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Mammon’s greatest power is the influence he can exert over the human mind and heart. He inspires envy, greed, and lust so potent that even good men can be driven to corruption. Usually, Mammon’s evil grip leads to obsession; once you fall under his spell, you will struggle to focus on anything other than the treasure he has used to tempt you, and you will do almost anything to get your hands on it. Because of this ability to monopolize a person’s energy, many theologians described Mammon as “enslaving” men.
    -ESSAY: Mammon (Prof. Geller. January 4, 2017,
While it was often claimed that Cormac McCarthy's novels were unfilmable, the Coen brothers version of No Country for Old Men was immediately hailed as a classic. This mystery was cleared up when it was revealed that the work began life as a film script, which the author converted to a novel when no studio was interested. It not only reads that way but Mr. mcCarthy told the Wall Street Journal that when Ethan Coen returned to his seat after winning the Academy Award for best screenplay he said, “Well, I didn’t do anything, but I’m keeping it."

Both novel and film move propulsively forward with set pieces of violence before arriving at more elegaic final sections (longer in the book). The story amalgamates elements of the Western--particularly the setting--and horror--Anton Chighur is essentially a monster--but it is essentially a noir. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a decent enough man, but he makes a terrible mistake. While out hunting antelope--using the sniper skills that had served him in Vietnam--he stumbles across the wreckage of a drug deal gone bad: seven dead men and one dying; shot up vehicles; numerous guns; a bale of heroin and two million dollars in cash. While the dying man pleads for "agua," Llewelyn takes the money and heads home to hide it in his trailer.

In one variation from the film noir trope, his young wife, Carla Jean turns out to be a thoroughly devoted and decent woman. And Llewelyn retains his own decency to the degree that he returns to the scene with water, even knowing the danger he's placing himself in.

Where are you goin' baby?

Something I forgot to do. I'll be back.

What are you goin to do. [...]

I'm fixin to do somethin dumbern hell but I'm goin anyways. If I don't come back tell Mother I love her.

Your mother's dead Llewelyn.

Well I'll tell her myself then.
Sure enough, once there he has a confrontation with cartel members and has to leave his truck behind so both the crooks and the cops know who has the money and the chase is on. Llewelyn's fatalism and the inevitability of all that follows reminded me of nothing so much Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, who likewise knows that he's not likely to get away with his fateful decision.

Sure, there is no femme fatale in this story, but there is greed and Mr. McCarthy is not subtle about the temptation to evil that the money exercises. He invokes Mammon more than once (see the definition above) and then, if that's not blunt enough, the Devil himself:
I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics.
Llewelyn, having succumbed, is Fallen and the evil he brings into his world--in the form of the underworld enforcer Chigurh--is every bit as terrifying and relentless as the demon in The Exorcist.

Part of the genius of the novel/film is that, while it is grounded in this Biblical territory, it does nod to horror movie conventions by giving Chigurh a gimmick, the captive bolt gun powered by an oxygen tank with which he commits several murders and which he repeatedly uses to shoot out door lock mechanisms. It is his version of Leatherface's chainsaw, Michael Meyer's knife, Freddy Kreuger's claw. Carson Wells, the other enforcer in the story is recognizably human and almost decent seeming, but not Chigurh. As he pursues Llewelyn across West Texas he leaves a string of corpses in his wake and in the most memorable scene in book or movie he forces a gas station owner to wager his life on a coin flip for no other reason than that he doesn't like a too personal question he's asked. Nearly anyone else who witnesses him in action is doomed.

In the hands of a writer aiming for lesser game, Chigurh might be nothing more than a psychopath, who kills for no comprehensible reason. But Chigurh in not simply immoral or amoral; he actually lives to a code. As Wells explains to Llewelyn when he catches up to him in a Mexican hospital after a shootout with Chigurh:
This man won't stop looking for you. Even if he gets the money back. It won't make any difference to him. Even if you went to him and gave him the money he would still kill you. Just for having inconvenienced him. [...]

There's no one alive on this planet that's ever had even a cross word with him. They're all dead. These are not good odds. He's a peculiar man. You could even say he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that.

