No Sleep For Young Audiences…

I can’t stop thinking about No Country For Old Men. I need to see it again.

My consistent criticism of Westerns–regardless of their “greatness”–is their abject failure to conjure a sense of the “plains”, of the “west” … that sense of a foreboding eternity … of beautiful and rollings hills covered with sage and grasses … hills that are utterly indifferent to the plight or suffering of any who wander there. That sense of something so much greater than ourselves… that subtle reminder that, no matter the degree of our mastery of nature, it’s still inadequate. The reminder that, really, we’ve not even begun to conquer nature. That we’re guests. Transient. Finite, on an infinite stage. And powerfully alone. Powerfully alone on life’s infinite stage…

No Country does that. It creates a sense of the landscape. Of Texas … of its wide-open plains. It’s more than just a motif … it’s the leitmotif. It drives the movie. It underlies the movie.

The film’s “gritty realism” … is based on the land. It’s fear, the lasting sense of unease, worry … derived from the land. And it’s not “gritty realism” like Taxi Driver, where dingy lighting and dismal scenarios form its claim to realism … rather, No Country‘s grit comes from the stubble on Tommy Lee Jones’ face … from the texture of grasses, blowing in the wind.

I’ve never seen a more convincing … period piece. Admittedly, set in the early 80’s, it’s not far removed from 2007– but at the same time, it is. No Country is at once familiar … and far more alien than Marie Antoinette. More alien than Lord of the Rings–the the extent that LOTR is based on familiar human archetypes. It’s fantastic–yet familiar. We’re allowed–an indeed, encouraged to–identify with Legolas, Frodo, Aragorn. I think Tolkein intended, in some way, to edify, to instruct. And if that may be allowed, then the Coen brothers intended to terrify. To meditate on the horrors of modernity… We, at the viewers, are denied any sense of identification. With any of the characters. They’re characters of a different breed, a different generation.

The film closes with the description of two dreams. It’s such a simple scene–husband, retired, and wife, over the breakfast table. The scene is flushed with the light of early morning. And he relates his dream, he just describes it, in his slow, textured, Texan drawl. No visual indicators, representation. And, in so doing … creates a visual image that remains in my mind as poignant as anything I’ve seen in cinema.

EVERY aspect of the film is so rich in details … so many layers… I love the shot of the tile floor in the sheriff’s office: tile, thatched with the scuffs of a countless many cowboy boots. I love the sound design … there’s always a barely-audible layer of music from some ambient source…

Jesus. I just need to see the movie again. I don’t have time this afternoon … but I somehow get the sense that I may be going anyway.

About Mark Egge

Transportation planner-adjacent data scientist by day. YIMBY Shoupista on a bicycle by night. Bozeman, MT. All opinions expressed here are my own.
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