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Literature: No Country for Old Men

A neo-western thriller. When rugged Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss finds the horrific aftermath of a botched drug deal and takes a suitcase filled with money, he sets in motion a spiral of violence beyond his control or comprehension. An old and unhappy sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, is determined to prove that there's still a place for justice in an otherwise unfair and cruel world as he sets out to find Moss and protect him from the owners of the money.

There's just one small hitch: an assassin has been sent after the stolen money, and he is a complete sociopath. Anton Chigurh is a man willing to do absolutely anything — to "follow a supreme act of will", as he puts it — in order to get what he is after...and it's no longer just the money he's after.

The novel was written by Cormac McCarthy, a grizzled old man who refuses to discuss his books beyond their often disturbing content. The movie was written and directed by The Coen Brothers — two oddballs with a great sense of black humor and a love for twisted storylines — but this breathtaking and chillingly eerie film is considerably bleaker than anything else they've done.

The film was honored with numerous awards: it received three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Ethan and Joel Coen), Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay (by Joel and Ethan Coen), and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).

Contains examples of:

  • Arbitrary Gun Power: In Real Life, a cattle-gun would barely be able to dent a door-lock, much less blow it completely out of the door. Though one could argue that one of the most psychotic and dangerous people ever may have made a few accommodations to his main method of breaking into houses and killing victims.
  • Action Survivor: Llewelyn Moss in some parts. Not so much by the end.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Most characters in the story find themselves alone and helpless with Anton Chigurh. No one ever shows up to rescue them.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • It's never made explicit whether Chigurh killed the hotel manager, the accountant, and Carla Jean, though he checks the soles of his shoes after leaving Carla Jean's home;
    • Does Bell's dream symbolize hope, or despair?
  • And the Adventure Continues: Chigurh now has to track the money to Mexico... if he can get there with a shattered, useless arm.
    • Possibly averted in the book. Bell offhandedly mentions that they can find Chigurh based off the description the boys and driver gave the police, along with the compound fracture. He also mentions the cartel will just send another like him if he is caught.
  • Anti-Hero: Moss is probably a Nominal Hero. Bell gradually goes into Knight in Sour Armor.
  • Anyone Can Die: One of the themes of the film.
  • The Atoner: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Mostly in the book; just hinted at in The Film of the Book.
  • Ax-Crazy: Anton Chigurh is a subversion. Even if they don't make sense to a normal person, Chigurh has his reasons, and he's more coldly logical than crazy. He does, however, have one of the primary traits of a true Ax-Crazy, which is the immense amount of danger involved in even speaking to him.
  • Badass:
  • The Bad Guy Wins: That this seems to happen more and more in the modern world is what drives Sheriff Bell over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Badass Boast: "I'm going to make you my special project."
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: In a particularly disturbing example, Chigurh steals a random passerby's pickup truck by pulling him over in a police car, and manages to get him to stand back completely complacent as he blows his brains out with a cattle bolt
  • Beige Prose: The novel.
  • Bilingual Bonus: When Moss gets woken up by the Mariachis the song they're playing translates to: "You wanted to fly with no wings/ You wanted to touch heaven/ You wanted many riches/ You wanted to play with fire/ And now that -"
  • Black and Gray Morality: Chigurh versus Moss. Chigurh is a relentless, cold-blooded killer. Moss is impulsive and prideful, getting innocent people such as his wife in danger or killed as well as leading to his own death.
  • Black and White Morality: Moss mistakenly believes that this is how the world works.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: This is basically what Chigurh's "moral code" is, at least to him. He has rules, but they make no sense to anyone except him, and he absolutely cannot be reasoned with.
  • Briefcase Full of Money
  • Carnival of Killers
  • Cassandra Truth: "It's full of money."
  • Chess with Death: In a couple instances, Chigurh lets a coin toss decide whether or not he'll kill someone. Carla Jean "wins" in a twisted sort of way by deconstructing Chigurh's coin toss logic.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Carson is hired to kill Anton after Anton kills the managerials who'd come with him out to survey the deal gone bad, as well as the Mexicans at the motel, causing his boss to think he'd gone rogue.
