No Country for Old Men

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
No-country-for-old-men-movie-poster 8408.jpg

Not quite a horror film, not quite noir, not quite a Western, not quite an action-thriller. When rugged Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss finds the horrific aftermath of a botched drug deal and takes a suitcase filled with money, he sets in motion a spiral of violence beyond his control or comprehension. An old and unhappy sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, is determined to prove that there's still a place for justice in an otherwise unfair and cruel world as he sets out to find Moss and protect him from the owners of the money.

There's just one small hitch: an assassin has been sent after the stolen money, and he is a complete sociopath. Anton Chigurh is a man willing to do absolutely anything -- to "follow a supreme act of will", as he puts it -- in order to get what he is after... and it's no longer just the money he's after.

The novel is dark and awesome, and The Film of the Book is even better.

The novel was written by Cormac McCarthy, a grizzled old man who refuses to discuss his books beyond their often disturbing content. The movie was written and directed by The Coen Brothers -- two oddballs with a great sense of black humor and a love for twisted storylines -- but this breathtaking and chillingly eerie film is considerably bleaker than anything else they've done.

The film was honored with numerous awards: it received three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay (by Joel and Ethan Coen), and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).

Tropes used in No Country for Old Men include:
  • Action Survivor: Llewelyn Moss in some parts. Not so much by the end.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Most characters in the story find themselves alone and helpless with Anton Chigurh. No one ever shows up to rescue them.
    • Notable: Of the various characters in this situation over the course of the story, only Bell (and the gas station owner) survives.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Many. Did Chigurh kill the hotel manager, the accountant, and Carla Jean? Does Bell's dream symbolize hope, or despair?
  • And the Adventure Continues...: Chigurh now has to track the money to Mexico.
  • Anyone Can Die: One of the themes of the film.
  • The Atoner: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Mostly in the book; just hinted at in The Film of the Book.
  • Ax Crazy: Anton Chigurh is a subversion. Even if they don't make sense to a normal person, Chigurh has his reasons, and he's more coldly logical than crazy. A Complete Monster, yes, but not crazy. He does, however, have one of the primary traits of a true Ax Crazy, which is the immense amount of danger involved in even speaking to him.
  • Badass: Anton Chigurh. A Discussed Trope.
  • Badass Boast: "I'm going to make you my special project."
  • The Bad Guy Wins: That this seems to happen more and more in the modern world is what drives Sheriff Bell over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Beige Prose: The novel.
  • Bilingual Bonus: When Moss gets woken up by the Mariachis, the song they're playing translates to: "You wanted to fly with no wings/ You wanted to touch heaven/ You wanted many riches/ You wanted to play with fire/ And now that -".
  • Black and Grey Morality: Chigurh may be a relentless, cold-blooded killer. Moss is impulsive and prideful, getting innocent people such as his wife in danger or killed as well as leading to his own death.
    • Sherriff Bell is actually a pretty decent guy. Naturally, he accomplishes very little.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: This is basically what Chigurh's "moral code" is, at least to him. He has rules, but they make no sense to anyone except him, and he absolutely cannot be reasoned with.
  • Briefcase Full of Money
  • Career Killers: Both Anton Chigurh and Carson Wells.
  • Carnival of Killers
  • Cassandra Truth: "It's full of money."
  • Chess with Death: In a couple instances, Chigurh lets a coin toss decide whether or not he'll kill someone.
    • Also, the duel between Moss and Chigurh, where Moss attempts several tricks to out fox his opponent.
  • Crapsack World: Sheriff Bell seems to believe that this is what the world is becoming.
    • His old mentor later sets him straight. The world isn't becoming a crapsack, it's always been that way.
  • Crazy Prepared: Moss goes to some trouble setting up a proper hideout and trying to preempt his enemy's attacks. If it were not for his quick thinking and planning, he would have been killed very quickly.
  • Creepy Monotone: Chigurh.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Anton Chigurh.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than anything the Coen Brothers did previously, even their debut Blood Simple.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Llewelyn Moss is (at least at first) a carefree one. His wife Carla Jean Moss is a fretful one. Ed Tom Bell is a wistful, morose one. Anton Chigurh is a cold and deadly one.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Sometimes, but just as often, averted or even subverted.
  • Deconstruction: A specialty both of Cormac McCarthy and The Coen Brothers.
