Saturday, April 26, 2008

Death And Texas

Funny that rotten movies make it here to our cinemas sometimes much sooner than in the US. But the really worthwhile movies are either nowhere to be seen, or like No Country For Old Men, open months after all the excitement has died down. It's instances like this that wear me down, but sometimes deprivation makes it all the sweeter to finally savour the tastiness of a good film.

I had read Cormac McCarthy's novel way before, and I received filmmaker Amir Muhammad's enthusiastic text message from Berlin conveying his belief that No Country is the Coens' best film. I won't go so far as to proclaim that, because I still like Fargo a whole lot more. But No Country certainly is their most mature work to date, and perhaps their most complex too.

I have a review officially published elsewhere and it will not be linked or republished here for reasons I cannot disclose. But instead, I will relate a little online "debate" I had with a film critic over at a members-only forum.

Said film critic saw the film as about how the world changes but some of us refuse to budge, remaining stuck in our old ways. I think that's quite the opposite of what the intention was in the novel, and then in the film. Clearly, Sheriff Bell's lament at the beginning already indicates the feeling of displacement he's experiencing.

Mild spoilers ahead

The various rhyming instances (the critic duly informed me that I was wrong and that they're not called "rhyming instances") already indicate the changing viewpoints of people in a world of constants. The most telling scenes were when Chigurh enters a house, gets out a milk carton and sits in front of a TV looking at his own reflection in the glass, and when Sheriff Bell later does the exact same thing, sees the exact same things. For Chigurh, we felt an audacious intrusion because he is essentially on the wrong side of the law, but we feel differently in the Sheriff's case. There are many other instances - a dead dog at the site of the botched drug deal seems like a sign of total disregard for life in the ensuing chaos, but Lewellyn Moss's shooting of the dog that chases him down is a struggle for survival; both Lewellyn and Chigurh tries to buy clothes from young passers-by; etc.

Every generation creates its own rules, its own set of realities. It's natural that as we grow old, we feel out of touch and out of place, because we'd rather relish in nostalgia, dreaming of the good old days. But the elements that remain constant - greed, death, evil - take on different forms.

It's interesting to note how the main characters change or have changed over time. Lewellyn was a decent hardworking guy until he finds the money and becomes greedy. Sheriff Bell has been in law enforcement all his life but near retirement, has begun to question the point of it all. Only Chigurh remains unchanged throughout, because death is constant.

And while it may all seem hopeless, Sheriff Bell finally finds the answer to his questions in a dream about his father that he relates to his wife at the end. For him, the world just seems to get more violent and senseless each day, as if whatever he's done hasn't been of any good. But in his dream, he saw his father carrying a torch in a dark place. His father doesn't say anything to him, but walks on ahead carrying the torch. Simply, there'll always be darkness in this world, but sometimes all we can do is just try to make it a little brighter for our children.

And that's why the ending is so poignant and moving for me.

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts