The birth of evil (No Country for Old Men movie review)

‘A man would have to put his soul at hazard’ – that’s a key-sentence for the whole movie ‘No Country for Old Men’. The Coen brothers are telling the story of dangerous being in the world.  The first monologue of the sheriff  Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) situates him in a position of the ruler/owner of the story, which is an autobiographical talk structured in the parable. The actual plot of the movie is an extensive illustration of the existence of randomness. The story is based on a general principle – the cowboy little world turns out to be a metaphor of an universal microcosm.

Llewelyn Moss discovers the remains of several drug runners who have all killed each other in an exchange gone violently wrong. He decides not to report anything to the police, but to keep two millions dollars for himself. Unfortunately,  Moss is not aware of Anton Chigurh, the psychopathic killer… ‘No Country for Old Men’ may look like a typical dark thriller  but The Coen brothers are too good to be easily defined. Their movie is a collage of genres (elements of psychological drama are mixed here with those characteristic for action movies). All  purely formal tricks (poetics of crank out,  attention to detail) seem to be visual   comments on the absurdity of the whole situation. What’s more – they like playing with contrasts.  Their movie is aesthetically inconsistent. Anton (terrific Javier Bardem) looks like stranger that comes from another movie. He doesn’t belong to the reality but, paradoxically, he is the one responsible for all actions and changes. You can describe him as an universal portrait of a psychopath, as an embodiment of the idea of evil.

The Coen Brothers are playing the ambiguous game with their audience. They seem to design a model viewer that would be a fun of unsophisticated Hollywood cinema but on the other hand – they deconstruct this dominant model by playing and toying with our receiving habits (philosophical background, a lot of shots showing the reality of abject and powers of horror). They simultaneously turn on both mechanism – disgust and desire. Directors utilize up clichés (simple, almost stereotypical figures of ordinary guy, psycho-killer, sheriff just before retirement that belong to the gallery of typical characters.) The same with the skeleton feature, ways of showing dead bodies (poetics splashes of blood and shirts that are slowly getting red), and methods of maintaining  the tension. The Coen Brothers deconstruct the typicality of classic thriller for example by not adding any music soundtrack. The melody of their movie is composed of  sounds of steps, breaths and uncomfortable moments of the total silence.

‘No Country for Old Men’ is not only the story of the pure, irrational violence. It’s also a nostalgic tale about longing for goodness and peace. When the sheriff is dreaming about his father, his soul expresses overwhelming, breathtaking pain. Bell could be described as a double-agent. He is a spokesman for the past but he also very consciously experiences the process of the spread of evil.  He sinks into a subliminal affirmation of the past – it is not a simple idealization but a shocking, built on the principle of minimalism, record of the process of degeneration. He knows that there is no way to stop what’s coming. The Coen Brother are trying to say that whole life is about playing ‘heads or tails’. The hazard can be both – salvage and destructive.