    • Moss in particular is a deconstruction of the action hero, especially the older tougher variety. He thinks of himself as tough, resourceful, and morally righteous. To the audience, he comes across as greedy, vain and stupid, never really thinking of the consequences of his actions or of the potential cost to those around him. Like Sheriff Bell, Moss is an archetype of a forgotten era, from a time when men never gave in to bad guys and the lines of black and white were clear. He doesn't seem to realize that the world is turning into a much darker place where men like him have no place. Unlike Bell, he never realizes and pays the ultimate price for his arrogance.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Llewelyn Moss. Sheriff Bell is the real protagonist, and delivers both the opening and closing monologues. The story is basically about an old man not adapting to the reality of the brutal environment he works in.
    • Though it's debatable whether even Bell can be called a "protagonist," considering that he accomplishes exactly nothing during the course of the story. His presence has much more to do with the themes of the story than the actual events.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Bell just about crosses it after the deaths of Llewelyn and Carla Jean. A conversation with his Uncle Ellis reminds him that criminality and senseless violence have always been part of life in the region. Bell's narration ends on an ambiguous note as he relates two dreams he had (they seem to allude to Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road).
  • The Determinator: Pretty much all the men. But Chigurh trumps everyone else.
  • Disposable Pilot: Moss hitches a ride with a bystander, who is killed at the wheel as Moss watches. Later, he hitches another ride with an entirely different man, who is also killed for his trouble, but that happens long after he was separated from Moss.
  • Dissonant Serenity: One of the most chilling aspects of Chigurh.
  • Downer Ending: Basically, The Bad Guy Wins. Not only is the Decoy Protagonist murdered (off-screen), but then the villain murders the hero's teenage wife (again, off-screen) and escapes justice, leaving an old man to contemplate his inability to act in the face of so much seemingly pointless violence of the world.
  • The Dreaded: Even other hardened killers are afraid of Chigurh, and with good reason.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The entire story seems to be building towards a climactic duel between Moss and Chigurh, but in the end Moss is killed off-screen by a gang of Mexican drugrunners who aren't even major characters. A deliberate subversion of Death Is Dramatic (see above).
  • Easter Egg: The credits include an attribution for "The One Right Tool", a reference to a line of dialogue in the film (right above it is a credit for "Serious Matters").
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Chigurh; he looks like death warmed over.
  • The Eighties: Set in 1980; since it's the beginning of the decade, and the setting is rural Texas, there isn't much of stereotypical '80s fashion. Chigurh's rather out-of-place garb (alligator skin boots, denim jacket...) could be leftover fashion from the '70s, not to mention his haircut. There's no '80s pop soundtrack either; it's mostly eerie sound effects or silence.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Stephen Root's character is credited as "Man Who Hires Wells".
  • Evil Is Petty: Chigurh is willing to belittle and possibly kill a gas station attendant for trying to make small talk with him. This only makes him more terrifying.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The DVD box set has a BIG case of this, which is especially annoying given how perfect the movie poster is for the film. I mean look at it up there.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Lampshaded; "Chigurh" is pronounced almost like "sugar". Then there's his sense of fashion...
  • Follow the Leader: The Coen Brothers admitted they had to work hard to make sure the film was distinguishable from The Terminator.
  • For the Evulz: Anton Chigurh seems this way, although he would insist that he's just following his own code.
  • Funny Aneurysm Moment: In the novel Ed Tom Bell mentions the murder of a federal judge in San Antonio. He's referring to John Howland Wood, who was assassinated outside his townhouse by a contract killer named Charles Harrelson on May 29, 1979. Woody Harrelson (yes, the son of Charles) would go on to co-star in the film version of the novel.
  • Genre Busting: A specialty of The Coen Brothers.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: A major theme of the story, embodied by Sheriff Bell.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Carson Wells, among others.
  • Gorn: The Coen brothers said themselves they wanted to make the "strangling" scene in the beginning the most violent strangling in the history of movies. They succeeded.
    • Also, the death of the man who hires Wells.
    • Then there's the guy in the hotel whose arm gets obliterated by Chigurh's Weapon of Choice.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Several; in one instance, a discretion cut to a later scene.
    • Although this movie has INdiscretion shots aplenty to curl the toes and twist the spine.
  • The Grim Reaper: Anton Chigurh is tall and clad in black; wields a large metallic weapon; speaks in short and oddly apocalyptic phrases; and cannot be reasoned with at all. Sound familiar?
  • Heads or Tails: Anton Chigurh flips a coin to decide whether to kill a potential victim. Those that choose not to take the chance are killed anyway, because they refuse to submit to the Powers That Be. Fans actually debate over the reason why he does it.
  • Hero-Killer: Anton Chigurh.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Chigurh's shotgun has a report no louder than that of a BB gun.
  • Hope Spot: Chigurh's accident showed that he's not invincible just really lucky.
  • If I Do Not Return:

