I saw No Country for a second time last night and I appreciated it much more than five weeks ago. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it the first time but now it’s in my Top 2 of the year — I just can’t decide if it should dethrone my personal fave, Tell No One.

I think No Country is better than There Will Be Blood though, which should be no embarrassment to PT Anderson. It’s only his fifth film compared to the Coens’ twelfth (or tenth, for purists who don’t count their work-for-hire Intollerable Cruetly or remake The Ladykillers).

Great as it is, There Will Be Blood has too many weak links, primarily by the name of Paul Dano but also in the bowling alley scene, while No Country takes literally no missteps. Not to mention that it’s visually beautiful: Virtually every color in the film is gold or green, or a sickly mixture of both, and even Chigurh’s face becomes a jaundiced yellow.

(Many SPOILERS following)

After the second screening it is finally obvious to me Anton Chigurh represents Death qua Death, moreso even than a generic Evil personified (though death is an evil). One of the key exchanges is when the accountant asks, “Are you going to kill me?” and Chigurh answers, “That depends. Do you see me?” He even calls himself a “tool” in the same scene.

Unfortunately I was not watching it through this lens last night so now I need to see it a third time! I had given up making sense of it after the first time, so I just “experienced it” last night and I’m glad I did because it’s probably the last time I’ll be able to enjoy it on an exclusively literal level. But that just goes to show how perfectly the movie works as both a suspenseful cat and mouse procedural and a touching meditation on death. Chigurh is not either human or supernatural, he is always both.

The Coens have their cake and eat it throughout the film, and the cynic who claims Chigurh can’t represent Death because we see him taking bullets out of his leg might as well say Bergman’s Death is a real human because we see him playing chess with Max von Sydow. Even Carson Wells says, “Do you have any idea how goddamn crazy you are?” To which Chigurh replies, “You mean the nature of this conversation?” The nature of the conversation is crazy because he is speaking to Death himself. But Carson says, “I mean the nature of you.” No Country for Old Men reminds us that all death is a product of evil, even death of natural causes, and Ed Tom Bell in particular reminds us to be outraged that death should exist at all.

But lest we think we are encountering Death on a new scale, more perverse than previous incarnations, Uncle Ellis reminds us that “What you got ain’t nothin’ new.” Like Sheriff Bell and the local sheriff in El Paso, every generation romanticizes the past and thinks its own problems are qualitatively different than those encountered by their predecessors. But actually “This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s comin’. It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.”

Trying to stop What’s Comin’ is the vanity of Llewelyn, because you can never see it till it’s too late. He thinks he can hold off death by anticipating it, as if with his binoculars: in his last words on screen he says he’s “lookin’ for what’s comin’.” He means the money but the woman by the pool says wisely about What’s Comin’, “Yeah, but no one ever sees that.”

Even though the El Paso sheriff laments the cultural decline exemplified by “green hair and bones in their noses,” he admits that “none of that explains your man though”:

Roscoe: He is just a goddamn homicidal lunatic, Ed Tom.
Bell: I’m not sure he’s a lunatic.
Roscoe: Well, what would you call him?
Bell: I don’t know. Sometimes I think he’s pretty much a ghost.
Roscoe: He’s real, alright.
Bell: Oh yes.

Roscoe said he’s real as a contradiction to Ed Tom’s ghost comment, but they are both correct: He is a spirit and he is real.

The Coens have made an American Seventh Seal on the fiftieth anniversary of Bergman’s. When asked just how dangerous Chigurh is, Carson remarks, “Compared to what, the bubonic plague?” Black Death is exactly what Chigurh is, as the Coens are comparing their Ultimo Hombre to the pandemic killer in Bergman’s film. Chigurh even sports a Prince Valiant haircut to reinforce the medieval association, his challenger a sheriff instead of a knight. In biblical times he’s described as the Angel of Death and in later times as the Grim Reaper, so “in the parlance of our times” we might call him the Serial Killer.

Everyone who sees him dies. When Llewelyn claims to have seen Chigurh, Carson is surprised: “You’ve seen him, and you’re not dead?” But Llewelyn never saw him with his own eyes, he only saw a reflection of him in a store window at night. Everyone in the drug store is spared only because Chigurh creates a diversion so none of them see him. The two boys on bicycles do see him but at their age Death has no relevance to them. (Instead Chigurh leaves them squabbling over a blood-soaked hundred-dollar bill, setting into motion a fatal cycle like the one that has just concluded before us.)

The only two middle-aged people whom we know Chigurh does not kill are the man who wins the coin toss and the fat Desert Aire manager who “ain’t at liberty to give out no information about our residents.” She is the anomaly of the movie and resists Death through sheer force of will: “Did you not hear me? We can’t give out no information.” It seems odd that Chigurh would be intimidated by her because she is clearly afraid of him, but unlike every other bloke who treats him like an ordinary man, she sees right through him. She and Carson are the only two characters who appreciate his true nature, even if she just intuits it somehow and Carson is the only one who comprehends it fully:

“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.”

