Old man for No Country

The flight from Heathrow to Dulles took more than nine hours, which was long enough to watch parts of seven different movies three times. Since one of those movies was No Country for Old Men, none of the other movies stood a chance. By the time we arrived, I had become a student of the movie. I just hope it isn’t in my dreams tonight.

The central figure, Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, is a psycopathic killer who personifies death and chance in unequal measure. It’s a landmark performance. Every performance in the film is strong, but none of the characters stand out like Chigurh’s.

His motives? His quarry is money, but that’s just a point on a path. There is no doubt that he will get the money, and that people will die along the way. But death itself has no motive. It is merely inevitable. Like Anton Chigurh. The Terminator, the Alien, the guy DiNiro played in Cape Fear… all the relentless bad guys we’ve known… don’t compare easily with Chigurh. Because all the others could be, and were, defeated.

Death can’t be defeated. In Chigurh, it could only be wounded, because he is death in human form. But he is still death.

Which is on my mind more as I get older. The old men in the movie — Tommy Lee Jones and cohorts of his generation — are barely older than me, if they’re older at all.

Being older, if not yet “old”, requires increased acquaintance with the certainty that Your Time Will Come.

I plan to procrastinate. For some things that’s a helpful skill.

Meanwhile, a highly recommended movie.


  1. Crosbie Fitch’s avatar

    Having recently flown Gatwick->Atlanta->SaltLakeCity->JacksonHole and also recently seen NCFOM, I sympathise.

    For an antidote try Kurzweil’s new movie:

  2. Aron Michalski’s avatar

    Ever since I saw the movie when it first came out, I was saying that this was one of the most powerful characters in a long, long time. It is the Grim Reaper, Frank Boothe and The Terminator all in one. I immediately went to buy McCarthy’s book and was astounded at how well the Cohen’s adapted it. I usually like to read the book first, but I am actually glad that I did it backwards this time. As glad as I was for Bardem to get the Oscar, the Cohens getting it for the adaptation was just as deserved.
    Then there was an article in Rolling Stone about McCarthy’s hanging out at the Santa Fe Institute (http://members.authorsguild.net/dkushner/work1.htm) which directed me to reading “The Road”, which was is about survival, hopelessness and the relationship between a father and son. Not a feel good book, but an amazing read.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Crosbie. I didn’t even know Kurzweil had a movie. He’s another local (and a friend of freinds) here that I’d like to get to know.

    About No Country for Old Men, Aron, I have to say that I generally don’t like feel-bad books or movies. Life’s too short, etc. I think watching this movie on the small screen (one of those that pops up out of the armrest) helped. Also the fact that it wasn’t as gory as it would have been in the hands of more typical directors. But maybe some of the gore had been edited out for the in-flight version. Not sure.

    I’m tempted to buy the book, though I have to admit that novels have a hard time competing for my time against the non-fiction that fuels my curiousity in general. I remember loving E.L.Doctorow’s Ragtime when it came out in the Seventies and looking forward to reading his Welcome to hard times, which turned out to be relentlessly depressing. As I recall everybody dies. But so does everybody, period. We just hope to live long enough to live a few stories of our own, to love and laugh an take chances and accumulate enough knowledge and wisdom to pass along, because we’re not taking it with us. Some of which may be among McCarthy’s points.

    As I said, Chigurh gives death embodiment and purpose. When he says to Loretta Moss before flipping his coin, “This is the best I can do,” you know killing is his business. One senses from her side of the dialog that she is doomed either way. When she blames him for being responsible, she is blaming death itself for doing its business. Death might be personified in Chigurh, but it’s not personal. As Clint Eastwood, playing the killer William Munny famously put it in The Unforgiven (another excellent and depressing movie with a similar theme), “We’ve all got it coming, kid.”

    It’s interesting to make death the mystery, when life is what’s truly exceptional. The plastic on which I type, the wood of the desk on which my laptop sits, the lime in the plaster of the walls and the cement in the sidewalks outside the windows, the tar in the asphalt of the roads, the coal and oil that turns to heat and powers the computer and the vast power grids, are all products of dead matter: that is, matter from life’s ends. Fallen trees, dead plants and animals turned to lime ooze or swamp muck and then lithified into coal or refined into oil. Even the banded iron formations from which we derive most of our steel and alloys was precipitated out of llife’s first bloom in oceans two billion years ago. As John McPhee put it, this was an event through which our world would not go twice. The products of death are so common that we can treat them as the opposite of rare. And they are produced by the brief activities we call life — a fueling process which at its most interesting produces thought and love and creations with purposes other than adding to the abundant products of death.

    Or so it seems to me on a digressive Sunday morning. Good to be back home.

  4. Chip’s avatar

    Great post
    But I differ on screen, saw this one (one of few we get to) on big screen.
    I’d say it works better on in that format.
    West Texas needs the it.
    My gut was that the landscape was a ‘character’ too.

    Otherwise agree on all other points about the filck

    Only more disturbing point was Javier had the same haircut as an ex-business partner… who also, sometimes, had that far away look.

    Of course I saw Joe (the partner) the next day …

    Wrapping up in London
    Age… have alerted my kids not to expect me to slow down for about another 25yrs…
    Well, maybe a little


  5. patrick’s avatar

    no country for old men is unassumingly clever, even funny at times… what happens next is always unexpected and yet it never goes “over the top.” well done indeed.

  6. Jason Lopez’s avatar

    This kind of post is what makes many people–especially writers, artists, thinkers–uneasy about the blogosphere. And perhaps that uneasiness is overblown. In the future entries like these might quickly be relegated to the bin. Still, people who are highly respected for their technical knowledge about the Internet do not necessarily have profound things to say about other topics, though many Web 2.0 pundits think their every thought is desired by others.

    The film is simply not about death. The McCarthy novel deals with themes like choices and free will and is set against the backdrop of post-Vietnam angst in the southwestern U.S. These, as well as many other motifs and layers, are important to understanding the story. To say the film is about death is like saying that “M*A*S*H” is about medicine.

    It’s a disservice when Web 2.0 experts, who as a group are a powerful voice on the Internet, turn their attention to things like film. It wasn’t long ago that Andrew Keen and some A-listers were videotaped on a panel where they concluded that Hollywood only makes crap. It was actually quite embarrassing. Tech bloggers are also responsible for some pretty bad political analysis these days. It rises, sometimes, to the level of conversation at a water cooler. Unfortunately for the A-listers, many people subscribe to Newsweek, The New Yorker, or even NYRB and so water cooler debates I’ve heard are consistently more well-informed, insightful and interesting. But perhaps one is only embarrassed if one is aware.

    I raise this issue, as a journalist, not to pick on Doc Searls, from whom I’ve learned some very important things about technology over the years. I raise this only because I think this is actually a real Internet problem that must and probably will be solved if commerce based on the distribution of information is going to take off.

    The music industry is already proving wrong the notion that the labels acted as a cartel, forcing down our throats what it wanted us to consume. There has been no music revolution, at least nothing approaching the college radio phenomenon of the 1980s. The Internet has had the effect of allowing a broad range of music to be distributed to more people. But not much has changed in that music still must be managed from creation to sale. The interests are the same–very few people have a desire to play for free.

    Could the same be true of ideas? Could it be that a broad range of high quality ideas, which are communicated in well-written stories crafted to inform, intrigue and entertain, will someday rise above the noise of the blogosphere to compete for the attention of readers? I hope so. And if it’s a technology solution wouldn’t it be ironic if Doc helped to bring it about?

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