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Saturday, November 5, 2011

No Country For Old Men

This is actually probably my favorite film of the decade, so pardon me if it's a bit biased After watching NCFOM for the umpteenth time I finally realized what it was about. It wasn't just about death, or the senseless violence that has become so prevalent in society, no the main issue explored in the film is the generation gap. Out with the old, in with the new, sometimes in the most violent way possible.

First a brief summary, a Vietnam vet but otherwise everyman finds some money, this money belongs to Mexican gangsters who pursue him throughout Texas. The main antagonist here is the kindly fellow on the right, Anton Chigurh. Following this chase is an old sheriff, just one day from retirement, who surprisingly doesn't get killed. With the conclusion the film is almost an anti-movie, with the main character murdered off screen, the villain getting away essentially scot free, and the narrator just getting tired of it all, and quitting.

This is all related to the initial theme, that of the difference between the generations. One scene near the end seems almost like a non-sequitur when taken out of context, where the sheriff goes to a retired lawman's house and hears a story about his uncle getting executed on a porch in the early 1900s. This scene actually clearly shows to the sheriff that violence has always been around, and that nostalgia for days past will not help with today. The old days were not as good as we have come to believe. But this is tangential to the main point; for society to function the new must replace the old.

Throughout the film the old are slowly killed off, or give up on contributing to society. The two youngish characters who are killed where Vietnam veterans, and had thus experienced much more hardship than a typical person of their age, so were mentally old/tired. When the sheriff discusses his problem, Anton Chigurh, and the protagonist's death with another sheriff they have what may be considered a cliche rant about kids these days, with people with "green hair walking down main street." They realize that their time has come, especially the narrator sheriff, who decides that is is time to retire, and though the title is not dropped, it is heavily implied. Once the old have gone it is time for the new generation to come and show what they can do.

During the film there are only two sequences with kids, both featuring them coming into a scene of immense violence, and their different reactions. The first is a group of teens coming back from drinking in Mexico, and encountering the protagonist injured from a shootout. One of them can not accept this, and keeps repeating "Were you in a car accident?" much to the annoyance of his friends, who demand money in exchange for helping the protagonist. The inherent greed shows that the generation to come, and since this was set in the 80s they would be in their 30s now, can be intensely greedy, leeching off the troubles of others and exploiting the disadvantaged. This could easily be a comment about the current political and economical situation, and was extremely topical in the time it was produced, 2007.

This stands at a contrast to the second group of kids. Anton Chigurh has just been in a car accident, and two kids come up on their bikes, offering help. When asked for a shirt one of them gives it freely, and even declines payment when it is offered. The Coen's seek to show that there is hope for for this next generation, and that not everyone is the same, some offer the selfless charity that is also necessary for society to function. The film is about the new replacing the old, as well as the assurance that though there are bad people in this new generation there should be no fear, as that is the way it has always been. There has always been violence, and there has always been selfish people exploiting others, just as there has always been human charity and those who will pursue what is right despite it not being easy.

In the end there will always be those selfish and evil people, just as there will always be selfless and good people, and the constant struggle between generations is on a whole unnecessary, because just as each generation has its changes it on a whole is always the same.

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