Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'No Country for Old Men'

I was recently sobered by watching the very well produced No Country for Old Men. The movie is very trim, no wasted setup scenes, no replays and very controlled cinematography. A gnarly ex-cop says to Tommy Lee Jone's character that "this country is hard on people." It's true both the landscape and it's inhabitants are unforgiving and unsentimental. Yet there was also something beautiful in the washed out desertscapes and laconic demeanour's of the characters.

Sadly at the film's violent core was a message of meaninglessness. The villain lives undefeated, resourceful to the end. Tommy Lee Jones plays one of the two protagonists, a nearly retired sheriff who is searching for meaning. He reads the papers in astonishment at the horror people inflict on each other and tries to make sense of the crimes he investigates. At the beginning of the movie it's his voice narrating and so therefore he provides us with a sort of commentary, a way of making sense of the story. The other protagonist finds two million dollars at the site of a gang shoot out in the middle of the desert, keeps it and is pursued relentlessly by the villain. At the end of the film Tommy Lee Jone's character narrates a dream he had of his father riding past him in the snow, carrying a horn of fire. His father simply rides past, leaving him and us with nothing, no moral framework to make sense of the movie's events.

It's interesting to compare No Country for Old Men with the similar film; A Simple Plan, which also about the unexpected discovery of a large amount of money. However, A Simple Plan while also a depressing film in many ways, has a clear moral, about the value of honesty and the dark complexity of cover-ups. I guess there are places for both types of movies, ones which have a clear moral and ones that reveal the moral bankruptcy of the modern secular worldview.