In the Dark

Who’s That Angel of Death?

No Country for Old Men
Produced and distributed by Miramax Films
Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen

It’s not often that an audience gasps at the end of a movie and shouts, “What?” or “You’ve got to be kidding” at the screen.  But that’s just what several people did in the theater in which I watched No Country for Old Men.  They were not reacting to what had been shown but, rather, to what had been withheld.  In adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel to the screen, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have been almost clinically faithful.  They have even adhered to McCarthy’s willful refusal to provide a climax and resolution to his narrative.

The novel examines how blind chance and ineluctable fate intersect, contradictorily enough, in an arbitrary world, and how human beings react when this existential absurdity finally dawns on them.  And dawn it does, repeatedly, through the agency of a bone-cold angel of death named Chigurh (Javier Bardem), an implacable force given to demonstrating precisely what it means to live in a meaningless world.

Chigurh is a killer who enjoys giving his prey the opportunity to gamble at the edge of their mortality.  Once he has them cornered, he flips a coin and asks them to call the toss.  Should they win, the unspoken prize will be their lives.  When...

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