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Review of "No Country for Old Men"  Rate Topic 
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 Posted: Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 08:40 pm
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natstephenson
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Mana: 
The film "No Country for Old Men" I think is worth discussing on this forum because for me this was an example of the ending of destroying any redeeming qualities of the first 2/3 of the movie.  I was really rivetted by Act I and II of No Country because the acting was phenominal, and I just felt as though I was inside of this movie feeling the terror and suspense as the "hero" was chased by the psychotic "villain".  There was a part in the film where I was getting excited that my expectations would be fulfilled, my expectations that there would be justice, and basically the villain would get killed off by the hero.  WRONG!  At the beginning of Act III of this movie (by the way, the movie was not divided into acts but being playwrights, you'll see where each act would be divided if it did have acts), I really got the impression that this is where the hero gets his act together, and although there might be more suspense and terror, justice (i.e., the villain getting killed off) will prevail.  In a wonderfully anti-climactic way, the hero died, then the love interest died and the villain just got a little mangled but lived.  The film ends with this haiku-esque (by that I mean trying to be pretenciously simple) scene with Tommy Lee Jones' character describing to his wife some dream he had had, which may have had some bearing on the story.  And then, the credits.  At which point, one of the many elderly people in the audience (this was hilarious that they thought that this brutally violent movie was somehow geared at old men because of the title) declared, "I guess I'll write this one off as an expense on my income taxes."

Only one other movie had such an awful affect on me which is "Requiem for a Dream".  Requiem was superbly crafted, and well acted right to the end. What I just despised about both plays is that the screenwriter did not include any light (the light of hope and justice) in the ending of the darkness of these film.  Why?  Not being the screenwriter of these films, I don't know, but it appears that the screenwriters were trying to break with conventions (Hollywood or just traditional story telling) or were trying to reflect their idea of what reality is, e.g. bleakness.  Either way, it just comes off as being totally pompous.  Reality is not all bleak.  It's the beauty and the horror all combined.  Sure, you can live a horrendous life with all manners of travesties in between, but what child doesn't have light inside of him.  It can be destroyed as an adult sometimes completely for some, but it exists in the beginning.  Yet, even with an atheist, an atheist by saying there is no GOd is admitting the concept of God and indirectly showing a need for there to be a God.  Could films by this be saying the same thing?  There is no light!  Really?

Similarly, I've had the same reaction to modern music in that as opposed to modern art, which for me is very expressive, modern music is basically an expression of math and science.  True enough, mathmeticians and scientists can be quite creative but within the world of art, it's just plain old annoying.  Oh, look at me!  I can find random numbers, assign microtonal notes to them, and tah-dah!  Finger nails on the blackboard!  It's genius!  So, as one modern music professor told me, I'm living in the 17th century.  So be it!  Probably it would be more apt to say that I'm living in the mid-twentieth century musically as far as how far into dissonances I get with my music which is to say about as dissonance as some jazz composers, but not to the extremes of Elliot Carter.  Maybe it's just a question of subjectivity and being exposed to such modern music from an early age.

I feel that humans can reach higher heights and deeper spiritual depth by taking the colors, the notes, the words, the story structures and express the dark and light aspects of humanity sublimely.  I feel that these models of age old story telling structures have stood the test of time for a reason.  This is why I think you can go to see ancient ruins around the world such as Incan ruins and be in awe, but thousands of years from now, will people be in awe of our aluminum McDonald's arches and plexiglass enormodome stadiums.  Probably not!  When we build stories that do not follow the structures of nature, you get a disconnection for nature.  You get these kinds of films that blot out the light in your soul, making you want to you want to curl up in a ball and die.  You can have twists and turns in plots that breathe new light into old story telling models, but it is those models that speak to our inner beings.  Who can't watch a Shakespearean play over and over again without finding it boring or contrived. 

Let me just clarify that I do believe that as with many classics, tragedy is a worth while genre to mine because even in the darkness, there is light.  A tragedy let's us see another aspect of our humanity. 

Maybe I'm wrong in saying that this film is excrement.  Maybe good art is art that causes a reaction like extreme let down and frustration in having your hopes (for a good story) dashed to pieces.  As in Moss Hart's autobiography Act I, he and his collaborator George Kaufman would have called a play or film that caused the audience to walk out cursing a failure but in today's topsy turvy day and age, I guess it's a classic.