Death transcends human affairs like Llewelyn transcends the animals he hunts. Chigurh kills men like cattle, and immediately after we see him use his compressed-air bolt-gun for the first time, saying “Would you hold still, please?” the film cuts straight to an image of a deer through the crosshairs of Llewelyns rifle, as he whispers “Hold still.” Llewelyn’s shot injures the animal but doesn’t kill it, and he sees its spilt blood on the dirt, just as Chigurh later tracks the blood of an injured Llewelyn on the street. That’s when Llewelyn fires on Chigurh but it’s a glance shot, like Sheriff Bell’s story about Charlie Walser: “it’s a glance-shot and ricochets around and comes back, hits Charlie in the shoulder.” Like Verbal Kint says, “How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?”

When Llewelyn finally chats with Chigurh and it is, crucially, over the phone. Sight, yet again, is the key:

Chigurh: You need to come see me.
Llewelyn: Who is this?
Chigurh: You know who it is. You need to talk to me.
Llewelyn: I don’t need to talk to you.
Chigurh: I think you do.

There is no escaping the inevitable. Geography is irrelevant:

Chigurh: Do you know where I’m going?
Llewelyn: Yeah, I know where you’re going.
Chigurh: Alright.
Llewelyn: You know she won’t be there.
Chigurh: It doesn’t make any difference where she is.

Death’s march is inexorable, as Carson tries telling him:

Llewelyn: He won’t find me again.
Carson: Not that way.
Llewelyn: Not any way.

Llewelyn can’t hear what Carson is saying. He persists in treating Death as if he’s just any ol’ person.


Ed Tom Bell’s introductory narration is a sleight of hand. His story about the boy who killed the fourteen-year-old girl is not primarily about the incomprehensibility of the crime, it’s about the boy’s attitude in the face of death: “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.”

When Ed Tom says, “I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand,” it might sound like it’s the degree of evil out there he doesn’t understand, but he had just said it’s not that which he’s afraid of: “The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it.”

What he is afraid of, what he doesn’t want to meet, what he doesn’t understand, is death. The subject is provided in the preceding sentence: “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.”

Carson may be cocksure of himself but he understands Death, which is why he’s more scared than anyone else of Chigurh when he meets him. Llewelyn doesn’t understand Death which is why he’s so foolhardy in threatening Chigurh: “Yeah, I’m goin’ to bring you somethin’ all right. I’ve decided to make you a special project of mine. You ain’t goin’ to have to look for me at all.”

Ed Tom begins the film not understanding Chigurh, afraid of what he doesn’t understand, and therefore perhaps too cautious. He is a passive character through the entire film, just following the footsteps of Llewellyn and Chigurh, and moments too late to protect Llewelyn. It’s not till after this that he finally pushes his chips forward to go out and meet what he doesn’t understand. When he approaches the motel room door with the possibility that Death awaits him on the other side, he has finally decided “to put his soul at hazard” and say, “okay, I’ll be part of this world.”

double-shadow.jpgHe crosses the police tape that warns DO NOT CROSS and is faced with a choice between two doors. He chooses one and Death is not waiting behind it. Chigurh was hiding behind the door in the room next door. (The vent wasn’t big enough for him to have escaped through it. The grille had been unscrewed by Llewelyn who was intending to hide the money in the vent.) The duality of the choice is reinforced by Ed Tom’s double-shadow cast by the headlights onto the wall.

So Sheriff Bell wins the bet and earns his chips back. After searching the room for Chigurh he sees the coin on the floor. It’s his lucky coin: he has won the coin toss and gets back everything he’s been putting up his whole life without knowing it.

48 thoughts on “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

  1. Douglas says:

    Dude, great analysis. I really like some of the points you have made, including the significance of the medieval haircut, which I think looks really great BTW – he should have kept it. I like what you said about the lady in the caravan park, it’s true, she does will him away and she is a brilliant character. Also the parallel between the two scenes with “hold still”. I never noticed that either. Well done!

    Regarding the final hotel scene though. So many people are confused about this. Chigurh WAS in the room that Sheriff Bell entered. You can see him standing in the dark behind the door as Sheriff Bell opens it. The coin signifies the fact that Chigurh has opened the vent himself and retrieved the money. The coin was the means by which he opened the previous vent and has become his tell-tale sign. But Bell doesn’t know that.

    It’s true that the coin does have a extra significance in this movie. In an introduction to the “I-Ching” I read that the act of tossing the coin is giving the “hand of the Divine” a chance to act. I believe this is what Chigurh is doing – allowing the person one last chance to stay on the earth, as decided by a random chance which is decided by the Divine.

  2. Nobody says:

    Thanks for your thoughts! I deliberately avoided discussion of the film’s explicit theme of fate vs. chance because I figured it would turn into an essay in and of itself. In many ways it is the unifying theme of all the Coens’ movies — I recently saw The Man Who Wasn’t There for the first time and I think it is one of their best!

    If I may respond to a couple of your points:

    Chigurh WAS in the room that Sheriff Bell entered. You can see him standing in the dark behind the door as Sheriff Bell opens it.

    The second time I saw it I looked closely to see if Chigurh is behind the door when Bell opens it and I could NOT see him. Admittedly it’s only a split second, but I think the door even hits the wall and there simply is no room for someone to be behind it — especially WITH that giant shotgun.

