MOVIE: No Country for Old Men

Went and saw No Country for Old Men last night with some seminarian friends.

To let you know my perspective, I’m a huge McCarthy fan and as a Prof. of American Lit. have taught several of his books over the years. That said, I enjoy adaptations as separate works of art in their own right.

On one crucial level – the spiritual plane – the film damages the novel’s intent. Otherwise it is a painstaking and mostly faithful reproduction of the mood, message, and feel of the novel.

The violence is incredibly disturbing right from the opening scene. I remember cringing when reading sections of the book, and indeed I could not fully watch certain scenes of the film.

And this is one of McCarthy’s lighter books.

You might walk out of the theatre nonplussed. More likely you’ll feel unsettled – to say the least – and you’ll begin animated discussions about the nature of evil with your coevals.

I think it opens wide tomorrow. I’ll be very interested to hear y’alls reactions. (Did a y’all just slip in there…?)

REally looking forward to it but as with any movie these days, I’ll wait for dvd or even Tivo.:stuck_out_tongue:

It should be ‘On Demand’ very soon. Break out the Aquos! ha

These numbers just in:

96% Rotten Tomatoes meter – one of the best in RT history

91 Metacritic rating – one of the best in MC history

Yowza. Too bad the film spiritually devastated McCarthy’s intent on that plane.

I’ve been rereading the novel (again) and am gathering enough zeal (and evidence) to make the argument. Bear with me.

How did the movie damage the novel’s intent on the spiritual plane?

How did the movie damage the novel’s intent on the spiritual plane?

Aha, glad you asked…

Actually I’m writing an article on this very question. But in brief:

There are many key scenes in the novel where Bell expresses hope – theological hope. And there’s one scene in the film where the screenwriters reverse dialogue in characters’ mouths to make Bell appear spiritually desolate instead of conciliatory.

It’s a huge change, especially considering the end of the novel.

Suffice it to say, when we hit the final scene of the novel we have a very different impression of Bell and his marriage than we do in the final scene of the film. And that makes all the difference.

Once I get this article written I’ll post more details. In the meantime I highly encourage anyone who enjoyed the film to pick up the novel, which has a brighter spiritual outlook than the film.

Thanks. Does the film have any gnostic elements?

Edit - You are the first person I have come across that has described McCarthy’s outlook as in any way bright.

I just back from seeing the film. I did not see anything that damaged the novel’s spiritual intent. The exploration of metaphysical matters was not an in depth, but it took the same gnostic position as McCarthy’s novel. Ed Tom’s journey is pretty much the same in the novel and film. In both Ed Tom loses his idealizations of the people being better in the past and realizes them to be selfish and flawed to the core. He ends up retiring and feels himself a failure. The film ends with Ed Tom relating a dream in which he is with father who is carry fire. Fire having the same gnostic connotation as it does in The Road.

Anyone else see this film?

How are you defining “gnostic”?

Follow this link and do a search for “gnostic” and read the essay starting on page 161.

amazon.com/gp/reader/1578061059/ref=sib_dp_pt/002-2769521-8587263#reader-link

For a shorter view (and totally incomplete) of the gnosticism of McCarthy it is clear from his books that he gives a view of the world as rotten to the core where people have a sense that something better should be here.

Edit - The best way to look at it that for McCarthy there is no question how evil got in the world. The question is how did the good get in the world.

There’s a lot of evidence that McCarthy’s aware of Gnosticism and uses its imagery.

A pretty obvious one is in Blood Meridian where a chapter subtitle refers to an “ogdoad” yet what the characters come across are eight skulls, the work of slaughtering Indians.

There specifically the word “ogdoad” is outside the frame of the characters’ consciousness, as McCarthy limits it to a communication between the subtitle text and the reader. So the question becomes how and why does he use it?

My position on McCarthy is that he uses the imagery of Gnosticism to show how it falls in on itself and is ultimately destroyed from within. That ogdoad image is not a conciliatory one!

Take a look at the second to last paragraph of The Road. I’d argue that’s about the triumph of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying fire – as opposed to Gnostic ideas of sparks and such.

As for No Country, Bell makes several mentions in the novel of being saved by the love with his wife. He says specifically that their love makes up for all his shortcomings and that he’s still in the black (i.e., not in the red) in that regard.

So when we get to that final scene, we have to understand what that marriage means to him, what it means to be sharing that vision with his wife. That’s where I’d describe hope.

I could be wrong about this, but I think in the book Ed Tom does not share his dream with his wife. The dream is just described in the final italicized monologue. It is only in film he share the dream with her. Do you have a copy handy?

I think it is important to relate the dream to the 10,000 year water troff is described just before the two dreams. So there is hope is McCarthy’s work, but it very limited.