Llewelyn: I don't come back, tell mother I love her."
Carla Jean: Your mother's dead."
Llewelyn: Well, then I'll tell her myself."

  • Improbable Weapon User: Chigurh uses a cattle bolt gun (a hand held tool powered by a pneumatic cylinder that violently extends a retractable rod) to dispatch foes. The actor who played him, Javier Bardem, went on the record saying it was too heavy to be practical for a real assassin. However, most of the time we see him use it, it's for breaking locks.
    • Not to mention his other trademark weapon: a silenced heavy shotgun with a pistol grip. Very unusual, if not as bizarre as the above.
  • Informed Attribute: Carson Wells being a Badass. Though he is a Scarily Competent Tracker, we don't see him do much.
    • He has a larger role in the novel. It is likely that Wells is like Moss in that he believes himself to be a tough, resourceful hero rather than someone way out of his depth.
      • Granted those two aren't mutually exclusive. This is Anton Chigurh they're up against, after all.
  • The Ingenue: Carla Jean Moss.
  • Karma Houdini: In the end, both the Mexican hitmen and Chigurh escape justice.
  • Kill Them All: Anton successfully eliminates all of the people he was hired to kill, as well as several that he wasn't.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Taken from the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats.
    • It's an ironic allusion, since while in the original poem the speaker is an old man who can no longer keep up with the lust (Eros) of the young, Sheriff Bell is an old man who can't keep up with the violence (Thanatos) of the young.
  • MacGuffin: Moss has a suitcase containing $2 million. Chigurh is hunting Moss to get the money. Bell is hunting Chigurh and simultaneously hunting Moss in hopes of getting him to safety. Chigurh never catches up with Moss, and Bell never catches up with either Moss or Chigurh. Bell and Chigurh almost cross paths, but they never actually meet one another.
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money
  • Mood Whiplash: The mariachi band.
  • Narrator: In the novel, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. In the movie, he narrates the opening, and in his closing scenes, his dialogue becomes more and more like narration.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes the film look like a tough action film and alludes to a final confrontation between Wells and Chigurh. Those who have seen the film know that the trailer couldn't be less like it.
  • New Old West
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Anton Chigurh. AND HOW!!!
  • No Ending: Played with. As noted above, with the exceptions of Chigurh and Sheriff Bell, every major character dies. A quick shot reveals that Chigurh had found the money in the ventilation system again, and left with the money, but it goes by fast and is irrelevant to the story by this point.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Everything bad happens to Llewelyn Moss because he decided to bring water to a thirsty dying man, thus allowing him to be easily tracked.
    • Though it turns out the money had a tracking device inside it, so he would presumably have been found anyway.
      • The man with the chicken crates who stops to give Chigurh a jump.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Played with. Sheriff Bell spends the book musing about how someone like Chigurh wouldn't have gotten away with anything in the "old days", but this claim is undermined at the end when his uncle Ellis tells him a tale of how his grandfather was killed in cold blood on his own porch in 1908 by a trio of Native Americans, and then says to him flat out that claiming the "old days" were better or more moral is nothing but vanity.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: This movie manages to make the act of unscrewing a lightbulb frightening.
    • Not to mention the build-up before the hotel shootout between Llewelyn and Chigurh.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The one time Anton Chigurh meets his match.
  • Ominous Walk: Anton Chigurh uses this quite a bit.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Stephen Root's character, the mysterious boss who hires Carson Wells, is never named and has only one important scene. See Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep" above.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. Chigurh's leg wound and his arm at the end are clearly very serious injuries and the fact that he doesn't seem overly phased by them is very much in character.
  • Pet the Dog: Llewelyn goes back to the scene of the gunfight with a full carton of water, out of sympathy for the driver he refused to help earlier ("I ain't got no damn agua") who was probably dead anyway. For his trouble he gets shot in the shoulder and loses his truck, and leaves a trail that leads Chigurh straight to him. Had Llewelyn been a bit less troubled by his conscience, he might have made the fabled 'clean getaway'.
