No Country For Old Men: A Valuation of Humanity Within Desolation And Despair


*this is my post in our film blog back in 2010. You can see the original post here

“Whatcha got ain`t nothin new. This country`s hard on people, you can`t stop what`s coming, it ain`t all waiting on you. That`s vanity.” –Barry Corbin as Ellis, No Country for Old Men,(2007)

Adapted from a 2005 novel of the same title, No Country for Old Men is an award-winning masterpiece of the Coen

Brothers about drugs, money and violence. This movie, set in 1980 on West Texas, tells the story of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a welder and Vietnam War veteran, who came across a drug deal gone wrong. He found several dead Mexicans and dogs, a stack of cocaine and $2,000,000 while he was out in the desert hunting pronghorns. He took the money which automatically set off a wild goose chase between him, the local town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), other Mexican drug dealers and hired killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Moss sent his young wife, Carla Jean, away and tried to evade the people hunting him and instantly put his life and his wife’s life in danger. Another hitman, Carson Wells, offered Moss his help in exchange for some portions of the stolen money and yet both got killed by Chigurh in the end. Chigurh walked away free and Bell retired from his career.

The film, like any other Coen Brothers film, contained a lot of messages and themes that one had to uncover first in order to be able to understand it. All through-out the film, you can see repeated scenes of gore and mayhem all across the town as each one became both the hunter and the hunted. People were unstoppably murdered like animals (including Moss) all for the sake of the $2,000,000 that was taken. The film was full of vivid images of flesh, bones and blood gushing out of every man’s body like an endless crimson river and lives were extinguished one by one until there was nobody left. It also used very minimal musical score which surprisingly added to the tension that the movie was slowly building as the plot progressed. Only gunshots and rapping sounds of heavy metals can be heard as well as footsteps that made the film creepier than ever. It was disturbingly brilliant and will surely make a big impression on any viewer that tries to watch it.

The character development of the film was well-thought out that the viewers are not made to question the reasons behind the actions and attitudes of the main roles in the film. There was no clear delineation between the protagonist and antagonist, good and evil as well as morality and immorality. It was only violence, death and chaos.

The movie revolves around the theme of nihilism. Nihilism is a philosophy that was popularized in the late 19th century and was associated with a loose revolutionary movement in Russia (1860-1917). It emphasizes on the idea that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. A true nihilist believes in nothing, have no loyalties and no mission at all aside from the desire to destroy. This philosophy was mostly associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that "its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history". 

Nihilism, which was also one of the common themes in most of the films made by the Coen brothers, was very evident in the numerous bloody scenes in the movie. The most prominent thing that can be associated with it is Anton Chigurh, the creepiest character ever created on screen since Hannibal Lectern. Chigurh, who was literally death personified in the movie, is a relentless psychopath armed with a compressed air gun and kills people just for pissing him off or as he terms it “inconveniencing him”. His ridiculous hair cut and witty blunt lines made the film all the more gripping and electrifying as viewers sit breathlessly wondering about the fate of the person who had the misfortune to meet him.

Chigurh symbolized destruction, destruction that may soon take over us given the rate that our society is going right now. With the proliferation of material things like drugs and money, people are starting to lose all sense of morality and are stopping at nothing just to get what they want. It was a critique of the current status quo and a reminder of how alarmingly chaotic our priorities have become due to innovation and scientific discovery. As Sheriff Bell said in the prologue of the movie, he missed the days when policemen and sheriffs didn’t have to wear a gun and crimes were at the minimum. The changing world has brought us a lot of convenience and yet it also brought a lot of ways to hurt and inflict pain to other people.

The movie showed nihilism at its apex, men killing men; it was basically open season for everyone, morals and values set aside and disregarded. It was alarming in a way because if we look at the setting of the story, it happened on a desolate island where people rarely see each other, let alone talk every day. If something as horrible as this can happen in a vast area where people are free not to interact with each other on a daily basis, how much more possible is it in a dense developed city where all people are cramped into small spaces while dealing with the battle for modern survival? It talks about how complex socialization can be and how complicated it is that we are all entangled in these overlapping webs of interaction that results often to conflict and competition.

Another important theme in the story was the concept of free will and destiny. The simple flipping of a coin decides the fate of the life of Chigurh’s victims. His remarkable line “Call it...”can send chills to your bones and makes you realize how important decisions are and how they define one’s life. The contrast between the stories of the gas station owner and Carla Jean emphasized the message more that whatever happens, it is still a choice. The gas station owner’s life was spared because he chose “head over tails”. Carla Jean on the other hand chose not to choose but by sampling opting to not make a decision, she still made a choice and technically, decided for her life. It sends us the message that in this life, we have to pick whichever we want and “call it”; own it. Despite the uncontrollable circumstances that we encounter in our life, it still boils down to the choices that we made.

Lastly, the film tells us at how inevitable changes are and how fast and unstoppable life can be that even if we stop, it wouldn’t hang around the corner and wait for us to grow up. Instead, it will continue to go on and we have the choice whether to go with the waves and stay afloat or give in and drown ourselves in the ocean of challenges that life has to offer.


  • Internet Movie Data Base.
  • Keough, Peter. Quiet Men. November 6, 2007. (accessed February 25, 2010).
  • Pratt, Alan. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Nihilism . May 23, 2005. (accessed February 25, 2010).
  • Tobias, Adam. 'No Country for Old Men' is brilliant filmmaking . November 23, 2007. (accessed February 26, 2010).

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