  • Crapsack World: Sheriff Bell seems to believe that this is what the world is becoming, as does his friend in El Paso, who complains about teens coloring their hair and wearing nose rings. His old mentor later sets him straight. The world isn't becoming a crapsack, it's always been that way.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Moss goes to some trouble setting up a proper hideout and trying to preempt his enemy's attacks. If it were not for his quick thinking and planning, he would have been killed very quickly.
  • Creepy Monotone: Chigurh.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Anton Chigurh.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than anything the Coen Brothers did previously, even their debut Blood Simple
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Llewelyn Moss is (at least at first) a carefree one. His wife Carla Jean Moss is a fretful one. Ed Tom Bell is a wistful, morose one. Anton Chigurh is a cold and deadly one.
    • "What business is it of yours where I'm from...friendo?"
  • Death Is Dramatic: Sometimes, but just as often, averted or even subverted.
  • Deconstruction: A specialty both of Cormac McCarthy and The Coen Brothers. Moss in particular is a deconstruction of the action hero, especially the older tougher variety. He thinks of himself as tough, resourceful, and morally righteous. To the audience, he comes across as greedy, vain and stupid, never really thinking of the consequences of his actions or of the potential cost to those around him. Like Sheriff Bell, Moss is an archetype of a forgotten era, from a time when men never gave in to bad guys and the lines of black and white were clear. He doesn't seem to realize that the world is turning into a much darker place where men like him have no place. Unlike Bell, he never realizes and pays the ultimate price for his arrogance.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Llewelyn Moss. Sheriff Bell is the real protagonist, and delivers both the opening and closing monologues. The story is basically about an old man not adapting to the reality of the brutal environment he works in.
  • Deep South: The setting, although the simple folk oblivious to the evil encroaching upon them evoke shades of Sweet Home Alabama.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Bell just about crosses it after the deaths of Llewelyn and Carla Jean. A conversation with his Uncle Ellis reminds him that criminality and senseless violence have always been part of life in the region. Bell's narration ends on an ambiguous note as he relates two dreams he had. (They seem to allude to Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road.)
  • Diabolus Ex Nihilo: Played very, very straight with Anton Chigurh. He spends the first act of the film terrorizing the townsfolk for reasons that are never really discussed. As the second act begins, he's instantly involved in the plot without a word of explanation. We don't even know who's employing him.
  • Determinator: Pretty much all the men. But Chigurh trumps everyone else.
  • Disapproving Look: Tommy Lee Jones' famous "Implied Facepalm".
  • Disposable Pilot: Moss hitches a ride with a bystander, who is killed while Moss talks to him. Later, he hitches another ride with an entirely different man, who is also killed for his trouble, but that happens long after he was separated from Moss.
  • Dissonant Serenity: One of the most chilling aspects of Chigurh.
  • Downer Ending: Basically, The Bad Guy Wins. Not only is the Decoy Protagonist murdered (off-screen), but then the villain murders the hero's teenage wife (again, off-screen) and escapes justice, leaving an old man to contemplate his inability to act in the face of so much seemingly pointless violence of the world.
  • The Dreaded: Even other hardened killers are afraid of Chigurh, and with good reason.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The entire story seems to be building towards a climactic duel between Moss and Chigurh, but in the end Moss is killed off-screen by a gang of Mexican drugrunners who aren't even major characters. A deliberate subversion of Death Is Dramatic (see above).
  • Easter Egg: The credits include an attribution for "The One Right Tool", a reference one of Chigurh's apparent reasons for turning on his employer. (Right above it is a credit for "Serious Matters": i.e.: lawyerin' stuff.)
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Chigurh; he looks like death warmed over.
  • The Eighties: Set in 1980; since it's the beginning of the decade, and the setting is rural Texas, there isn't much of stereotypical '80s fashion. Chigurh's rather out-of-place garb (alligator skin boots, denim jacket...) could be leftover fashion from the '70s, not to mention his haircut. There's no '80s pop soundtrack either; it's mostly eerie sound effects or silence.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Stephen Root's character is credited as "Man Who Hires Wells".
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • Chigurh is willing to belittle and possibly kill a gas station attendant for trying to make small talk with him. This only makes him more terrifying.
    • In the novel, he casually describes how he murdered someone in a parking lot for making fun of him.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Carla Jean, in the film.
    Carla Jean: The coin ain't got no say. It's just you.
    • Also discussed when Chigurh is about to kill Carson.
