by Ellen Gillingham
No Country for Old Men is a novel by Cormac McCarthy. The story encompasses elements from gothic Westerns, but complicates them with biblical and popular cultural themes. McCarthy has a unique style of writing, as seen in the unusually small amount of narration, description, and quotation marks. He uses a psychopathic serial killer Anton Chigurh to represent death and illuminate themes of conflict between freedom and fate. The novel also includes self-reflective qualities when contemplating the idea of chance.
The film No Country for Old Men, adapted and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a scene for scene reproduction of the novel. However, difference lies in the pacing, mood, and details. The film’s theme is similar to that of the novel it focuses of Chigurh’s chase, fate, pessimism, and nihilism.
Critiques consider No Country for Old Men a very faithful adaptation of McCarthy’s book, but this makes the film subject to more particular critiques. For instance, one challenge that the Coen brothers faced in this adaptation is capturing the self-reflective qualities in the novel. Books have a tendency to search characters’ psychological states in ways that films seldom can. The monologues in the book are not included in the film, so Sheriff Bell is not established as a main character in the same way. The film attempts to make up for this in dialogue with other characters, but fails to capture the unique lack of punctuation and philosophical inquiries that the book does. This also affects the book’s tone, so the movie loses the segmented comic relief. Another challenge in this adaptation is pacing. For example, in the film, Moss’s drug deal makes all of one minute, but in the book, it is well developed. Overall, even “faithful” adaption’s face challenges because literature cannot be completely captured.
This YouTube video is an analysis of the coin-flip scene in No Country for Old Men.
This article explores the importance of silence in story telling for the film.
This interview with Carter Burwell, composer of original music for all of the Coen brothers’ movies, reveals his intuitions about No Country for Old Men’s soundtrack.
This article by Dennis Lim is important in understanding No Country for Old Men because the element of sound is instrumental in its perception. Lim calls attention to the uniqueness of how the Coen brothers are able to create suspense without the guiding of a film score. Additionally, the article illuminates how adding sound to the film is not as simple as viewers often assume.
While Cormac McCarthy’s novel has a smattering of humor, the film version of No Country for Old Men has much more. Is the patented mordant humor of the Coen brothers appropriate to McCarthy’s story, or does it do a disservice to his intent?
The patented mordant humor of the Coen brothers in scenes is appropriate to McCarthy’s story, but Chigurh’s haircut is a disservice to his intent. Chigurh’s haircut is a disservice to McCarthy’s intent because it is distracting and lessens Chigurh’s philosophical characteristics. The book and film are primarily quite different in terms of displays of humor. McCarthy displays a hidden dark comedy with sporadic punctuation and unique writing style. The film cannot capture the poetic style of humor in the novel, but includes comic relief with added scenes to release stress and tension from the audience during the movie. For example, after Moss barely survives crossing the Mexican-American boarder, a mariachi band comically awakens him. This relief is appropriate and functions similarly, to how McCarthy’s stylistic humor functions in the story. By adding humor to scenes, the Coen brothers create a release from stressful parts of the story appropriately because McCarthy does this with his syntactically minimal writing. However, Chigurh’s haircut is a step too far because it diminishes his character.