    • Llewelyn probably extended his life by returning to the scene with the water, allowing him to realize the extent of danger he was in. If he hadn't, he might have stayed at home with his wife and the money with the hidden tracker he was unaware of.
    • Chigurh doesn't kill the two boys at the conclusion. He even gives one a $100 bill.
      • Debatable - He was badly injured, with no weapon, in a public area. The money was to buy a shirt and the boys' silence.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: In his first scene, Anton Chigurh allows a deputy to arrest him, slips his cuffs from back to front, kills the deputy, and steals a police car. All just to prove a point about supreme will.
  • Police Are Useless
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The style in which the novel is written would seem to be difficult to adapt to film, but the Coens manage to do it justice by translating McCarthy's stark language into stark imagery and audio design.
  • Product Placement: Mike Zoss Pharmacy. "Mike Zoss" is the name of the Coen Brothers' production company and it was the actual name of a pharmacy located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
  • Psycho for Hire: Anton Chigurh.
    • While he is clearly overshadowed in this aspect by Chigurh, Carson Wells is by his own right a quite psychopathic killer.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Anton Chigurh and Carson Wells.
  • Scenery Gorn: From the shots of the barren, desolate Texas landscape to the long pans over dead bodies in the early stages of decay, this movie has it in spades.
  • Scenery Porn: See Scenery Gorn above.
  • Self-Stitching: Anton blows up a car so he can steal the medical supplies to treat his injuries; he's later shown stitching himself up, as if we need proof that he's any more badass than he already is.
  • Seventies Hair: Chigurh. It only adds to his creepiness.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Chigurh uses the cattle gun to do this when he's not using it for... other things.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The climax of the film is starkly anticlimactic, causing many to debate whether it was a brilliant Deconstruction or an insulting cop-out.
  • Shout-Out: The dying man asking for water, aside from a few details, is very close to the same scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
  • A Simple Plan: A very dark take.
  • Slasher Smile: Chigurh sports a lovely one during the strangling scene.
  • The Sociopath: Anton Chigurh is such a potent one that he's basically a walking force of unstoppable evil.
  • Take a Third Option: Subverted in the film. Carla refuses to call the coin Chigurh flips for her (she does in the novel, but is wrong). He kills her anyway.
  • Useless Protagonist: Sheriff Bell.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Anton Chigurh arguably suffers a flicker of one when Carla Jean refuses to call his coin toss, thus making her the first person in the film to take a stand in direct and face-to-face defiance of his "principles".
    • Even more so in the book. He apologizes (plainly, but still does) as she starts to sob, and starts to really having to defend his principles to her in order to go through with killing her.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Llewelyn, after inspecting his wounds past the Mexican border.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The duel between Chigurn and Moss is very different in the book and movie. In the movie, when Chigurgh cracks the doorknob, it strikes Moss, who shoots back and flees. In the book, Moss turns on his bathroom light and hides in the dark, and when Chigurh inspects the bathroom, Moss holds him at gunpoint and escorts him down the hall with Chigurh facing away. He had the opportunity to kill him there. But out of fear of legal repercussions, or just plain stupidity, Moss tries to escape while Chigurh's back is turned.
    • Maybe not stupidity-- he just didn't want to kill anybody. He manages to make it through the whole novel without directly killing anyone (the deaths he causes by accident notwithstanding). Carla Jean mentions this: she says that while he was in Vietnam he has never killed any civilians.
  • World Half Empty: The movie and the book take an extremely cynical view on human nature. The stark reality of it all drives Bell to retire.
    • It could be a literal version of that trope, since the setting the movie looks as if the rapture came and took half of the entire population.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Llewelyn Moss.
  • You Keep Telling Yourself That: It practically defines the character of Anton Chigurh.