    Chigurh: You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The DVD box set has a BIG case of this, which is especially annoying given how perfect the movie poster is for the film. I mean look at it up there.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Lampshaded; "Chigurh" is pronounced almost like "sugar". Then there's his sense of fashion...
  • Follow the Leader: The Coen Brothers admitted they had to work hard to make sure the film was distinguishable from The Terminator.
  • For the Evulz: Anton Chigurh seems this way, although he would insist that he's just following his own code.
  • Fresh Clue: In the film, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is investigating Llewelyn Moss' trailer and notices condensation on a bottle of milk. The killer they're tracking had left the milk there less than an hour ago. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help them find the killer now.
    Ed Tom Bell: Now that's aggravatin'.
    Wendell: Sheriff?
    Bell: [points to a bottle of milk] Still sweatin'.
    Wendell: Whoa, Sheriff! We just missed him! We gotta circulate this! On Radio!
    Bell: Alright. What do we circulate? "Lookin' for a man who has recently drunk milk?"
  • Genre-Busting: A specialty of The Coen Brothers.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: A major theme of the story, embodied by Sheriff Bell.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Carson Wells, among others.
  • Gorn:
    • The Coen brothers said themselves they wanted to make the "strangling" scene in the beginning the most violent strangling in the history of movies.
    • The unfortunate random passerby whose only crime was letting Moss into his pickup suffers one of the most gruesome deaths in the movie.
    • The death of the man who hires Wells.
    • Then there's the guy in the hotel whose arm gets obliterated by Chigurh's Weapon of Choice.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Several; in one instance, a discretion cut moves to a later scene.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Moss simply walks over the US-Mexican border into Mexico, past the only Mexican night shift customs officer, who is asleep. Truth in Television however justifies this - you can indeed cross the border to Mexico without as much as a passport control, but getting back to the US is a totally different affair altogether.
  • Happily Married: Ed Tom Bell and Loretta; Llewelyn and Carla Jean (though they snark at each other occasionally).
  • Hates Small Talk: The unfettered, purpose-driven Chigurh does not respond well to idle chit-chat (see Evil Is Petty).
  • Heads or Tails: Anton Chigurh flips a coin to decide whether to kill a potential victim. Those that choose not to take the chance are killed anyway, because they refuse to submit to the Powers That Be. Fans actually debate over the reason why he does it.
  • The Hero Dies: Moss himself at the end.
  • Hero Killer: Anton Chigurh.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Chigurh's Remington 11-87 shotgun has a report no louder than that of a BB gun.
  • Hope Spot: Chigurh's accident showed that he's not invincible, just really lucky.
  • If I Do Not Return
    Llewelyn: If I don't come back, tell mother I love her."
    Carla Jean: Your mother's dead."
    Llewelyn: Well, then I'll tell her myself."
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Somewhat averted with Anton Chigurh, a hitman with probably decades of experience. He is capable of gunning down the driver of a vehicle from a lengthy distance using a sub-machine gun with only two shots. The third would have killed the passenger had he not reacted quickly.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Chigurh. He uses a pneumatic cattle bolt gun as a a lock-breaker and once as an improvised weapon, and his primary firearm is a silenced Remington 11-87 with a pistol grip.
  • Info Drop:
    • In the film, the date is only revealed from the fact that a 1958 coin "has traveled 22 years to get here".
    • And on Agnes' Tombstone.
  • Ironic Echo: Not verbally exchanges, but when Chigurh gets into a car collision that gives him a nasty open fracture (read: the bone piercing the skin, he asks two youths for his shirt as a (partial) disguise in exchange for a lot of money. Llewellyn did it earlier after getting wounded by Anton, asking three college-age kids for a coat in exchange for a lot of money.
  • The Ingenue: Carla Jean Moss, who is geniunely innocent of Llewellyn's antics.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with. Llewellyn manages to take out one of the hitmen sent after him and sends the rest retreating in fear. Chigurh does kill his wife, but she defies his nonsensical logic - and shortly after, gets a bone fracture that he will not be able to treat himself - one that may wind up killing him later on.
  • Kill Them All: Anton successfully eliminates all of the people he was hired to kill, as well as several that he wasn't.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    Carla Jean: You don't have to do this.
    Chigurh: People always say the same thing.