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 Posted: Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 11:51 pm
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kris
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SPOILER ALERT (for 4th & 5th paragraphs)

"No Country for Old Men" certainly is worth discussing!

I agree that Acts I and II were riveting, and although I abhor violence, I was not completely put off by the third act. The violence seemed inevitable rather than gratuitous. Besides, I was inured by that point. This movie was quite honest in a fatalistic way.

Oddly, somewhere into the third act I began to find the "villain" more sympathetic. As the Woody Harrelson character said about him earlier (and I'll butcher the paraphrase), the villain had his own code of ethics. In a very bizarre way, he was honorable.  Although  today's trend toward glorifying serial killers is a bit disturbing(!), this villain was humanized more than glorified, and it's a credit to Javier Bardem's acting that he pulled that off in such a subtle way.  The acting throughout, by virtually everyone, was superb.

SPOILER ALERT
The ending was ... quiet. I was so happy that Tommy Lee Jones made it out of the movie alive! I think his dream related back to when he said earlier to Ellis (the old guy in the wheelchair in the trailer -- was he his father's brother?) something like he had expected to find God by a certain age and hadn't.  I think the dream, which was about his deceased father going on ahead -- to God, to heaven, to the mysterious beyond -- brought him back to face the possibility of finding God, or of God finding him.

I think Tommy Lee Jones, rather than Josh Brolin, was the true center of this movie. You could almost say the violence, in a weird way, was peripheral. For me, the movie really was about an old-school  "dinosaur" -- Jones --  trying to make sense of an increasingly crazy world where no one plays by the rules. He had kept his sense of humor, his laconic wit, his survival skills intact,  but he did, in the end, retire.

I remember reading "All the Pretty Horses" and thinking Cormac McCarthy pulls no punches.  Between him and the Coen brothers, things get pretty brutal! But I'm really glad I saw this movie. Certain scenes and landscapes are indelible.

Thanks for bringing this up as a topic!

Regards,
Kris


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 Posted: Tue Dec 4th, 2007 12:45 am
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Alan
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I haven't seen the film, but the book it is based on puzzled me in much the same way the film seems to have puzzled you.  So perhaps it's Mcormac's fault.

 

 

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 Posted: Tue Dec 4th, 2007 12:55 am
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Edd
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Mana: 

I haven't seen it yet, but I plan to so I won't read anything you've written till after I've seen it.  Today I went to see LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA.  I highly recommend it.  I read the book way over ten years ago so I had forgotten most of it and was able to enjoy the film without comparing it to the book.  I'll be back after I've seen NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

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 Posted: Tue Dec 4th, 2007 03:49 pm
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DWolfman
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Mana: 
If I hadn't read the book already, I'm certain
I would have been totally lost
the last half hour of the movie
as I'm sure most of the audience
I was with were by their reactions
and discussions afterward.

Having read the book, I'm enchanted
with the characters, the dialogue,
the maneuvering of the forces,
the adaptation on the screen by the Coens,
and the superb casting
of the three main characters
and the actors' efforts in physicalizing them;
and the last half hour of the movie
plays with the same "not quite there"
approach as the book.

However, not having read McCarthy before
(and only drawn to this
in anticipation of the movie)
I realize that the end results
of all three characters were exactly
(as Chigurh would probably say)
the resolutions their paths brought them,
I still feel "teased" and cheated.
Kinda like real life, huh?


My favorite statement from the book
that didn't get into the movie
pretty well summarizes the sheriff's outlook:
"Loretta said something to the effect
it wasn't my fault and I said it was.
I told her that if you got a bad enough dog in the yard
People would stay out of it...And they didn't."




 

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 Posted: Mon Dec 10th, 2007 08:23 pm
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natstephenson
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Mana: 
It's interesting that you saw Tommy Lee Jones as the central character to the film, and also the title makes alot more sense in that light.  That being said, what was the message of the movie?  Was it that the West is wild and it always has been?  I wonder if people from that area would agree.  For example, I found Scorsese's "Departed", or as we'd say in Boston (Depawted), to be a really lame touristy take on Boston with too many stars in it and not enough substance.  Then again, maybe other people would say the same of Good Fellas while to me, a person who's never been to Chicago (it was set in Chicago, right?), it was very gritty and compelling in a true to laugh manner.  Who knows?