    The coin signifies the fact that Chigurh has opened the vent himself and retrieved the money. The coin was the means by which he opened the previous vent and has become his tell-tale sign.

    I agree that the coin is understood to be Chigurh’s because that was how he opened the previous vent grille, but that is exactly the same precedent by which we should believe he was in the room next door, because we have already seen his practice of renting the room next door.

  3. Nobody says:

    My blog has started to automatically identify trackbacks as spam so I accidentally deleted what I think was a trackback from Dre Rivas’ article on Javier Bardem in which he linked to this post.

    On a completely unrelated note, Dre is as excited about Jumper as I am. This weekend you can find out if we’re crazy.

  4. Amanda says:

    Dude!! Representing my people.

  5. Jessica says:

    This is so brilliantly and elegantly written and analyzed. Kudos.

  6. Denise says:

    Thank you for your insightful analysis. I cannot agree, however, that his is one of the best movies of 2007. In my view, the Coen brothers have satisfied their own sadistic urge to reveal a “slice” of life — particularly American life — and ensure that there can be no redemptive quality to this life. As implacable evil stalks the land, in the form of the pitiless hit man, the senselessness and hopelessness of overcoming him becomes apparent. In the Coen Brothers’ universe, hell is here, there is no hope, and all we can do is recognize it. I thought this film was an outrage, an indulgence of the twisted sensibilities of people permitted by our society to create media works which can and will influence the thinking and behaviour of large groups of people. Mass depression is the only logical outcome of watching this movie! Even if one considers that this film follows the nihilism begun by Sartre, and the rise of this philosophy as reflected in modern art from the 1960’s onwards, one should not allow such drivel as this film to be perpetrated on human beings attempting to stay balanced about the existence of good and evil. The Coens view society as not only “no country for old men”, but a country, and possibly a planet, with no hope, beset by flashes of true evil, and whipped by regret. I am truly sorry I viewed this film. Thanks for the chance to provide my reaction.

  7. Hardy Campbell says:

    I pity the reviewer Denise above who saw this movie with only the two eyes God gave her and not with her mind, soul or heart. The movie was a Greek poem painted in blood on a canvas of rock, tumbleweed and desert sand. It is a movie for philosophers, not audiences, a description of the metaphysical negotiation we make everyday with death and fate. Moss and Bell and Chigurh are avatars of each other, essentially identical but from different angles they appear as either noble or greedy or psychotic. Yet from other perspectives they appear principled, cowardly or loving. Chigurh asks the accountant if he sees him; only sinners and the damned can envision his earthly evil, and thus condemn themselves. Others, innocently encountering Chigurh, determine their fate based on caprice and gravity pulling on a metal disc. I have seen the movie 4 times and every time appreciate anew its genius. Denise needs to see it a second time and evacuate her blindness to the unseen.

  8. Nobody says:

    Though I disagree with your conclusion, Denise, that we “should not allow such drivel as this film to be perpetrated on human beings”, you are right to situate No Country in the context of the Coens’ universe, for the film is of a piece with the rest of their work. Whereas their other films examine humanity’s bondage to fate and chance through the person of one everyman per film, No Country merely extrapolates it to every man in one film.

    The only thing missing from Chigurh’s soliloquies is the observation of Sweeney Todd that “we all deserve to die, even you Mrs. Lovett, even I” — the Coens are simply less explicit than Sondheim/Burton.

    Hardy writes:
    The movie was a Greek poem painted in blood on a canvas of rock, tumbleweed and desert sand.

    This is a wonderful encapsulation that is both literarily and literally true!

    Moss and Bell and Chigurh are avatars of each other, essentially identical but from different angles . . .

    I agree: we see the three imitate each other’s actions throughout the movie, not just in the broad sense that Chigurh is retracing Moss’s footsteps and Bell is following them both, but on a more minute scale as well. Two such moments, off the top of my head, are Chigurh opening the truck door and seeing the dead Mexican just as Moss had done; and Bell sitting down on the couch, taking a swig of milk, and seeing his reflection in the television, just as Chigurh had done. Most tellingly, both of their reflections are faceless silhouettes.



  10. […] no doubt that No Country for Old Men was a flawless picture, but there were several other films across many genres that could have been nominated along with […]

  11. JROC says:

    I love the work a few of you have done here in breaking this movie down. I am confused about some of the symbology however. I was wondering if someone could explain the significance of the reflections in the movie. ie:Chigurh’s reflection in the tv in the trailer followed by Bell’s reflection in a later seen and they are both doing the same thing when they see their reflection. And throughout the movie i constantly saw Chicurh’s reflection, motel mirrors, windows, etc. It seemed like the director was throwing it in my face. Also the scene in the motel after Moss dies, Bell is contemplating going in the room where Chigurh might be and i saw his reflection in the brass of the blown out lock on the door.

    That would be reat if someone could shed some light on this for me.

  12. JK says:

    Great analysis. Brought into perspective alot of concepts and interpretations that I failed to see the first time. Makes me want to see it again.