    Carla Jean: What did they say?
    Chigurh: They say "you don't have to do this".
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Chigurh gets T-boned by a speeding car a few minutes after killing Carla Jean. While Chigurh's shown to have fixed his wounds before, the sort of fracture he receives is going to put him out of commission for a long while (if not permanently) without real medical aid.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: Used in the mariachi band scene for one of the few moments of overt comic relief in the film.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Taken from the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. While in the original poem the speaker is an old man who can no longer keep up with the lust (Eros) of the young, Sheriff Bell is an old man who can't keep up with the violence (Thanatos) of the young.
  • MacGuffin: Moss has a suitcase containing $2 million. Chigurh is hunting Moss to get the money. Bell is hunting Chigurh and simultaneously hunting Moss in hopes of getting him to safety. Chigurh never catches up with Moss, and Bell never catches up with either Moss or Chigurh. Bell and Chigurh almost cross paths, but they never actually meet one another.
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Javier Bardem, whose icy, menacing and intense performance as Anton Chigurh won him a well-deserved Oscar and created one of the most memorable movie villains in recent history, is in reality a very meek and soft-spoken man; most of his other roles have been in romantic comedies. He confessed to being alarmed by the graphic violence in the film and the pure evil of his character, and says he only agreed to take the part because he believed the Coens were using violence to make a meaningful statement.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Anton tracks Llewellyn via transponder to a motel room. While Anton is violently eliminating the Mexicans occupying the room, Llewellyn is dragging the 50 lb. satchel through a ventilation duct in the opposite room. The gunfire and screaming mask the scraping sounds created by the bag. By the time Anton checks the vent, Llewellyn has left the motel and hitched a ride out of town.
  • Mood Whiplash: The entire scene with the mariachi band - they wake up Llewyn from his tense firefight with Chigurh, and stop when they see his blood-covered shirt.
  • Narrator: In the novel, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. In the movie, he narrates the opening, and in his closing scenes, his dialogue becomes more and more like narration.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Or in Chigurh's case, murder is the ONLY solution.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes the film look like a tough action film and alludes to a final confrontation between Wells and Chigurh. Those who have seen the film know that the trailer couldn't be less like it.
  • New Old West
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Anton Chigurh.
  • No Ending: Played with. As noted above, with the exceptions of Chigurh and Sheriff Bell, every major character dies. A quick shot reveals that Chigurh had found the money in the ventilation system again, and left with the money, but it goes by fast and is irrelevant to the story by this point.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • The man with the chicken crates who stops to give Chigurh a jump.
    • Moss' act of mercy to bring the dying Mexican mobster water sets Chigurh on his trail, though it also gives him warning that someone is looking for the cash, which sets Moss running and helps him figure out that there's a tracking beacon in the cash before Chigurh can ambush him.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used To Be: Played with. Sheriff Bell often muses about how someone like Chigurh wouldn't have gotten away with anything in the "old days", but this claim is undermined at the end when his uncle Ellis tells him a tale of how his grandfather was killed in cold blood on his own porch in 1909 by a trio of Native Americans, and then says to him flat out that claiming the "old days" were better or more moral is nothing but vanity.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • This movie manages to make the act of unscrewing a lightbulb frightening.
    • The build-up before the hotel shootout between Llewelyn and Chigurh.
    • Anton can even make a coin flip absolutely terrifying.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The one time Anton Chigurh meets his match.
  • Ominous Walk: Anton Chigurh uses this quite a bit.
  • Pet the Dog: Llewelyn goes back to the scene of the gunfight with a full carton of water, out of sympathy for the driver he refused to help earlier ("I ain't got no damn agua") who was probably dead anyway.
  • Pile Bunker: Chigurh's weapon of choice.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: In his first scene, Anton Chigurh allows a deputy to arrest him, slips his cuffs from back to front, kills the deputy, and steals a police car. All just to prove a point about supreme will.
  • Police Are Useless: The cops are either shot or are too late - and even then, Ed Tom is either unwilling or unable to do more, such as help federals and DEA agents with investigating the bizarre murder scene. In the end, he decides he's had enough after Llewellyn is killed right before he manages to reach him.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The style in which the novel is written would seem to be difficult to adapt to film, but the Coens manage to do it justice by translating McCarthy's stark language into stark imagery and audio design. This resulted in it being one of the few films that is widely regarded to be superior to the book.
