Friday, February 15, 2008

No Country For Faux Amorality

If you saw No Country For Old Men, well, you know… Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but did it bother you that the theme of the movie is contradicted by the director’s unwillingness to show the death of the nothing-if-not-innocent Carla Jean Moss?  Isn’t that a “tell” of sorts?  Isn’t there a morality in the director’s choice there, even in what is otherwise a nearly perfectly represented amoral universe?  Isn’t amorality a sort of purity, like virginity, in that it’s either all or nothing?  Does the existence of just one tiny “moral” moment reveal the imperfection of the claim to purity?  Anyone?  Bueller? 

If you saw No Country For Old Men, well, you know… Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but did it bother you that the theme of the movie is contradicted by the director’s unwillingness to show the death of Carla Jean Moss?  Isn’t that a “tell” of sorts?  Isn’t there a morality in the director’s choice there, even in what is otherwise a nearly perfectly represented amoral universe?  Anyone care to write a feature-length piece on this?  Or just comment?  Anyone?  Bueller? 

phlog ::: from publisher ::: (8) Comments

Comments

1

I disagree that the movie is amoral.  Anton was an extremely moral character, his is just morality that is entirely bent.  It is completely consistent.  Moss was also moral.  Not in the Christian sense, but in the sense of taking care of one’s family to the best of his ability.  Not seeing Carla Jean’s death was not a cop-out.  She died the way she lived; quietly and with little effect.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15 Feb 08 at 06:24 PM
2

The deaths in the movie are all crafted in a way that evokes a sense of repugnance.  Compared to Anton, his victims, with few exceptions, are as helpless as worms fighting eagles.  Carla Jean was helpless like this.  And the repugnance comes not from her death, but from the initial hope that she may have lived and the resulting shock of Anton checking his shoes, presumably for blood, after leaving her house.

We’ve already seen him kill the helpless.  The scene is meant to first give us hope about his possible mercy, and then crush us with his savage ability to follow through with his previous ultimatum.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 21 Feb 08 at 03:31 PM
3

Michael McLees:  I buy that, and find your comments both helpful and illuminating.  Thanks!  Robert K, I thought the film’s theme was a pitting of Tommy Lee Jone’s moral universe (“It ain’t the one true thing”) AGAINST the amoral universe of Anton (“I got here the same way the coin did”).  So in that context, I thought the director was “slipping” by showing a moral concern for Carla Jean Moss inasmuch as one can by sparing the viewer the horror of that particular turn of the amoral towards the film’s most sympathetic character.  In other words, my argument is not with Anton’s amorality, but with Coen bros presentation of that in a scene that reveals a deep and profound moral sensibility.  Also, isn’t the fact that Anton DOES NOT kill the convenience store owner the key “proof” of his amorality?  Or is this your point about his “morality is entirely bent”—that it is determined not by right or wrong, but by the tossing of a coin?  To my perception, that’s not bent, that’s moral indifference to morality (hence, a-morality), since the coin will statistically yield a moral choice 50 percent of the time and an immoral choice the other 50 percent of the time.  Call it, Friend-O.

Posted by Read on 21 Feb 08 at 06:03 PM
4

I think her death matchs that scene perfectly.  Carla refuses to call the coin flip, she refuses to give Anton the validation of feeling the descision has been made for him.  He has already made his descision, but he wants to feel that it is ultimately out of his hands.  Just as she does that, the directors refuse to validate our uncertainy about her death.  “Did she die? Didn’t she?”  Just as with Anton, we, as the audience have initial ambiguity, even though we really DO know.  We don’t want to believe we know; that we can understand the actions Anton is capable of.  We want him to remain a completely alien monster.

In that respect I think it’s a brilliant move.  The directors have managed to make us feel shocked and repulsed by the lack of the concrete, not just by Anton, and also by ourselves.  The scene could almost be described as a metascene.  It’s a scene about a scene of murder.  We don’t need to see it to know it happened.  Knowing a murder happened and not seeing it doesn’t make it have any less impact.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08 Mar 08 at 09:34 PM
5

I’m pretty sure she does call the coin toss in the book.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 28 Mar 08 at 07:00 PM
6

If we’re going to look at this movie through a lens of morality, then we shouldn’t forget that the only truly altruistic decision taken in the whole film is when Llewellyn returns to the vehicles in the desert to bring the dieing Mexican guy a drink of water.  This is also the source of all of his problems. If he had just stayed home, Anton would never have gotten the serial number from his truck.  Isn’t Llewellyn the most moral character in the film, though his morality is somewhat muted?  Tommy Lee Jones is simply an observer in all of this, chasing Anton who is himself chasing Llewellyn. 

I think you may be over emphasizing the importance of not showing Carla Jean’s death.  Hers isn’t the only death we don’t see completed: the friendly chicken farmer who calls Anton “brother” and “neighbor” is also only presumed to be dead, and the other man in the office who asks “are you going to shoot me” to which Anton replies “That depends. Do you see me?” We know Anton killed her because he checked his boots, but more importantly because we’ve seen what an amoral character he is.  The directors seem to be highlighting the fact that there is no need to show Carla Jean’s death.  If she came into contact with Anton, then the best we can hope for is that the coin toss came up in her favor (of course, there is hope because “even in the contest between man and steer, nothing is certain”). 

Tommy Lee Jones, as the reluctant witness to Anton’s wake of death, is left to ponder the helplessness of morality in the face of such reckless evil—“how do you defend against it?”  Or to restate the question the way Anton phrased it when he asked Carson Wells “If the rule you followed led you here, what good is the rule?” The bleak landscape facing Tommy Lee Jones is made worse when his friend in the wheelchair tells him that “what you got ain’t nothing new”.  Tommy Lee Jones offers the final commentary when he recounts a dream where his father passes by holding a light to “go on ahead and make a fire in all that dark” as if to say that morality has forsaken the here and now, or else it is an unattainable goal (?). 

Moral of the story:  if you find a satchel of money in the desert, don’t go back to bring the dieing Mexican man a drink of water.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02 Jun 08 at 03:45 PM
7

I would argue that Llewellyn returning to offer the drink was not an altruistic act.
Strictly speaking he did it to assuage his own (guilty) conscience. Giving the Mexican a drink of water would have helped him sleep better.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 18 Jun 08 at 08:58 PM
8

“If we’re going to look at this movie through a lens of morality, then we shouldn’t forget that the only truly altruistic decision taken in the whole film is when Llewellyn returns to the vehicles in the desert to bring the dieing Mexican guy a drink of water.  This is also the source of all of his problems. If he had just stayed home, Anton would never have gotten the serial number from his truck.”

No, he would have been blindsided when Anton showed up at his trailer, having driven around town with the receiver for the transponder hidden in the satchel.  Going back, and encountering the Mexicans, was what alerted him that he was in danger in the first place.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 25 Jun 08 at 12:20 PM

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