    This my take on the scene when Bell returns to the crime scene: If I could recall correctly, Roscoe mentioned something in regards to “how he didn’t understand how anyone would return back to a crime scene. He just didn’t get it.” Which could have contributed to Bell’s wondering if death was awaiting him behind the door if it indeed returned back to crime scene. I think that Chigurh was in neither the room of the crime nor the room next door. In fact he wasn’t there at all. The room had no light inside, and the only light that was reflected into the empty key hole was the light coming from outside. Which meant the figure he thought he saw refected in the key hole was not Chigurh, but his own reflection. The lights were playing tricks on him, in the same way the double shadow reflection when he opened the door. The relief of knowing that it was his own shadow. I think the Chirgurh whom we saw standing behind the door was not an actual happening in reality but was rather a figment of Bell’s imagination.

    Btw, keep up the good work. Hope to see more analysis of other movies as well.

  13. Nobody says:

    Yeah, I was never convinced that we could actually see Chigurh’s reflection in the empty lock cylinder. That’s why, for the purposes of the literal story, we can say Chigurh was in the next room, but for the purposes of the symbolism, Chigurh was behind the door but disappeared when Bell opened it.

    After all, we do see Bell’s reflection from inside the door–supposedly Chigurh’s POV–but it’s difficult to make out anything distinct from Bell’s POV shot. (I don’t understand how Bell could see his own reflection from his angle though.)

  14. Monica says:

    Hey Nobody – Great analysis of the film. I agreed with all your insight, and was happy to see I wasn’t alone in the theory of Chigurh being death – the angel of death, the grim reaper, the serial killer. I was not aware that it was the 50th anniversary of the Seventh Seal.

    I did have one slight variation of interpretation with what happens when Sheriff Bell crosses the police tape and goes into room 114. We see Chigurh hiding behind the door, but the door opens, slams against the wall (I agree that no one could be behind the door then), and Bell enters an empty hotel room. He has his gun drawn, he’s ready to face death, but death isn’t ready for him, which is why he doesn’t see Chigurh behind the door, which is why Chigurh disappears. What’s comin’ for Bell hasn’t come yet. The coin is a sign the Chigurh has been there and I your idea of it being Bell’s lucky coin.

    Bell not seeing Chigurh continues the “I don’t know, do you see me?” theme seen throughout. Even the pharmacy – he creates a diversion so no one in the pharmacy sees him. Even as he’s pilfering medicines, the by-standers are saying “it just blew up” as though no one even saw him at the car. No one notices him behind the pharmacy counter either.

    Money obviously plays a huge role in the symbolism of this movie. I’m still torn about Bell’s first dream, which he glosses over and to get to the more graphic dream. About the first dream, he says:

    “Anyway, first one I don’t remember to well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he’s gonna give me some money. I think I lost it.”

    This makes me wonder if the money was his or if this was all part of his dream. He went with to meet his dad in town and he had lost some money. It is definitely what motivates him to retire. But the second dream, I think, makes him wish he hadn’t. He’s now aware that whatever path he takes, his dad is up ahead of him, waiting, with a warm fire in all the cold dark.

    There are other symbols in this movie that I haven’t analyzed completely but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on them:

    Reflections obviously (or lack of) – in the TVs, the windows, the mirrors. The first reflections are in the TV in Llewelyn’s house (I think). First Chigurh and then Bell, which makes me wonder if Chigurh is still sitting there but they can’t see him. We’re made to think that he has moved on to harass the trailer park manager, but the time here is all sort of fuzzy.

    Time is another symbol. Chigurh and Carson are both obsessed with it. Chigurh wants to know when the gas station closes and when the man goes to bed. Carson remembers the time and date he last saw Chigurh. Llewelyn knows when he went to Vietnam.

    Drinks – water (aqua), milk, coffee, beer – these all seem important and act as more than just refreshments. Beer helps Llewelyn get into Mexico. Coffee is served just as Bell and Wendell are feeling creeped out about the missing bullet. Aqua is how Llewelyn gets caught at the scene, enabling the Mexicans and Chigurh to ID him through his truck. Milk is how Bell knows he’s just missed Chigurh.

    I’m looking forward to your further analysis of this movie and others! :)

  15. Monica says:

    Oh yeah – tragic that Denise feels so strongly about this movie – “should not allow such drivel as this film to be perpetrated on human beings”

    It’s a blessed fact that all movies aren’t about unicorns, rainbows, and happily ever after. These are the themes that are ruining humanity.

  16. Nobody says:

    We see Chigurh hiding behind the door, but the door opens, slams against the wall (I agree that no one could be behind the door then), and Bell enters an empty hotel room. He has his gun drawn, he’s ready to face death, but death isn’t ready for him, which is why he doesn’t see Chigurh behind the door, which is why Chigurh disappears.

    I completely agree with this, Monica. It is only in the sense that NCFOM is also a literal story about chasing drug money that Chigurh was in the room next door. But symbolically or allegorically, Death is behind the door and still in the room but Bell just can’t see him because Death is not there for him!

    I should have “seen” that before — thank you very much for connecting it with the theme of sight!

    I also love your idea that Chigurh is still in Llewelyn’s trailer when Bell and his deputy are there. Perhaps it is Anton’s shadow that Ed Tom sees in the TV!

