Jim Emerson on No Country for Old Men

Another interesting analytical post from film blogger (and rogerebert.com editor) Jim Emerson, this one on No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. I saw it this past weekend and thought it was excellent, although I thought the ending suffered a bit from its disparate tone.


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When you say the ending, do you mean the very last scene, or the last few minutes, after the unexpectedness happens? Everyone I went to the film with, myself included, was disturbed by the latter, though in retrospect it's very humorous in a meta sense, and I want to see the film again because of it. If the former, I almost completely missed what was being said in the final moments of that film because I was constantly distracted by how well the characters' eye colors matched their shirts. Man, was it shot beautifully. Too bad there was a hair caught in the projector that annoyed the lower left corner of my vision throughout the movie. Also, for completely superficial reasons I now want to watch Paris, Texas again.

Jon May | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 3:21pm

I meant the final scene w/ tommy lee jones and his wife, and the anti-penultimate scene w/ tommy lee jones and his uncle.

crazymonk | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 3:30pm

Dude, spoiler! Saying which characters are in the last scene of a movie is always a spoiler (unless there's a flashback).

Jon May | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 3:54pm

er, I meant a western, not a movie in general.

Jon May | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 3:54pm

The article is a spoiler too, so I expect anyone who hasn't seen the movie and cares wouldn't be reading this thread.

crazymonk | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 4:01pm

RSS feeds suck on that point.

RumorsDaily | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 5:04pm

The article has a spoiler warning. It should have been bigger, as absolutely everything about the movie is revealed, plot-wise, but it has one. Your post does not.

Jon May | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 5:14pm

I don't think mentioning that Tommy Lee Jones is in the last scene is a spoiler, any more than mentioning that Chigurh is a psychopath is a spoiler. Unless what I'm watching/reading is fundamentally about twists and turns (e.g., Shyamalan, Lost, etc.), I don't care too much about spoilers, especially since I follow Ebert's adage: It's not what it's about, it's how it's about it. If someone goes into No Country with the expectation that the movie is good because of its plot mechanics, they are sorely missing out on what's great about the movie.

But again, this post was about analyzing No Country -- if you were one to be sensitive to spoilers, I'm not sure why you would bother reading the comments. If you have RSS comments, sorry, there's nothing to be done about that.

Generally, I've never been one to care about spoilers. I'd like to create something called Crazymonk's Rule (which would also apply to books, tv shows, etc.):

"The lasting quality of a movie is inversely proportional to how easily it can be ruined with a spoiler."

Perhaps it can be even further defined by the amount of information needed (roughly, the number of words and don't get all Shannon on me) to explain the spoiler.

Some examples:

Content Number of words needed to spoil Quality
Harry Potter Book 6 three words probably the 2nd worst in the series
Harry Potter Book 7 Three paragraphs Much better than book 6
Infinite Jest Infinite analysis Infinitely good
Sixth Sense 1 sentence Interesting on first viewing, otherwise fairly shallow
No Country for Old Men 10,000 word essay Excellent

Pretty scientific, no?

crazymonk | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 5:30pm

Heh. Pretty good, though it pales next to May's constant (which I've forgotten at this point). I agree with your first statement more than your second -- the complexity of the revelation isn't as important as how much the work relies on the reveal.

I still think my viewing experience of No Country would be less than it was (though still great; that's why I want to see it again) if I had known certain things beforehand. Also, while the Citizen Kane experience isn't much altered by knowing the ending, at least some of the mystery is deflated. A big reveal doesn't make up for lousy patter.

Jon May | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 6:58pm

[long thing about how I basically agree with Ebert and cmonk about "spoilers" deleted.] Although because I feel that infinite analysis is not fun or pleasurable, I'd suggest that this is a curve rather than an infinitely rising slope. YMMFV.

Lorelei | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 7:14pm

Your Mom might finger vaginas?

flea | Thu, 11/29/2007 - 8:24pm

You phrase that as a question, as though that might not have been what she meant.

I'm w/ both of you, JM & CM, on the matter of spoilers. Ultimately, if it's really worth my time, then the event of encountering a spoiler is not going to affect my experience all that much. However, my favorite example concerns the two Michael Haneke movies I've watched: Cache and Benny's Video. In both cases I truly had no idea what I was about to watch- while both are movies that I think are fairly masterful across the board, and which I'll watch again (and probably own), they do hinge to some extent on a particular event that surprises. Ordinarily you know something about the movie you're about to see going into it- with both of those movies, I was being led blind through a saga that really was unpredictable for me, so that my experience of the plot was visceral in a way that I can't say it's been for any other movie.

In the long run, these two movies stay in my mind the way many other movies that I've been very into do. But as I watched them for the first time, I was shocked into an engagement with them that I haven't necessarily experienced before or since.

I feel the same way about books, and hate back covers. I vastly prefer not knowing, but at the end of the day if the work is worth it's salt, then a spoiler won't really matter.

Jesse | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 7:52am

Sorry, that was obnoxiously long.

Jesse | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 7:52am

Yeah, my brother took me to see City of Lost Children when I was 16 or so and I had zero idea what kind of movie he was dragging me to. The lack of knowledge certainly paid off. So, sure, going in blind can add to the mystical experience -- but note that I was talking about the "lasting" quality of art. Every time I see Apocalypse Now I'm still blown away at parts.

crazymonk | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 10:26am

Flea, I was gonna do the same thing!

I've always had great experiences watching a movie blindly, sometimes even if I shouldn't have. I had not seen a single trailer or read one word about the Matrix, so the world melting away (i know, spoiler) messed me up big time. But I also knew nothing about Dances With Wolves and thus found it completely stunning and enchanting.

Jon May | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 11:07am

And on lasting quality, CM, I'm totally with you.

Jesse | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 12:36pm

When I was younger I used to read the last pages of books while I was in the middle of reading them. I did this for two reasons: I was afraid I was going to die and never get to know how the book ended. I usually read late and night and would get so caught up that the only way to stop was to make sure the characters I cared about survived. In the long run, it only proved that reading the last page of a book really reveals little to nothing. I suppose it goes back to CM's great rule: If the last page can sum up a book, then it's not a very good book.

As for films, I have never minded spoilers at all and find it odd that people get so caught up in knowing nothing about a film. Part of this is because so few films surprise me with their so-called twists. It my jobs fault, but so many plot points are revealed in the editing. New York Elissa hates watching things with me because I often know where things are going. With No Country there is nothing to spoil, even if you know what happens. It was an amazing film and I can't wait to watch it again. Oh, by the way, the one film that really surprised me was The Usual Suspects.

New York Anthony | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 2:26pm

Part of this is because so few films surprise me with their so-called twists.

Srsly. Though I think that's more a criticism of the authors than a compliment to me or you.

Lorelei | Fri, 11/30/2007 - 3:43pm

I really enjoyed the movie so much I went and got the book and the whole section about Moss and the girl hitchhiker I found there was SUCH a surprise. I was very surprised they cut her character from the movie, probably for time reasons, and hope it makes it into an "extended version / deleted scenes" DVD. It makes the ending with Moss at the motel and with Carla Jean in her bedroom SO much more understandable and tragic - Moss was faithful to Carla Jean and yet betrayed her on a much deeper level.

I really recommend the book - there's much more to the NCOM story than made it to the screen.

rickyjames | Sun, 12/16/2007 - 10:49am