So the first movie that I showed the class was the recent Academy Award-winning No Country for Old Men. To me this is the perfect movie for this sort of class. It is powerful, but comprehensible. Indeed, it ought to be relatively easy to understand the point of No Country. Here are some questions I’m having my class answer and discuss.
1. Dialogue controls the overarching story in No Country. It both opens and closes with dialogue by Ed Tom Bell, and these statements reveal much about the story’s intent. Explain what these statements might mean:
I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five years old. Hard to believe. My grandfather was a lawman; father too. Me and him was sheriff’s at the same time; him up in Plano and me out here. I think he’s pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the old time sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lotta folks find that hard to believe. Jim Scarborough’d never carry one; that’s the younger Jim. Gaston Borkins wouldn’t wear one up in Camanche County. I always liked to hear about the oldtimers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can’t help but compare yourself gainst the oldtimers. Can’t help but wonder how theyd’ve operated these times. There was this boy I sent to the ‘lectric chair at Huntsville here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killt a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it. Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell. “Be there in about fifteen minutes”. I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t. The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”
The conclusion is built on two parallel discussions. The first is between Ed Tom Bell and his older friend, Ellis.
Ed Tom Bell: That man that shot you died in prison.
Ellis: Angola. Yeah…
Ed Tom Bell: What you’d done he had been released?
Ellis: Oh, I dunno. Nothing. Wouldn’t be no point in it.
Ed Tom Bell: I’m kinda surprised to hear you say that.
Ellis: Well all the time ya spend trying to get back what’s been took from ya, more is going out the door. After a while you just have to try to get a tourniquet on it. Your granddad never asked me to sign on as a deputy…
Ed Tom Bell: I always figured when I got older, God would kinda come into my life somehow. And He didn’t. I don’t blame Him. If I was Him, I’d have the same opinion of me as He does.
Ellis: You don’t know what he thinks… What you got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people. You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.
The second closing dialogue is between Ed Tom Bell and his wife. He tells her about his dreams. He closes with, “It was like we was both back in older times… In the dream I knew he was going on ahead. He was fixing to make a fire in all that dark and all that cold. I knew that whenever I got there that he’d be there. Then I woke up.”
2. At his first coin-toss, Anton Chigurh says, “It has been traveling for twenty-two years to get here.”
At his second coin-toss, Carla Jean Moss says, ““The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you.” Anton replies, “I got here the same way the coin did.”
What does Anton mean by these responses? What function do these responses have in the movie, especially when compared with Ed Tom Bell’s outlook?
3. Carson Wells says of Chigurh:
No no. No. You don’t understand. You can’t make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money he’d still kill you. He’s a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that. He’s not like you. He’s not even like me.
Anton later makes much of “giving his word.” He judges Llewelyn for not saving his wife. This raises the question of morality. Is Anton an amoral (lacking in all morality) character? How does the movie present him in this regard?
4. The ending of No Country for Old Men is deeply dissatisfying for many viewers. Why do you think it ends with this dropping off? How does that help convey the message?
5. Following question 4, is the reality presented by No Country realistic? Is it tolerable? The book of Job raises many of these same questions, and the thesis could be boiled down to “How can a righteous God allow suffering?” What is the correct answer?