What I find interesting about your take on the film is that my musical comedy has a similar set up in which the older character in the play seems to be on the periphery but is really the central character and the person who I keep seeing as the main character (but probably in the grand scheme of things is not) is the younger male heroic character who has a rise, fall, redemption transformation during the play.  The older male character is following a sort of inverse transformation of redemption, fall, rise which in a way makes his character far more likeable, interesting and central to the plot.  I won't spoil the ending of my play (as both Kris and I have this film) until I've written a stronger draft and all of you guys can check it out.  At any rate, the question pertaining to what I'm writing her might be, "How do you decide who the main character is? Or does it matter?"  As some have said, the killer is thought by some to be the main character.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

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 Posted: Mon Dec 10th, 2007 10:03 pm
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kris
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Mana: 
Two good questions -- what is the theme of the movie, and how do you decide who the main character is.

The theme of the movie? I'm not sure. Maybe that the West is wild and getting wilder? That the world is getting wilder? Or maybe what DWolfman quoted from the book:

"Loretta said something to the effect
it wasn't my fault and I said it was.
I told her that if you got a bad enough dog in the yard
People would stay out of it...And they didn't."

That makes the message more personal (to Tommy Lee Jones' character) and less universal. Maybe the message is that time eventually passes all of us by. We grow up in a world that's one way, and we learn (or try to learn) how to deal with that world, and then the world changes -- has been changing all along. And we reach an age/stage where we don't change or resist change or are unable to change. And by then we might even be a little bit glad to slip out of a world that's become so foreign...  which is fine, because the youngsters who are growing up in that world can deal with it, and the world suits them and it's their world -- for a while.  And it just goes on and on like that.

As for how you decide who the main character is... do we decide? Does the character decide? The reader? The viewer? A very interesting question.  Is the main character the one who resonates the most with the reader/viewer? Or the one the reader cares about most? Or the one with the most "face" time or "page" time? I'm sure there's a rule for this somewhere! and I don't know it. I can't think of a specific example at the moment, but I know I've seen movies or read books where a character is killed or dies or goes away and it just seems like the heart goes out of the movie/book for me and I don't really care what happens anymore. Maybe that person was the main character ... and the author/filmmaker didn't realize it! Anyway, I'll need to think about this for a while.

Interesting that you have an apparently peripheral character who might be the main character. What would happen to your musical if he were to go away? What would happen if the younger guy were to go away? Fun to speculate!

Kris

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 Posted: Tue Dec 11th, 2007 12:51 pm
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natstephenson
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Mana: 
To be honest I'm not sure now who the main character of my musical is because I always thought of the main character as being the younger fellow who gets more face time, but the peripheral older fellow is a much more interesting and fleshed out character.  This is sort of relating to my dilemma right now in that the younger man who I thought was the main character when I began now appears to not be and also the younger character is sort of this nameless character who just observes everything and goes with the flow which gets him into a mess.  The older character meanwhile is sorting out an internal struggle which shows a physical transformation as he goes from insane to sane.  The younger character is a complete inversion of the older one, going from "sane" to INSANE.   Do you (y'all) think that it makes sense to have a principal character be nameless and get manipulated for a majority of the play (until he finally gets a spine and stands for himself)?

Regarding "No Country for Old Men", the film was very good in demonstrating the changes that occur with old age.  As one gets older, the less one wants to get involved in crazy situations, particularly ones that might involve violence, and you see the world around you getting progressively more crazy.  This I believe is not true because the history of mankind is filled with lunacy.  It is amazing though how one's perception changes.  Speaking for myself, I went from thinking that my little home town in Massachusetts was the center of the world where no one could do no wrong to slowly but surely seeing it as completely screwed up to me wanting to leave to live in my wife's country, Bolivia because I feel more simpatico with her culture, the people and the connection with nature there (yet I have to pay off my American sized debts before we can move there).  Anyway, the point being, I'm sure as I get older this process with change my perception even more probably making me more conservative in the process, although with social justice issues I seem to get more set in my ways siding with the low man on the totem pole.  The point being, if I saw this film as an older man, I might have enjoyed it more.  Yet, as Kris mentioned happening with him with some films and stories, I felt like the movie died when the person who I saw as the main character died. 

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