Monday, September 29, 2008

No Country For Old Men - The Ending

Pauline Kiernan's Notes on Creativity,
Screenwriting and Thinking

The ending of No Country For Old Men is still causing a seemingly never-ending debate among critics and filmgoers that has raged ever since the movie was first screened.

Writing about it this week has got me thinking about our human need for a comforting sense of an ending in stories. Faced with a story that takes us out of our comfort zone into the unfathomable and then leaves us there is disturbing.

This is what directors Joel and Ethan have done with the audiences of No Country For Old Men.

The movie is a tense crime thriller and has a goodie and a baddie, but that's about as far as it goes in obeying the rules of the genre.

The tension is built up throughout the movie and it's relentless.

Anticipations of denouements, multiplying and deepening, are repeatedly blighted, and serve only to strengthen the audience's acute need to know what will happen.

But instead of the conventional high-wire tension of the final, cathartic shoot-out between good guy and bad, in a dramatic, often 'epic' setting, the villain is still alive and good guy Sheriff Bell sits, sad and weary, in the small, domestic space of his kitchen - talking. In one almost completely static shot, he delivers a lengthy monologue about the dreams he has dreamt.

It is the quietest, most intimate of scenes. And it is the final one. Anti-climactic, anti-dramatic. Four simple words, before the screen goes back. 'Then I woke up'.

You could call the ending a cruel joke - playing with the audience's feelings. And it is cruel. There is no catharsis.

We've been denied the release from fear of watching a David slay Goliath. And if we don't like it, tough.

That there is no consoling denouement in No Country For Old Men is perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the experience.

The movie holds up a mirror to a world in terminal moral decline and refuses to soften the dark, apocalyptic nightmare for us.

It may leave us in the bleak wilderness, confronting our most profound fears. But to stay truthful to the moral theme of the story, could it really have ended any other way?

View the clip of the No Country For Old Men ending with Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones www.

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No Country For Old Men

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xemgil3 said...

I learned long ago that (in poetry) the reader can tolerate a certain amount of ambiguity. It in fact adds to the poem by inviting the reader in. I think the same is true in some movies. For me "No Country for Old Men" falls into that bucket.

Miko said...

No way. No ... way. It's not that the ending to the "No Country" film denies the watcher a typical showdown experience. It's worse than that, because that alone I could live with. What really makes it terrible is that the good guy, the one with the money, dies in the most nondescript and vague way. Fine, Anton gets away... a lot my favorite movies have endings where the "love conquers all" axiom fails and the perpetuation of evil is disturbing. "The Astronaut's Wife" comes to mind. But to have the protagonist die without warning, and then compound that by presenting it almost as an afterthought, not even well defined - that really sucked. In most movies the viewer gets to see the whole story, the big picture, while the characters are each putting the pieces together and living in real time. I felt like an outsider at a crime scene, wondering what happened. Sorry, the ending sucked.