Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
The film No Country for Old Men is about the pursuit of an aging lawman, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), as he follows the violence and mayhem which ensues after a hunter named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the carnage of a drug deal gone wrong. Although he leaves the scene with $2 million in cash, in the early hours of the morning Moss returns to the scene to give a badly wounded lone survivor some water. This has disastrous consequences when he not only finds that man murdered, but is chased by those looking for the money. Moss narrowly escapes with his life, but is doggedly pursued by both “the Mexicans” and a ruthless psychopath named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).
Though much of the movie revolves around the bloody violence of Chigurh’s pursuit of Moss, an overarching theme centers on Sheriff Bell. The film begins with a narration by the Sheriff as he reflects on the violence and evil he had encountered on the job. At the end of the film Bell does a similar thing at wheelchair bound Uncle Ellis’ house. In both scenes the Sheriff struggles with the evil he sees in the world. “I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t,” he says, remembering a man he sent to the electric chair for raping a 14 year old girl. “I’m not afraid of it,” he affirms, and he proves this near the end of the movie when he goes into a room where Chigurh is believed to be. Bell’s struggle is that he “don’t understand.”
When I first saw this film a couple years ago (it was released in 2007) I did not understand it. But after taking a philosophy course, writing a paper on the problem of evil, and sermons and Bible classes on that subject, it appears the Coen brother have made a film which serves as a theodicy. Bell is the “old man” for whom there is “no country.” He does not understand the world. He struggles to reconcile God and the evil in the world. It is too much for him. When he retires at the end of the film, he explains that the reason he is doing that is because he feels “overmatched.” Further, it does not look like God is going to do anything about evil. As Uncle Ellis explains, the best one can do is “try and get a tourniquet on it.”
In effect, this is what the Coen brothers have done with the movie as a whole. All the gratuitous violence, the evil men do, the bloodshed is used to enable the viewer to feel as “overmatched” as Bell does. Even the few bright spots in the movie (Moss’s attempt to give water to the mortally wounded survivor) only leads to further evil and bloodshed. When is the good guy, when is God going to do something? Or can we at least get a tourniquet?
In the final scene of the movie is where the turn seems to come. Sheriff Bell told Uncle Ellis that he “thought when I got older God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn’t.” However, when discussing over breakfast with his wife a dream he had the night before, Bell describes how his father rides past him on his horse with fire close to his chest in a horn. “And in the dream,” says Bell, “I knew that he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all the dark and all that cold, and I knew whenever I got there he would be there.” So in a similar way, while we continue to struggle to explain evil in the world, out in the cold, dark world God has His fire going, and by faith we know whenever we get there He will be there.
One other point about this film: the tag line is “There are no clean getaways.” No one escapes the devastating effects of evil. Evil happens to everyone. For example, Chigurh’s murders are nondiscriminatory – he kills bad guys and bystanders, sometimes determined by a coin flip, other times just because. Evil is like that; it does not discriminate. In fact, evil might happen from trying to do the right thing. Moss’s death is precipitated because of a good deed he sought to do for a dying man. Even Chigurh himself falls victim to evil at the end of the film and the best he can do is limp off into the sunset with a tourniquet on his broken arm.