Also, Ed Tom comes to realize that he is not ahead. He even tells his wife that he decides to quit.

Take a look at the second to last paragraph of The Road. I’d argue that’s about the triumph of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying fire – as opposed to Gnostic ideas of sparks and such.

Well, there is no mention of fire in that paragraph. What is mentioned in that part is the woman telling the boy about the breath of God passing from person to person. I am no expert of Gnosticism, but I do know that the Breath of God and its passing between people is an important image (or maybe they mean it literally) to Gnostics.

Why do you take it as the Holy Spirit?

Hi Richard,

Okay, I’ve got my copy of the book. It’s the hardcover First Edition, so other editions/printings may have different pagination (as is the case with The Road).

That’s right, he doesn’t (308-9). And that’s my point: if they’re to put that sharing between husband and wife in the film like that, especially in the final scene, we need to know how Bell feels about his wife. We need the dialogue from p. 133 in the novel, which I mentioned above.

I think it is important to relate the dream to the 10,000 year water troff is described just before the two dreams. So there is hope is McCarthy’s work, but it very limited.

I agree about the trough. Look at what Bell comes up with there: “There was some sort of promise in his heart [the man who constructed the trough] … I would like to be able to make that kind of promise. I think that’s what I would like most of all” (308).

This in the face of everything he’s just witnessed. I would call this more than hope; I call it theological hope. So while the mentioning of hope is limited – McCarthy has at times a rather morbid fascination with detailing violence – its specific power is superabundant.

I have some initial thoughts on this in the article I’m working on, but not enough to develop it fully here yet.

Also, Ed Tom comes to realize that he is not ahead. He even tells his wife that he decides to quit.

Yes, and one of the toughest scenes is where he walks out of the courthouse for the last time (306). Of the feelings, though, he says to himself, “You need to get over that.” Bell’s unwilling to let despair rest in him. And the hope he has – that line about the promise – comes just after this.

Well, there is no mention of fire in that paragraph. What is mentioned in that part is the woman telling the boy about the breath of God passing from person to person. I am no expert of Gnosticism, but I do know that the Breath of God and its passing between people is an important image (or maybe they mean it literally) to Gnostics.

Why do you take it as the Holy Spirit?

In Gnosticism the demiurge steals the spirit from Sophia and breathes it into beings that cannot stand up for themselves. This counterfeit spirit will be destroyed when the demiurge is destroyed along with the archons by the aeons. For more info on this see the helpful summary in April DeConick’s recent book on the Gospel of Judas, which goes into “Gnostic basics.”

That’s not the context I get from this passage in McCarthy. Here, the focus is praying to the father. And the woman speaks of the spirit being passed down from person to person across the ages – a clear reference to unity in multiplicity and, I would argue, apostolic succession.

This is not Gnosticism because 1) Gnostics such as the Sethians adamantly fought against apostolic succession; 2) any passing of spirit would involve esoterica specific to the group.

Probably most importantly, the woman reaffirms the beneficence and reality of praying for the dead, of the communion of saints, of the goodness of creation from the beginning.

For that last part specifically, see the next (final) chapter of the book, in which McCarthy sees in nature God’s good plan already and yet written in the maps of creation. This is a pivotal image in McCarthy at the ends of his most important works, such as a map of the goodness of Billy Parham’s life always-already written in his work-scarred hands (at the end of the Border Trilogy).

DocCormac, I will respond tomorrow or Monday to your post, but I do have a quick question. In DeConick’s book does not discuss the Persian form of Gnosticism or only the Syrian-Egyptian form? I looked at the book on Amazon and from a quick search it looks like she only discusses Sethian (Syrian-Egyptian) gnosticism which is pretty different from the Persian form from which McCarthy takes imagery.

The fire dream reminded me of St. Gregory of Nyssa:

The fire that is hidden and as it were smothered under the ashes of this world… will blaze out with its divinity and burn up the husk of death. ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa Against Eunomisu

Nice connection, Ahimsa. I think a strong case can be argued for McCarthy’s awareness of the Church Fathers and using their theology to positive effect. That’s something I’ll have to work on.

You’re right, Richard; DeConick is an Egyptologist and focuses her work there. I don’t know much about schools of Gnosticism in Persia.

But I would argue that no matter which schools McCarthy’s imagery comes from – and certainly he doesn’t limit himself when it comes to allusions – Gnosticism can always be defused by key beliefs that necessarily undermine it in any form: apostolic succession and unity in multiplicity, to name two big ones.

And I see those very beliefs working powerfully in the climactic moments of McCarthy’s best work.

That’s a big claim for me to be making, one that requires a book-length treatment, and that’s what I’m working on at the present. It’ll probably be another couple of years before I have the manuscript ready.

