The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

No Country for Bad Analysis

There's been a lot of hub-bub about the ending to No Country for Old Men (NCFOM). Some people love it. Some people hate it. Very few come out with a deep sense of meh. Me? I think it's an excellently crafted movie that pushes only a few of my buttons. What intrigues me is the river of misdirected anger over the ending (Yes, there are spoilers ahead).

To say NCFOM is great movie with a bad ending is a misstatement. For if it has a bad end, it also has a bad beginning, and probably a questionable middle. The movie begins with Ed (Tommy Lee Jones). The Coens, if nothing else, are scientists with typewriters*. They have an intimate understanding of storytelling as evidenced by their volume of excellent work. They don't leave dangling participles and EVERYTHING they do in a story has a clearly designed function.

If NCFOM begins with Ed, it must end with Ed. From the beginning they define this as Ed's story. Now Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) seems like the main character, but he isn't. He might be a very strong secondary character, but this isn't his story. Now if this particular tale must end with Ed, then, I'm guessing, the only way the people who hate the ending are going to enjoy themselves is if Ed somehow catches or otherwise confronts Anton (Javier Bardem). If that were to happen it would undercut the purpose of the movie, negate the title and would also be patently ridiculous.

I spoke with my friend Ryan after the movie and we came up with a practical and simple logline for NCFOM: An aging lawman retires. In all fairness I'd probably add a little something to it: An aging law man nearly gets involved in a search for a brutal killer before retiring.

Anton whisks through Ed's town and kills a few people on his way to bigger and better things. Ed finds the dead people, and being an aging law man with an eye on his rapidly approaching retirement, steps aside and lets the feds handle the case. His interest is in Llewelyn and his wife. He's concerned about Llewelyn, and he actually goes and tries to find him, but he's too late and finds the Llewelyn dead and well out of his jurisdiction.

Ed goes home, he retires, and I'm guessing the federal agents (never seen) handle the rest. Now, we are interested in Llewelyn and his story. But his story only exists as an accent or juxtaposition on Ed's existence, and a reminder that life, in all of its drama, goes on whether you are retiring or vacationing or cleaning the house.

So I maintain that if you despise the end, then you really despise the movie itself, even though you found the dialogue to be crisp and Llewelyn's story to be compelling. The Coens set up and executed a story and they followed the rules they set up for themselves to a T. People were upset with Llewelyn's death happening off-screen. To me it made sense. On a structural level, it reminds us that this is not Llewelyn's story.

A story about Llewelyn is not called No Country for Old Men, and it does not have Ed in it, except maybe as some sort of cameo. It's probably called No Rest for Young Men Who Find Two Million Dollars in Drug Money.

Or something snappy like that.

*Yeah, next to no one uses those things, but you know what I mean.

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  • At 2:55 PM, Blogger Tavis said…

    Yes! I'm so tired of hearing people complain about the ending-- it's refreshing to read an astute take on the film.

    Perhaps they should have changed the title to No Movie for Mouth-Breathers.

  • At 12:34 AM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said…

    Well put, Crymes.

  • At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Maybe the trailer should have been more about an old cop retiring then.

    I should note that I'm not really a big Coen fan except for Blood Simple and Raising Arizona.

    Darrell(can't breathe and eat at the same time, but my flick hits theaters in November)

  • At 6:36 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said…

    Well yeah, marketing NCFOM is an impossible task methinks, but when I talk about what NCFOM was about, I'm talking about it on a technical level.

    Anyway you cut a trailer, it is going to mislead people. It's one of the reasons that NCFOM might not be a movie at all.

  • At 9:29 PM, Blogger Tavis said…

    You've been tagged!


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