  17. Jroc says:

    Would anyone agree that the dime by the vent in the room that Bell enters, signifies that Chigurh IS in the same room behind the door?

  18. Nobody says:

    Before Monica’s comment I wouldn’t have concluded that necessarily. The dime could be from the Mexicans retreiving the money after killing Moss, it could be from Moss being caught in the midst of putting the money in or out of the vent, or it could be from Chigurh finding the money after the cops left then moving back to the room next door.

    But now I think it is most consistent with the overall interpretation in my original post that Chigurh IS in the same room but Bell (and therefore we) simply cannot see him.

    So I think you’re right, JRoc. The three options above seem equally unlikely: once Chigurh retrieved the money why would he go back to the next room? And why would he wait if he wasn’t there to kill Bell?

  19. Andy says:

    Another note on reflections. I may have been seeing things last night when I watched the movie, but when Chigurh is in Llewelyn’s trailer and the shot is focusing on his reflection in the TV, it appears as though Chigurh has a skull for a face. At first glance it looks like a fingerprint, but if you pause the film during that shot, what appears to be merely a fingerprint bears a striking resemblance to a skull! Conversely, when Bell is in the trailer, the exact same shot is used, but Bell appears to have a “halo” of light around him in the reflection. Coincidence? I doubt it.

  20. Nobody says:

    Interesting observation, Andy! I don’t have the DVD yet but when I do I’ll be sure to zoom in on that shot looking for the skull.

  21. Ryan says:

    Excellent discussions and analysis to read here. I’m glad I finally searched for your review, Nobody.

  22. Allison says:

    This is a good analysis except it fell apart at the end. Moss did not unscrew the cover from the ventilation shaft. If he had, Bell would have seen this when he arrived the first time after Moss was shot. The vent was unscrewed by Chigurh who took the money (shown in scene where he gave boys $100 bill). Chigurh used a dime (the proper tool) to unscrew the vent. Moss had used a screw driver.

    Also, Chigurh was not hiding in the adjoining room. The lock was not blown, the cattle gun was not outside the door. This room was a mirror image of the room Bell entered and as such, the lighting and position of Chigurh relative to the door, as shown in the movie, was inconsistent with the adjacent room.

    Chigurh WAS depicted as hiding in the room Bell entered. Two possibilities.

    1. he was imagined by Bell
    2. Bell didn’t “see” him because Bell refused to “see death”, for the metaphorical reason described in the review.

  23. Nobody says:

    Thanks for the comment, Allison; I think you are absolutely right that Chigurh is still inside the room but Bell can’t see him.

    As I said in comment #16 I finally realized this thanks to Monica making the same observation, and it does fit better with my overall interpretation of Chigurh.

    This room was a mirror image of the room Bell entered and as such, the lighting and position of Chigurh relative to the door, as shown in the movie, was inconsistent with the adjacent room.

    This is evidently correct. It is so obvious I am embarrassed it did not occur to me.

  24. Allison says:

    Would anyone agree that the dime by the vent in the room that Bell enters, signifies that Chigurh IS in the same room behind the door?

    Comment by Jroc — 20 Mar. 2008 @ 2:01 am


    I agree and feel the dime being left on the floor is significant. I feel it shows that Chigurh was INTERRUPTED in the act of removing the ventilation grate. Otherwise he would have returned the dime (the proper tool) to his pocket, just as he had at the Del Rio motel. I feel this proves Chigurh was in the motel room at the same time Bell entered, but Bell couldn’t “see” him because he wasn’t ready to meet death.

  25. Nobody says:

    So the case of money also became invisible to Bell since it was now in the possession of Chigurh?

    I know I shouldn’t apply the metaphorical story to the details of the surface story, but I can’t help myself…

  26. Allison says:

    I thought about that too. I suppose you could throw Chigurh’s cattle gun (which he needed to blow the lock) in the same category as the satchel. It would have to be invisible to Bell as well.

    “I suppose those hombres made off with the rest of the stash”,…”though they was leavin’ in a hurry”.

    The movie is like a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle that can’t be solved. You can fit in 498 pieces but there a few that just won’t go. You can fit them in, but only after you remove other pieces you had in before. Frustrating!

  27. Nobody says:

    True enough!

  28. […] is the very premise – it is the consequences of the premise that must be treated credibly. No Country for Old Men and, again, Children of Men are the gold standard of high concept allegory working equally well […]

  29. gizmo says:

    Chigurh definitely is a personification of death. Many are killed as a consequence of the “line of work they are in.” The deepest parts of the movie to me are watching characters reactions as they stare death in the eye. In real life if someone were to be held at gunpoint by a robber most people would say “you dont have to do this” just as they characters in the movie say. Humans can do all of the healthiest things in the world to try to live as long as possible to ward off death but if your card is pulled its your time to go. Moss gives death a run for its money but its only a matter of time for him. As far as previous posts about the nature of time Im not sure if that has much significance but Lweleyn and wells both remeber the exact time when they were both confronted with the possibility of their own demise. Lweleyn for when he was in Vietnam and Wells for the last time he saw Chigurh. They may not have realized at the time but they had near death experiences and were spared. Neither seem to change their way of life and therefore encounter death a second time. Lweleyn is uncompassionate for others as when he has no care for fetching the man some water in the begining and wells is arrogant and egotistical as to how he could retreive the suitcase despite Chigurh. Both have fatal flaws. As far as the reflections when Chigurh and Bell drink the milk Im not sure if that has some deeper purpose but I did not notice that Bell has a split reflection and Chigurh’s is just one image showing that Chigurh is not completely human because he does not cast a shadow.

