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No Country For Old Men Essay Topics

No Country For Old Men Web Essay In the early days of film, silent ones at that, the masses never thought the medium would stay around because they felt it was a cheap novelty that could in no way match the depth of literature and performance theatre. This is why the earliest films and acting methods appear comically over annunciated and over acted, methods that come directly from the stage. McCarthy’s book No Country For Old Men and the Cohen Brother’s film rendition lends itself nicely to the dissection of these mediums and offers interesting insight to the questions of superiority and merit of adaptation.

In this case both the film and the book hold their respective grounds firmly, each offering differently nuanced approaches to the same themes of fate, will, luck, and human behavior. McCarthy’s book is a commentary on human behavior in the face of the uncertainty of life. His book acts as a magnifying glass that forces you to observe the minute aspects of our actions that do not receive much attention on a daily basis by the average individual. It seems that he would like us to take note of the consequences of our actions and think about the ethics of those choices if we can stomach them. He further points to individuals who superficially act in just manners, acting morally on large-scale simple questions. Is it ok to kill? Is it ok to steal? Of course not, but how often are we faced with such simple mundane choices. McCarthy wants us to go further into ourselves and ask whether the rubric we use to make these large simple choices stands up to all the questions that have no firm footing and presumably lie in the grey areas of morality. When one self justifies the stealing of a single worthless penny, McCarthy leads to show that this is the path that can potentially lead to the stealing of two pennies and perhaps lead to the actions of the famed Bernie Madoff, who fleeced billions from his clients. McCarthy seeks to use the simplest moral question because it is the foundation of all the consecutive decisions we make.

With these two sets of media each attempts to explore these profound questions using their respective arts. Each has their own merits and ultimately both the book and the film want to reach people, the ultimate goal of sharing and producing an art, assuming you have the desire to aid your fellow human. It is within these approaches to the medium that the film and book differ, all the while maintaining their overall goal of change through examination. This leads to interesting differences as the Cohens produce a film that reflects their interpretation of the book.

-Opening scenes-

Both the film and the book choose to introduce the story with metaphors of fate and will. The book puts Lewellen Moss in the high desert of Texas setting up for a shot to kill an antelope. In a dreamscape like manner it describes the beauty of the open terrain and describes the details of what it is like to be on a hunt. It is the degree of accuracy and attention to detail that only a hunter or person who has professionally handled weapons can attest to. The same goes for the terrain, because if you have ever spent any time navigating through the beautiful land you know its beauty is only an illusion as the desert will kill anything not proficient or evolutionarily designed to survive in the harsh environment. The desert is truly a land of survival of the fittest. This is where the book comes short and the film carries a bit further as it is able to visually and audibly give the sense of silence, expanse, scope, and danger. The Cohen brothers are notoriously known for their keen eye for lighting and aesthetics and this is seen throughout the film. It is interesting how the Cohens choose to depart from the book introduction and place you in the middle of what seems like no-where. The opening shot is of open, rolling Texas land shadowed almost completely. Only a sliver of land in the distance is exposed to the sunlight and this feels like a harbinger of trouble. As the scene cuts through several shots of photograph quality scenery stills, Bell talks of how he used to like talking about the old times and old timers and there is a sense of love for the past. He continues to talk of how modern day criminals commit crimes so heinous that he just cannot keep up with it. Just as the scene ends you see a man being arrested but you only see the back of his head. Just like the ominously dark cloud, Chigurgh is the evil of the story. We as viewers do not know this yet especially since he is being arrested.

-Coin Toss-

One of the most outlandish scenes in this film and the book is the coin toss scene and it is no coincidence that the Cohens choose to match it nearly word for word. It is of paramount importance because it further espouses the themes of fate and will, but this interaction verbally presents the philosophies of the film. The Cohens stay true to the book because they agree that this point represents and important aspect of conveying to the audience, in a simple metaphor like the coin toss, we all play a role in what happens to us yet ultimately the chaos of the universe is out of our control. A flip of a coin toss and you know Anton will kill the man if he calls wrong. What the Cohens add to this scene is the visual texture, beauty, and intensity as watching this gas attendant squirm in fear unsettles us as viewers. The dialogue feels unnatural to an extent because small talk is forced. Small talk is a false interaction with another person, a façade of sorts, and Anton knows this and abhors it. The Beauty that makes this scene so visually stimulating is how familiar a gas station is. All Americans know what they are and for the most part use them on a weekly or monthly basis. There is aesthetic beauty in how the attendant is framed by a window that looks like a painting of a western countryside. Inside the station, they all look alike whether you are in Texas, Los Angeles, Boston, or Alaska, but behind this attendant is an oddly beautiful scene, another point to how we often miss the beauty of simplicity and what we already have and know.

