Study Guide

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men Introduction


Release Year: 2007

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Writer: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Cormac McCarthy (novel)

Stars: Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson


We'd love to tell you that No Country for Old Men is an uplifting story about an old man strolling around green meadows and who learns the peaceful joy of growing old with dignity. (Well, either that or lying around drinking virgin piña coladas by some pool on Florida and complaining that his kids never call him.)

We'd really, really love to tell you that.

But we'd be lying. And Mama Shmooop didn't raise liars.

No green fields, cerulean pools, or tasty coconut-flavored drinks in a single frame of this film. Instead, think drugs, dust, and some really, really bad decisions.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men (or No Country if you want to get personal) is a Western thriller set in 1980s Texas. And like almost everything the Messrs. Coen have created, it won all kinds of big awards after it debuted in 2007—big like four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Oh, and two Golden Globes and whole mess of critical acclaim.

But who's counting?

It's not all awards shows and shiny statues; No Country follows the story of a young Vietnam War vet named Llewellyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) who stumbles across a botched drug exchange in the desert and ends up stealing a briefcase full of money. Lucky day, right?

Not so much. Little does he know that the briefcase comes along with a total psycho named Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) who wants that same money. What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse, with both Moss and Chigurh trying to get the upper hand and kill the other. Exciting stuff.

Still, even Javier Bardem playing mind games probably wouldn't have made No Country quite the critical darling that it was. For that, we need Ed Tom Bell, a philosophical Texas sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones. Yes, it's as awesome as it sounds.

Ed Tom spends most of this movie trying to track down Moss and Chigurh in order to stop the Godzilla-like path of destruction they leave wherever they go. All the while, Ed Tom tries to make sense of how so much senseless violence can exist in a world where God is supposed to be in charge and people are supposed to be good. (Hello problem of evil, our old friend.)

His answer? Well, we don't want to spoil anything for you.

What is No Country for Old Men About and Why Should I Care?

Don't you love it when life just works out perfectly? When all the good people get their happy endings and all the bad people get their just deserts? When your wedding day is perfectly sunny, and when you find a knife exactly when you need it?

Oh, excuse us. We confused real life with a Hollywood blockbuster. Unless you live a pretty amazing life, we're going to go ahead and assume that things don't always work out for you the way they do in movies. As the Rolling Stones once put it, "You can't always get what you want".

In the case of No Country, what you want—and don't get—is one big final fight between Llewellyn Moss and Anton Chigurh. Don't look to the Coens for narrative closure, because (spoiler alert), our big hero Llewellyn is killed off-screen by a bunch of crooks who've barely played any part in the movie until that point.

Okay, so at least we're going to have a final showdown between Chigurh and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, right? Nope again. Ed Tom just gets up and walks out of the hotel room that Chigurh is apparently hiding in. 

Lucky for us, Sherriff Bell is here to help us manage our disappointed expectations. He spends most of the movie asking what it all means, and it's pretty clear that the Coen brothers want you to ask this same question. But there are no easy answers here. Your typical white hat/black hat western might wrap up with some tidy moral about the triumph of law and order, but a Coen brothers movie is going to be light on the law and even lighter on the order. In the end, No Country is messy, unresolved, and majorly morally ambiguous.

In other words, it's a lot like life.

Trivia

Actor Josh Brolin broke his shoulder in a motorcycle accident only two days after winning the part of Llewellyn Moss in No Country. He was worried about losing the part, but in the end it all worked out: Brolin's character gets shot in the shoulder early in the movie anyway, so the busted shoulder just made the whole thing more realistic.
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No Country for Old Men's biggest contender for the Best Film Oscar in 2007 was Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Turns out that this movie was shot really close to where the Coens shot No Country, and one day the Coens even had to stop filming because of a giant cloud of smoke that had wafted over from Anderson's set.
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Anton Chigurh uses a semi-automatic shotgun throughout this movie, but we never do we see an empty shell casing come out of his gun. That's factually impossible, just so you know.
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No Country for Old Men Resources

Websites

Seems Legit
If you're looking for official No Country for Old Men resources, the Miramax site's for you.

Fanboys (and Girls) United
This page also claims to be an official No Country for Old Men site, but from what we can tell it's just a page where fans get to talk about how great the Coen Brothers are. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

We "Like" This One
If you want to enlist in the No Country for Old Men fan army, be sure to "like" the movie—then sit back and wait for great quotes and clips to show up in your newsfeed.

Book or TV Adaptations

The Novelistic Treatment
To be fair, the movie is an adaptation of this book rather than the other way around. Either way, it's worth a read—just make sure you have a dictionary handy.

Articles and Interviews

One-Hit Wonder or Instant Classic?
Check out this article from TIME Magazine to help figure out why No Country for Old Men is such an awesome movie.

Confabbing with the Coens
The directors of No Country for Old Men open up about some of their ambitions in creating their masterpiece. (Ambition #1: be totally awesome.)

Cage Match: Book vs. Film
Okay, let's get some answers: is the book or movie better? Aw, don't make us choose.

Video

Heads or Tails
Watch Anton Chigurh as he tries to decide whether or not to kill a random gas station clerk. It's a real hoot. Not really.

Famous Last Words
Click here to watch one of the best exchanges of dialogue you'll ever see as Carson Wells sits down at Llewellyn Moss's Bedside.

Audio

The Talkies
If you're in for a long drive somewhere, throw on the No Country for Old Men audiobook to see how the novel stacks up against the movie.

Images

Funny Pages
And by "funny," we mean "a funny feeling." Let's just hope you can still sleep at night after looking into Anton Chigurh's eyes in this cartoon rendering of the movie's three main characters.

Ultraviolence
Here's a picture of Chigurh chilling with his silenced shotgun. Excuse us while we go double check to make sure our doors are locked.

The Only Ones for Us Are the Mad Ones
In this gif, Carson Wells asks Anton Chigurh the question most of us are probably thinking.