn't get the kill he wanted.

At this moment, Chigurh's mission should be over. But now driven by revenge, like a human, he goes to Moss' widow's house. His widow, Carla Jean, explains to him he doesn't need to kill her. Chigurh tries to skirt responsibility by making her call the coin toss. But Carla Jean, played wonderfully by Kelly McDonald, refuses to. The frustration and despair in Chigurh's eyes at that moment says it all.

He then walks out the front door, looks at his shoes, indicating he killed her on his own volition and is now checking for blood, and then gets in his car. At this moment, he is full human who has made his own choice. And a target is on him. The Grim Reeper, this time, is in the form of a speeding car that T-bones him at the first intersection he crosses. Causing Chigurh to walk off to his death.

The film then ends with Bell, years later, confused and haunted. He grew up with an idea of good and bad and thought he knew the rules and that he was the one to administer the punishment. Now he realizes that the universe is the only true law and order, and he is just along for the ride.

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