    My interpretation of Bell is that hes had enough of this cold world and is ready to checkout. Hes afraid of both life and meeting death, but as the movie rolls on he becomes less afraid of death than of continuing on living. He walks into the crime scene room with his gun barely drawn its as if hes taking a suicidal like action. When death is not their for him he sits down with a look of despair. He is a good person at heart. Hes not in control of when its his turn to go. He represents the only character who is searching for an end not trying to avoid it but somehow he is the last man standing. Their are many parallels throughout the movie I could write a thesis on it but thought I would share my thoughts criticism welcome.

  30. Nobody says:

    Thanks for that, gizmo! I particularly like the observation in your last paragraph that Sheriff Bell is the only character not trying to avoid death (even though he doesn’t understand it) but — or therefore? — the only one left standing.

    I still haven’t seen the film again since writing my original post but maybe now that I have a Blu-ray player I will pick it up. Then I can finally update the post with my revised interpretation of the ending (in comments 16 and 23).

  31. gizmo says:

    Some other things I noticed: The color white is represented in may forms before Chigurh strikes- Carson wells has a white hankerchief as he walks up the stairs, the cat in the last hotel is drinking out of a white bowl as lewelyn checks in (which later when he runs back in after climbing out the window the same bowl is red), Carley Jean is looking out the window with white sheets blowing in the wind before she sees Chigurh. White is the official color of surrender, and in some cases can represent cowardice or fearfulness.

    It was also interesting to observe ed toms obsession with death towards the end. Hes staring at the body in the morgue and every conversation he is in it is brought up in some fashion. While talkling with uncle ellis he asks when his uncle died. If you compare the two dreams at the end the second has a deep impact on him but the first he just glances over as if it had no meaning. His father had given him money and he thinks he lost it. Ed tom is not impressed with nor seeking material possessions as are the other characters.

  32. gizmo says:

    One other thing as far as the surrender is that one of the things Chigurh says to carson is “you should admit your situation there would be more dignity in it” …he is in denial that hes facing the end.
    Another thing occured to me about the dreams, the first dream may have been some sort of attempt by ed toms father (or ed toms imagining him doing so) at helping ed tom come join him in heaven…because we all know what happens throughout the movie to characters when they hold on to or seek out money. When ed tom loses the money, the end for him is not so easy and he must encounter the second dream wheres hes in the cold waiting to be warmed by the fire his father has created up ahead in the dark.

  33. Nobody says:

    Aha! If Ed Tom’s dismissal of the first dream reveals his lack of concern for material wealth, perhaps that explains why he survived while all the other characters who are trying to hold onto the transient physical world (represented by the briefcase of money) lose it more easily.

    When I first say the movie I wondered if the whole movie was not in fact the entirety of the first dream that Ed Tom has virtually forgotten. However I think he says that his father was in both dreams, and that he himself lost the money. But through the mist of dimly remembered dreams perhaps he thought he lost it himself? (For the literature students out there, this is an example of an interpretation that has no textual support. It might be nice but there is no such thing as an infinite number of possible meanings. There may be thousands of possible meanings, especially of No Country, but that does not imply infinite meanings and there are some things a text cannot mean. This is most likely one of them.)

  34. jl says:

    Your comments really help me understand the meaning of the story and the characters involved. Something that is really bothering, me though, is the scene where Anton shoots at the crow on the bridge and the bridge “chimes” for lack of a better word. The scene seems so out of place – I’m sure it has some significance, just can’t figure it. Thanks to anyone who has a grip on this aspect.

  35. Nobody says:

    You have a very sensitive eye (and ear) for the tone of this movie, JL, because that short scene is indeed very out of place!

    It is simply a quotation by the Coens of their earlier film that dealt with many of the same things, albeit in comic form. In Raising Arizona the supernatural force of vengeance is a leather-clad biker named Leonard Smalls and we see him shoot a rabbit on the side of the road as he rides by. He does this apparently out of spite, as suggested by Nic Cage’s voiceover:

    He could turn day into night, and laid to waste everything in his path. He was especially hard on the little things, the helpless and gentle creatures.

    In the movie this is a dream sequence that is very surreal, and Smalls’ cruelty seems exaggerated. But in No Country the cruelty of Anton Chigurh is decidedly less gratuitous, as demonstrated by his weapon of choice, the bolt-gun designed to put cattle out of their misery as quickly as possible.

    So I think Coens’ self-referential quotation is itself gratuitous and, even worse, out of character for Chigurh: as you picked up on, it definitely does not “chime” well with his behavior in the rest the picture! I think it is the Coens’ only false step in an otherwise perfect film.