  • Professional Killer: Both Anton Chigurh and Carson Wells.
  • Psycho for Hire:
    • Anton Chigurh.
    • While he is clearly overshadowed in this aspect by Chigurh, Carson Wells is by his own right a quite psychopathic killer.
  • Self Stitching: Anton blows up a car so he can steal the medical supplies to treat his injuries; he's later shown stitching himself up, as if we need proof that he's any more badass than he already is.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Carson Wells. Subverted by Anton Chigurh, however. Llewelyn eventually realizes that there's no way Chigurh could be tracking him so effectively without some sort of advantage. Sure enough, there's a tracking device in the money bag.
  • Scenery Gorn: From the shots of the barren, desolate Texas landscape to the long pans over dead bodies in the early stages of decay, this movie has it in spades.
  • Scenery Porn: See Scenery Gorn, above.
  • '70s Hair: Chigurh. It only adds to his creepiness.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Chigurh uses the cattle gun to do this when he's not using it for... other things.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The climax of the film is starkly anticlimactic, causing many to debate whether it was a brilliant deconstruction or an insulting cop-out.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The dying man asking for water, aside from a few details, is very close to the same scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
    • Mike Zoss Pharmacy. "Mike Zoss" is the name of the Coen Brothers' production company and it was the actual name of a pharmacy located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
    • Chigurh wears the same haircut as Mad Dog.
  • A Simple Plan: A very dark take.
  • Slasher Smile: Chigurh sports a lovely one during the strangling scene.
  • The Sociopath: Anton Chigurh is such a potent one that he's basically a walking force of unstoppable evil.
  • Take a Third Option: Subverted in the film. Carla refuses to call the coin Chigurh flips for her (she does in the novel, but is wrong). He kills her anyway.
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky: In the scene where Wells gets hired at the "corporate office", he makes a comment about counting the floors to the building and there being one missing. This is in reference to the practice of skipping floor "13" in larger buildings because the number is considered unlucky. Of course, there still is a thirteenth floor in the building, it's only the label that's changed. It's a subtle indication that the people at the top of the organization are kidding themselves about what they can control.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Past: The book was released in 2005, and the movie, 2007. Set in the 1980s.
  • Useless Protagonist: Sheriff Bell. He doesn't bother with investigating further after he fails to stop Chigurh.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Anton Chigurh arguably suffers a flicker of one when Carla Jean refuses to call his coin toss, thus making her the first person in the film to take a stand in direct and face-to-face defiance of his "principles", and flat out states that his deference to "chance" is a thin excuse for him doing what he does. Even moreso in the book. He apologizes (plainly, but still does) as she starts to sob, and starts to really having to defend his principles to her in order to go through with killing her.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Llewelyn, after inspecting his wounds past the Mexican border.
  • Wham Line:
    Llewelyn Moss: Yeah, I'm going to bring you something, alright. I decided to make you a special project of mine. You ain't going have to come looking for me at all.
    • Or it might've been if not for the subversion.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The duel between Chigurh and Moss is very different in the book and movie. In the movie, When Chigurgh cracks the doorknob, it strikes Moss, who shoots back and flees. In the book, Moss turns on his bathroom light and hides in the dark, and when Chigurh inspects the bathroom, Moss holds him at gunpoint and escorts him down the hall with Chigurh facing away. He had the opportunity to kill him there, but is apparently reluctant to commit murder.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Llewelyn Moss. He refuses to accept that the world isn't as black and white as he believes it is and acts like he's a stereotypical action hero. This flaw ends up getting him killed.
  • You Keep Telling Yourself That: It practically defines the character of Anton Chigurh. The film version stresses this even further - in the book, he manages to intimidate Carla Jean into calling the coin toss. In the film, we never see her break. She refuses to give him that 'out', and it's the closest he gets to a defeat.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Chigurh does this to everybody to the point it's impossible to deal with him.
    Carson Wells: You can't make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money he'd still kill you just for troubling him. He's a peculiar man.
  • You Look Familiar: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and several minor cast members would also appear in In The Valley Of Elah, released the same year. Both films were also shot by the same DP, Roger Deakins.

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alternative title(s): No Country For Old Men; No Country For Old Men
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