I do not see why you think having Ed Tom say this to his wife really changes the meaning. I agree the relationship with the wife is pretty much dropped, but things to have to be dropped when tightening the themes for a film adaptation. It does seem to damage the major themes of the work.

I agree about the trough. Look at what Bell comes up with there: “There was some sort of promise in his heart [the man who constructed the trough] … I would like to be able to make that kind of promise. I think that’s what I would like most of all” (308).

This in the face of everything he’s just witnessed. I would call this more than hope; I call it theological hope. So while the mentioning of hope is limited – McCarthy has at times a rather morbid fascination with detailing violence – its specific power is superabundant.

But what is so clear is that Ed Tom does not feel that hope. He expresses a desire to feel that sort of hope, but he does not and does not even really understand that kind of hope.

Yes, and one of the toughest scenes is where he walks out of the courthouse for the last time (306). Of the feelings, though, he says to himself, “You need to get over that.” Bell’s unwilling to let despair rest in him. And the hope he has – that line about the promise – comes just after this.

And we never see him get over his feelings. He might, but we just do not know. That is what is so sad about the book. We see a basically good man beaten because of a lack of courage. He is unwilling to put his soul on the line. He knows what it would take to combat the evil in the world and does not think he can do that without becoming evil himself.

Hi Richard,

True, much is probably on the cutting floor of this one; it was a long-ish film anyway. My only concern about his sharing that with his wife was that in the film we have to base almost all of their relationship off that interchange, whereas in the book we have a lot more.

But what is so clear is that Ed Tom does not feel that hope. He expresses a desire to feel that sort of hope, but he does not and does not even really understand that kind of hope.

I think you’re right. He definitely expresses the desire, but does he feel it? I would say that he needs to link the hope he feels about his wife and their relationship with this desire for theological hope. And you’re right, he doesn’t understand it yet.

And we never see him get over his feelings. He might, but we just do not know. That is what is so sad about the book. We see a basically good man beaten because of a lack of courage. He is unwilling to put his soul on the line. He knows what it would take to combat the evil in the world and does not think he can do that without becoming evil himself.

That is true: not one of McCarthy’s novels has a character seriously getting over feelings. In fact many of his older characters (especially in Cities of the Plain) deal with a lot of remorse and sorrow.

I agree there’s a lot of sadness in the book, but I wouldn’t call Bell beaten. He has the desire for hope, and he’s found a sacramental form of hope in his marriage. Even if he doesn’t understand it as such, we do know he feels his marriage saves him. So the capacity is there.

Here’s the kicker as I see it: the desire for hope is already the presence of the theological virtue of hope. That’s Catholic, and I know I have to work that out with more evidence.

I like how you phrased that: he’s unwilling to put his soul on the line. I would call that Holy Fear, which is knowing that at some point you have to back up and say “I can’t do this anymore without putting my life on the line.” Bell knows he’s not a martyr. I see that as humility.

But how do we distinguish these from unhealthy fear, the “Be not afraid!” type? I will have to ponder this further.

DocCormac, I do not know if you are still reading this thread, but I had a few questions for you. Do you think that you are perhaps looking to fit the works of McCarthy into your own world view in the same way that Marxist scholars took works that were not Marxist and tried to turn them into expressions of the Marxist world view? I know this is a tendency that a lot of people have including myself. I really like the writing of Thomas Pynchon, but I do not agree with the world view that is expressed in his work and I sometimes find myself interpreting his work in a way that really takes a stretch to get it to fit the work.I find that if try to look at the work more neutrally I see that the simpler and easier answer is that Pynchon’s view is different from mine and that I need to strip my own views out the equation and just look at the work. I wonder if you are not going the same thing with McCarthy. I get the impression that you do not have a fully worked out view on the Catholic (or just Christian) elements in McCarthy work. To take the specific example of apostolic succession, do you think it is possible that McCarthy is not writing about apostolic succession in The Road? It seems like a real stretch to get to apostolic succession and perhaps the simpler and easier solution is that is not what McCarthy is expressing and that is why it is such a stretch to find the evidence to back up the idea that he is writing about apostolic succession. Do you think is possible that your Catholic faith is coloring your reading of McCarthy?

I’ve just finished writing a review (of sorts) for “No Country for Old Men.” I approach it through the lens of a theme common to both it and “The Road,” and I wonder if anyone here might share their thoughts about it.

I’m not asking how you would evaluate the message you believe to be communicated in “No Country,” but rather I am asking what message, in terms of hope or pessimism, do you believe is being communicated, and why?

My review is here, and I’d love to have a conversation about it.

While I have you here, I have a review for “The Road,” here, which you might also find sparks some conversation.

Kelly

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