  36. john says:

    Great analysis Nobody! It was pleasing to read that other people saw the existential themes in this movie as I did (on the second viewing). I have also seen the seventh seal and thought that it was somewhat deeper in its views of how different people confront the absurdity of death, and went deeper into religous views. But I thought No Country for Old Men was a much better movie, and might be my all time favorite. I don’t know if movie critics (i.e. Roger Ebert) dumb down their analysis of films for the average viewer or not, but I think a movie critics reviews should be more like THIS brilliant one.

    Just to say a few things:

    I love how the movie poster illustrates the main theme of the movie.

    I wish you would discuss the conversation between Anton and Lewellyn’s wife. It is seen throughout the movie that she is very childlike and naive (like the reviewer above named Denise). Could it be that her childlike view of the world and life in general was altered by the death of Lewellyn, and now she sees death coming for her (she says something like I knew this wasn’t over)? Maybe you could shed some light on this scene for me.

    Also, I love what you said about the kids fighting over the hundred dollar bill. Never saw the significance of that. But that does lead me to my final comment.

    What is the significance of the scene directly after the conversation with Lewellyn’s wife, where Anton gets injured in the car wreck? It seems like such an epic scene, and the last in which we see Anton. As seen in the detailed analysis of this film above, Everything in this movie is beautifully crafted, dripping with symbolism, and I know this scene is not any different. Perhaps you could discuss your views on this scene as well.

  37. Nobody says:

    Thanks for your comments, John. I’m glad this post continues to attract discussion. To address your points in order:

    1. You’re absolutely right, Chigurh’s shroud-like visage dominating the tiny silhouette of Llewelyn, who is futilely running away from him, makes for a great poster. Too bad it didn’t survive to the DVD cover.

    2. I agree, Carla Jean is not (or perhaps no longer) naïve in her final scene. She has just buried her mother after already losing her husband obviously. She recognizes who Chigurh is and doesn’t try to escape him like everyone else in the movie, except Ed Tom. In fact this scene is the photographic negative of Sheriff Bell entering the motel room. The bedroom door she opens and walks through is even in the same position with respect to the room and the camera. Although they find different fates behind the door, both Ed Tom and Carla Jean need to sit down.

    Carla Jean’s final scene also pays off the sub-theme of chance and determinism that was introduced by Chigurh’s first coin toss. Although Carla Jean accepts her fate—“I knowed exactly what was in store for me”—she refuses his abdication of responsibility for killing people. Apparently this is the most significant change from the novel, in which she does accept the coin toss. But in the movie she forces Chigurh to accept that he is an agent with free will—“You don’t have to do this”—and when he deflects her charge by deferring to chance, she insists that “the coin don’t have no say, it’s just you.”

    Chigurh tells Carla Jean “I got here the same way the coin did,” which is a kind of answer to the question he refused to answer at the beginning of the movie when he told the gas station owner, “What business is it of yours where I’m from?” The implication, that he does not decide his own movements or actions, which are simply the inexorable effects caused by the decisions (signified by an icon of monetary transactions) of others, is perhaps the basis for understanding the next sequence.

    3. I have heard people say that the car accident is intended to prove that even an unstoppable force like Chigurh is not immune to the wheel of fortune, that even he is subject to the tyranny of chance he preaches. But I don’t think this is the point.

    The Coens have said they did everything they could to make Chigurh more human than he was in the book, and this can be seen in the emphasis given to Chigurh dressing his wounds earlier in the film. Insofar as Chigurh is not only Death but also a mere serial killer, it would ruin the credibility of the story at the most literal level for a man to walk away from being T-boned without sustaining an injury of some sort.

    So I don’t think the point we should take away from the collision is that Chigurh does not escape from it unscathed. The fact is that he does slip away, just like he escaped custody at the very beginning of the film.

    The striking thing about the collision is the way it is expertly set up. It is strictly from Chigurh’s point of view, so we do not see the oncoming car until it hits Chigurh’s car—reinforcing the words of the woman by the pool, “No one ever sees [what’s coming].” But the way it is shot and edited, with the emphasis on the fact that Chigurh’s light is green, builds suspense so well that we expect something to come out of nowhere. In other words, we can feel something coming even though we can’t see it. The other driver would have had a comparable blind spot.

    The ongoing motif of not seeing Death until it’s your time is made more explicit at the end of the scene. The last thing Chigurh says to the boys on bicycles—and his last line in the film—is “You didn’t see me.” It’s a great payoff on an earlier scene that had cut away immediately after Chigurh’s statement to the accountant: “That depends. Do you see me?”

    Secondarily is the general point, which is not dwelt on because it is not part of this particular story, that whomever has hit Chigurh’s car is presumably dead. Auto collisions are that ubiquitous example of accidental death, which is never intentional even though somebody is usually at fault. In this case it is someone who runs a red light and meets his Death. The driver is an anonymous analogue of Llewelyn who tried to outsmart Chigurh and failed, and the crash is another example of the glance-shot which ricochets to kill the aggressor.

    Most people try to avoid death or even run away from it, but others carelessly tempt Death, as if chasing him down like the pit bull who jumps into Llewelyn’s handgun. In the collision sequence this is emphasized by the point of view, in which we see that Chigurh is not actively searching for a soul to reap when he is effectively challenged to his authority over intersection physics. But the boldness of the unknown driver does not earn him protection because no matter how many red lights you get away with, eventually you will lose. Ultimately, the mortality rate of humanity is 100 percent.

