Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men.

"'No Country' is a stark but richly poetic allegory about a Western garden of original sin in which a world-weary authority figure, Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), and a satanic predator (Bardem) fight over a native young Adam who falls into temptation and drags his Eve down with him."

--Reed Johnson, LA Times, March 2, 2008, p. E6

While I'm not prepared to subscribe fully to Johnson's proffered allegory, I co-sign the view that No Country for Old Men is a powerful allegory. Much like cinematographers who film surfers on waves, there's much, if not more, churning below the surface.

On its surface, it's an action caper where a "lucky" guy finds a bag full of money. His luck turns south when others chase him for the same bounty. His luck turns apocalyptic when one of his chasers happens to be evil personified. In this crucible, No Country unpacks many lessons, which lurk just under the action.

Jeffrey Overstreet's review in Christianity Today posits three possible overarching conclusions:

1. "God might be so disgusted with humankind that he's decided to keep his distance and let us destroy each other;"

2. "God might be trying to reach into the world through fleeting gestures of human benevolence [ ]; or,

3. "God just might not exist at all."

At the group blog MereOrthodoxy, my friend Matthew Anderson also correctly focuses in on the spiritual aspects of No Country: "I wonder, however, about the depths to which their agnosticism about the cosmic forces governing the universe drives their comedic style, which has always seemed to be laced with a touch of cynicism. Though it is not a comedy, Death’s triumph in No Country for Old Men is final. The absence of a providential hand to bring goodness from evil lends itself to the sort of dark, cynical comedy that the Coen[s] seem to enjoy."

Johnson, Overstreet and Anderson (and I) are not guilty of rampant eisegesis--i.e. reading too much into the movie. The Coens introduce God squarely into the story. After witnessing a parade of evil that he could not stop or slow, Sheriff Bell finally declares: "I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn't." Hearing this, the Sheriff's friend indignantly (but also supportively) replies: "You don't know what God thinks."

Hence, God's inscrutability draws the bottom line.

No Country for Old Men receives an "A."