Here we arrive at a lynchpin of the novel. All long, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell has served as our narrator and conscience as he tries to track down Llewelyn before the bad guys, mostly on behalf of Carla Jean, who doesn't deserve to lose her husband over one mistake. It was Ed Tom who invoked Satan when decrying drugs and he is appalled by much of modernity, right down towards incivility and body piercings. But Ed Tom does not reserve blame for the drug dealers, he indicts those who choose to use the drugs. And, in a devastating passsage, he tells about a woman sitting next to him at a conference complaining:
And she kept talking about the right wing this and the right wing that. I aint even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people.Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I dont like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.
In a lot of the criticism of McCarthy you see him accused of nihilism, but this is the exact opposite. Ed Tom, the hero of the story, is the anti-nihilist and he has just tied the lax morality of this woman directly to the devil Chigurh. Both, after all, have essentially adopted a set of "principles" that allow them to dispose of anyone who inconveniences them. That's rough stuff.

Of course, the nihilism accusation also gets tossed around because Chigurh ultimately walk away (well, stumbles), having killed Llewelyn, Carlson & even Carla Jean. The Devil/Evil, literally, has prevailed. But given the Christian themes he is explicating here, what other conclusion would be true? As in any noir, once Llewelyn chose to act as he did, and embraced evil, there was no escape. The actions of men do not heal the world and drive out the Devil. This too is the import of the coda that ends both the film and the novel, Ed Tom's dream about his departed dad:
[I]t was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept goin. Never said nothin. He just rode on past me and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.
This is not the country for old men. It lies beyond this world. And the light of the Father illuminates the way...


Grade: (A)


See also:

    -FILMOGRAPHY: No Country for Old Men (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Ethan Coen (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Joel Cohen (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW ARCHIVE: Ethan Coen (Metacritic)
    -PROFILE: Coen Heads (David Edelstein, 9/21/07, New York)
    -VIDEO: A discussion about the film No Country for Old Men with Josh Brolin, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen and Javier Bardem (Charlie Rose, November 16, 2007)
    -ESSAY: Rescripting the Western in 'No Country for Old Men': How the Coen Brothers' ostensibly faithful award winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men diverges from its creator's rather questionable politics. (Sergio Rizzo, 13 Jan 2011, PopMatters)
    -ESSAY: Why Anton Chigurh is still an iconic movie villain, 10 years later: On the anniversary of 'No Country for Old Men,' we look back at Javier Bardem's terrifying character (Christian Holub, November 10, 2017, EW)
    -ESSAY: The ending of No Country for Old Men explained (MATTHEW JACKSON, MARCH 23, 2020, Looper)
    -ESSAY: No Country For Old Men Ending Explained: No Country For Old Men is considered a classic by many but the ending was divisive. We explore the final scene and what it really means. (PADRAIG COTTER, MAR 06, 2019, screen Rant)
    -INTERVIEW: James Franco on Cormac McCarthy, nasty reviews, and tackling necrophilia,/a> (Drew Fortune, 8/05/14, AV Club)
-PODCAST: No Country for Old Men (Bill Simmons, bill Hader and Chris Ryan, Jul 3, 2019, The Ringer)
    -FILM REVIEW ARCHIVE: No Country for Old Men (Metacritic)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Joe Morgenstern, WSJ))
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Peter Rainer, CS Monitor)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (David Edelstein, New York)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (AO Scott, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Lou Lumenick, NY Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Mick LaSalle, SF Gate)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Anthony Lane, The new Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Christopher Orr, The Atlantic)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Rex Reed, NY Observer)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Jason Cowley, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Adam Sternburgh, Vulture)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Dana Stevens, Slate))
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Michael Smith, Tulsa World)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Michael Wood, London Review of Books)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Richard Schickel, TIME))
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Jamie S. Rich, Criterion Collections)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Todd McCarthy, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Paul Arendt, BBC)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (MARJORIE BAUMGARTEN, Austin Chronicle)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Tom Charity, CNN)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Jamie Russell, Radio Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Josh Tate, LAist)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Alan Noble, Christ & Pop Culture)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Emanuele Saccarelli, World Socialist Website)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Andrew Sarris, NY Observer)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (jeffrey Overstreet, Christianity Today)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Leo Braudy, Film Quarterly)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Alan A. Stone, Boston Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (rahul Hamid, senses of Cinema)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist)
    -FILM REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (Andreas Babiolakis, Films Fatale)