Another thoughtful letter about No Country for Old Men came in today, this one from HE reader Matthew Leicht. “I saw it yesterday, and it kind of shook me in a way that no movie has in recent memory,” he begins. “For the most part, there seems to be a debate over various scenes in the film and why they’re there, blah blah, but my thumbnail view is that this is a movie about principles and morals.
“Anton Chigurh is dismissed as a psycho by almost everyone in the film, but he explains in three different scenes (gas station, Carson Wells, Carla Jean) that he has a principle, and that he sees life as a fleeting occurance as opposed to some epic drama. He reduces life and death to a coin flip, which is masterfully played on with the random car accident that closes the film. Ed Tom Bell wants to make sense of life, Llewelyn wants to move forward…every character displays a certain moral compass. And this gradually led to a realization that felt like an avalanche.
“Ever since I began watching AMC’s Mad Men Ive been thinking more and more about our culture and if we are headed toward some kind of endgame. If you think about it, 1960 (when Mad Men is set) became a line of demarcation. The manipulation of the advertising world is a perfect backdrop for this. The industrial age had peaked and was beginning to recede. Americans were no longer suffering to get by. The Depression era was only a story told by grandparents, the struggle was over so we began to consume and were told that this is progress, that accumulation was the process by which to meet our goals.
“But as the material value began to rise in this country, the value and quality of human life seemed to decline. That’s an impression or appearance, at least, through the prism of a country without direction. And No Country for Old Men has had such an impact on me because it sums up the whole notion of humanity and the place in society we all hold.
“Anton will stop at nothing to get what he needs to get (or was commissioned to get). He justifies his actions by reducing life to something that just happens. There is no mystery, there is no catch. When he said to Carson something to the effect of ‘if the rule you live by got you to this point, what good is the rule?,’ the whole movie started to come together.
“Also at that point, the violence begins to subside (other than the driver of the truck that Moss gets into). We see Carson get shot from the reverse angle; Moss is killed off-screen (and we barely see the body), Carla Jean is killed and we don’t even know how. Hell, Anton may even succumb to his injuries. it becomes clearer and clearer that the dying is less significant, and it’s the living that matters.
“Ed Tom is such a significant character because he represents someone who doesn’t get involved, even though he could have prevented a lot of the killing. He doesn’t get involved because he can’t understand such behavior. He feels a level of disconnect from what is going on and to get involved would be almost like admitting defeat.
“I haven’t entertained a lot of the ideas brought up by some of your readers (a missing conversation between Anton and Ed Tom, the true nature of Carson, if Carla Jean was really killed, who was in the station wagon that hit Anton), mainly because they all feel a little bit like conspiracy theories. Kind of peripheral if you ask me because this movie delivers a very heavy pronouncement on the human condition, and it’s all on the screen. It’s been so long since a film had any real impact upon me, and I had to let you know.”