Not many movies will leave you questioning exactly what you just watched. Only four movies in my entire life have left me with such a feeling. The two are Stanley Kubrik films ("2001" and "Eyes Wide Shut"), another is "Sharknado" (for obvious reasons), and the last was the neo-Western Coen brothers film, "No Country for Old Men". The Coen brothers are famous for films such "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and cult classic, "The Big Lebowski". Their style of writing and directing film is not only creative but refreshing, especially with how predictable and bland most movies are nowadays. But even though I absolutely adore the "Big Lebowski", their magnum opus is, "No Country". The film is jam packed with enough philosophy and themes to fill a textbook yet it's very entertaining. It's also masterfully edited with enough suspense to leave you guessing after every scene. Lastly, the film's anti-climactic ending leaves audiences with something most movies don't: food for thought.
Being a film buff, I absolutely love it when film makers thrown in philosophy or try to make a statement on an issue during that time. Its what attracted me to The Matrix, a kung fu/cgi intense version of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and They Live, an 80's action flick criticizing consumerism and societal norms. No Country delves into several different philosophical issues and themes. One of the main themes is the idea of existentialism. It's a field of philosophical thought that focuses on the freedom of choice humans have, confronting the meaningless of life, and finding your own meaning in this world. Sheriff Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is confronted throughout the film with a feeling of confusion and lose when trying to understand hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). He even faces an existential crisis towards the end of the film as he feels outmatched and exhausted. He was used to an older world where there were morals and people did the right thing. Chigurh and Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) change this perspective for him. By the end of the film he realizes the absurdity of the world he now lives in and remains shaken by it.
Other aspects of the film destroy preconceived ideas of karma and retribution for wrongdoers. Most films wrap up happily with the good guy confronting the bad guy, bad guy loses, and the hero walks off happily into the sunset. In "No Country", the protagonist is killed off screen, the sheriff and Chigurh never meet, Chigurh escapes the car crash alive (with the million dollars), and Sheriff Bell is left contemplating his somber dreams and seemingly unhappy retirement. This ending left many viewers feeling uneasy after the film. Most people feel that when someone does bad things they will be punished or anyone whose seemingly good will be rewarded. The reality of our world is sadly the opposite, bad people aren't always punished and good people aren't always rewarded.
Besides being a deep film on different topics, it is excellently crafted. The acting is great and it was no surprise to me that Javier Bardem won best supporting actor that year for his role as the evil hitman. The movie is also visual in that it tells the story through long shots, scenes with little to no dialogue, and a nonexistent soundtrack. Every bit of dialogue in this film, even if it may seem redundant, has some meaning or pushes the plot forward. My favorite scenes include Chigurh's encounter with the man at a gas station, where he flips a coin to decide his fate, and when Woody Harrelson's character encounters Chigurh at his motel room. Both of these scenes are so suspenseful and with the unpredictable Chigurh it can be very hard predicting the outcome of both those confrontations. "No Country" is a masterpiece in almost every aspect of a film (except score because there is none).
While the movie is heralded by critics as a work of art in cinema, many casual viewers left the theater not knowing exactly how to feel about the movie or thinking it flat out stunk. I remember my dad walking by as I watched the movie for a second time and telling me that he didn't really like it. When I asked him why he just frowned and said, "I don't really know". These great movies sometimes have to be viewed from a point of view that their is meaning in every shot and scene. Most moviegoers enjoy movies for the laughs, action, or the simple pleasure of escaping the real world for two hours. "No Country" forces its viewers to go beside the simple pleasures of film and see the grit of the world around us. There aren't always happy endings and people are confronted with serious existential questions.
Please don't be deterred from watching "No Country for Old Men" by the philosophical jargon and the seemingly sad ending because it's still a great film. If you've already seen it, then I recommend watching it again as you may notice some things you didn't the first time around. It's one of the few movies that perfectly balances art and entertainment while still having awesome action scenes. It remains one of my favorite films and will go down as one of the greatest ever. Now, I only have one question for you... what's the most you've ever lost in a coin toss?