-Carla Jean’s death-

Carla Jean is a character that does not get fleshed-out in the film as nicely as it does in the book as we do not know the history of her Wal-mart employment, how she met Moss, or that she is over a decade younger than him. While these seem to not to make the final cut of the film as they would distract from the pace of the already long film, I appreciate how the Cohens killed her off in her interaction with Chigurgh. Unlike the book where Carla Jean seems desperate and weak in her final moments dejected by the thoughts of betrayal by Moss, the film gives her a stronger female persona. You will notice how unusual it is that she calmly walks into the room and sits with Chigurgh as if she is at peace with what she knew would always come to her. This gives her a subtle and strong sense of character as she is one of the only characters that fully understands the code of ethics that Chigurgh’s character is supposed to embody. Her argument seems to carry more validity than the others Chigurgh has killed when she states that indeed he does not have to kill her, this is so because of her demeanor and understanding of how things are. She understands the strange interplay between fate and will.

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No Country for Old Men (McCarthy)

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Discussion Questions
1. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium": "That is no country for old men, the young / In one another's arms, birds in the trees, / —Those dying generations—at their song." The poem also contains the lines: "An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, / Unless soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress." Why has McCarthy chosen a line from Yeats' poem for his title? In what ways is No Country for Old Men about aging? Does Sheriff Bell experience any kind of spiritual rejuvenation as he ages?

2. McCarthy has a distinctive prose style-pared down, direct, colloquial-and he relies on terse, clipped dialogue rather than narrative exposition to move his story along. Why is this style so powerful and so well-suited to the story he tells in No Country for Old Men?

3. Early in the novel, after Bell surveys the carnage in the desert, he tells Lamar: "I just have this feelin we're looking at something we really aint never even seen before" [p. 46]. In what way is the violence Sheriff Bell encounters different than what has come before? Is Anton Chigurh a new kind of killer? Is he a "true andliving prophet of destruction," [p. 4] as Bell thinks? In what ways does he challenge Bell's worldview and values?

4. After Llewelyn finds the money and comes home, he decides to go back to the scene of the crime. He tells his wife: "I'm fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I'm goin anways" [p. 24]. Why does he go back, even though he knows it is a foolish and dangerous thing to do? What are the consequences of this decision?

5. When asked about the rise in crime in his county, Bell says that "It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight" [p. 304]. Is he right about this? Why would deteriorating manners signal a larger social chaos?

6. How can Anton Chigurh's behavior be explained? What motivates him to kill so methodically and heartlessly? How does he regard the people he kills?

7. Llewellyn tells the young woman he picks up hitchhiking: "Things happen to you they happen. They don't ask first. They dont require your permission" [p. 220]. Have things simply happened to Llewellyn or does he play a more active role in his fate? Does his life in fact seem fated?

8. What motivates Sheriff Bell? Why does he feel so protective of Llewellyn and his wife? In what ways does Sheriff Bell's past, particularly his war experience, affect his actions in the present?

9. McCarthy will often tell the reader that one of his characters is "thinking things over" without revealing what the character is thinking about [see p. 107]. Most novelists describe in great detail what their characters are thinking and feeling. Why does McCarthy choose not to do this? What does he gain by leaving such information out?

10. Sheriff Bell says, "The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over.... Which I reckon some would take as meanin the truth cant compete. But I don't believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet.... You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt" [p. 123]. What incorruptible truths emerge from the story that McCarthy tells in No Country for Old Men?

11. In the italicized sections of the novel, Sheriff Bell reflects on what he feels is the moral decline and growing violence of the world around him. What is the moral code that Bell lives by? What are his strongest beliefs? How has he acquired these beliefs?

12. Jeffery Lent, writing in the Washington Post Book World, described No Country for Old Men as "profoundly disturbing" ["Blood Money," Washington Post Book World, July 17, 2005]. What is it about the story that McCarthy tells and the way he tells it that is so unsettling?

13. Near the end of the novel, Bell says: "I think we are all of us ill prepared for what is to come and I dont care what shape it takes" [p. 295]. What kind of future is Bell imagining? Why does he think we are not ready for it? How can No Country for Old Men be understood as an apocalyptic novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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