    The scene feels a little bit out of place because it is a quick summation of the whole film: no matter how fast you are, you cannot outrun Death.

  38. Kiersten says:

    Ok…so I know this thought I have isn’t any deep observation full of symbolism and whatnot, but, I thought it was humorous.

    In the debated scene of the hotel room, when our sheriff goes into the bathroom and switches on the light, there is a very discernible face on the toilet paper roll sitting on the shelf in front of him!!!

    This leads to my theory that Mr. Chigurh has the ability to transform himself into toiletries to escape conviction. Hah, I jest.

    But really, if someone could watch it and pause it on that scene and have a look, I’d really appreciate it if you could confirm it with me so I don’t feel so crazy…

  39. Nobody says:

    Well, you had me going there, Kiersten — enough to check the scene.

    Unfortunately for fans of your transmogrification theory, the toilet paper roll just has a horizontal label around it with a brand name on it. (The word looks like “Performance” but to me that sounds more like a brand of tampons than paper products.)

    However there is a kind of circular seal in the middle of the label that might be construed as a Muppet-like nose if one squints, and a curved shadow below it that could be interpreted like a smile I guess, but the overall effect looks more like Ernie of Sesame Street than Anton Chigurh.

    I would post a screen shot but I don’t know how to rip frames from a Blu-ray disc.

  40. Kiersten says:

    Well, thank you for checking! My friends and I must have stared at that paused scene for about five minutes trying to figure out if it was a face…but we were working with the graphics of a normal dvd player and small screen. Though the face we saw was less Muppet-esque and more like a sinister scowl.

    Thanks again, and sorry for sucking up some of your time. At least it’s one less mystery in my mind to work through!

  41. Nobody says:

    Don’t feel bad–when it comes to Chigurh all possibilities must be investigated! Thanks for checking back!

  42. […] Posted by Chill on 03 Oct 2009 at 01:26 am | One of the better analyses of No Country For Old Men I’ve […]

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  44. Mrankings says:

    Reblogged this on Mrankings and commented:
    Review of No Country for Old Men, the best movie of 2007

  45. clayton miller says:


    The movie is a VERY faithful adaptation of the book—in fact and most of the dialogue is taken word-for-word from the book. Below are the opening monologues by Sheriff Bell from the book and movie (I added capitals for emphasis where necessary) regarding Bell placing his “soul at hazard.”


    “Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I dont want to confront him. I know he’s real. I have seen his work. I WALKED IN FRONT OF THOSE EYES ONCE. I WON’T DO IT AGAIN. I wont push my chips forward and stand up and go out to meet him. It aint just bein older. I wish that it was. I cant say that it’s even what you are willin to do. Because I always knew that you had to be willin to die to even do this job. That was always true. Not to sound glorious about it or nothin but you do. If you aint they’ll know it. They’ll see it in a heartbeat. I think it is more like what you are willin to become. AND I THINK A MAN WOULD HAVE TO PUT HIS SOUL AT HAZARD. And I wont do that.”


    “I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five. Hard to believe. Grandfather was a lawman. Father too. Me and him was sheriff at the same time, him in Plano and me here. I think he was pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the old-time sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lot of folks find that hard to believe. Jim Scarborough never carried one. That the younger Jim. Gaston Boykins wouldn’t wear one. Up in Commanche County. I always liked to hear about the old- timers. Never missed a chance to do so. Nigger Hoskins over in Batrop County knowed everybody’s phone number off by heart. You can’t help but compare yourself against the old timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would’ve operated these times. There was this boy I sent to Huntsville here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killed 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 – not to be glorious. But I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. You can say it’s my job to fight it but I don’t know what it is anymore. More than that, I don’t want to know. A MAN WOULD HAVE TO PUT HIS SOUL AT HAZARD. He would have to say, okay, I’ll be part of this world.”

    The Coen Brothers intentionally chose to omit Bell’s claim to have “walked in front of [Chigurh’s] eyes.” This is because in the movie–unlike in the book–Bell is imagining that the killer could be hiding in the shadows in the motel room.

    Additionally, when Bell enters the motel room, he looks around, notes that the bathroom window is locked from the inside, meaning no one escaped that way. He sees the grate removed from the vent and the dime — which we recognize as Chigurh’s calling card — on the floor. The money was hidden in the vent, and now Chigurh has taken it. (Chigurh visits the hotel room while Bell is having coffee with the local sheriff, who tells him the money was not in the hotel room. He guesses the Mexicans must have taken it, but Bell points out that they were speeding away pretty quickly.)

    I think the purpose of that shot of the locked bathroom window is to confirm that Chigurh’s presence in the room was imagined. Without it, we might think he escaped just before Bell opened the door. With it, we realize he wasn’t here to begin with (or, rather, that he came and went before Bell arrived).

    But the locked window also conveys another message. If Chigurh represents Bell’s fears, then in a sense he is still here, and Bell must confront him, metaphorically if not literally. Bell’s showdown is with his fears, and the film’s subsequent scenes indicate that he has decided he’s not up to the task anymore.

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