Just a Small Town Boy
No Country for Old Men doesn't give us much in the way of heroes, but it does give us Llewellyn Moss. And … we guess he'll do. We root for him and hope that he'll find a way to protect his wife and escape with the two million in drug money he finds out in the desert, although it's hard to really admire the guy, if you know what we mean.
See, the truth is that Moss is just a normal Texan who stumbled across a botched drug deal. He could be you, he could be us, he could be anyone who gets himself caught up in things way too big for him to deal with. Carson Wells tells him as much when he says, "You're not cut out for this. You're just a guy who happened to find those vehicles."
But it's not fair to say that Llewellyn Moss is just some guy. He's been in the Vietnam War and he knows a thing or two about toughness and resourcefulness… and sawed-off shotguns. In fact, he lasts a lot longer than we would in the same situation. Unfortunately, that's not long enough.
Man of Action
Useful character trait #1: You'd think we'd have a lot to say about Moss, since we've just determined that he's more or less the hero of this movie. But … we actually don't have that much to say about him, mostly because he doesn't have much to say about himself. Moss is a man of action. We see him doing a lot of stuff: stealing money, fleeing his house, protecting his wife, stashing money, ditching money, and so on and so on. He's constantly on the move, sometimes in some really unpleasant situations.
But all of these actions don't add up to much in the way of character. All we can really gather from it is that he's all about self-protection. Taking the money is an act of self-protection (2 mill can buy you a lot of protection), and ditching the money is an act of self-protection. Even protecting his wife is just part of protecting himself.
Added to this, you never see him being loving or kind to Carla Jean, just kind of ordering her and pushing her around. Granted, he's in a rush to avoid the murderous drug dealers, but still. Deep thoughts and tender words are not this guy's M.O.
But at least you can count on him to do the right thing … eventually.
Kind of a Man of Honor
Useful character trait #2: Moss isn't exactly the kind of guy whose poster you want to put up on your wall, but he is a reasonably decent, honest man. (Except for when he steals a briefcase full of money, even if it is drug money.) He goes back to take water to the dying man and he's all about protecting his wife.
Sure, he might not do the right thing in a timely manner, but going back has to count for something, right??
Man of Many Resources
Useful character trait #3: Llewellyn is clever. He thinks of things like stashing his money case in the air duct of his motel room and makes sure to keep a constant lookout for people who might be after him. He gets the drop on the insane Anton Chigurh at one point, badly wounding him in the leg. Carson Wells even points out that he's basically the only guy to come head-to-head with Chigurh and live.
But for all of his resourcefulness, Moss is the victim of his own pride. He could turn himself over to police protection at any time, but he doesn't: he wants to keep the drug money and fight his own battles. As Carla Jean tells Sheriff Bell, "He won't [quit] neither. He never has. He can take all comers." Carla Jean deserves some credit for standing by her man, but she's wrong here. In the end, he's outnumbered and outmaneuvered, slaughtered off-screen.
And by the way, if you were disappointed by the way the Coen brothers decide to have Llewellyn Moss killed off-screen by a gang of Mexicans who are barely in the movie, you're not alone. But that's just the thing: life doesn't always work out the way we want it to, and our heroes often turn out to be big fat disappointments.
Everything's Bigger in Texas, Including Disappointment
So Moss is about the closest thing we have to a hero, except maybe Ed Tom. That means, no matter his flaws, we're invested in the dude and we want him to make it—or at least to die a satisfying death in a final showdown with his rival Anton Chigurh. (This is a western, after all.)
As it is, we get no showdown and no closure. In fact, Llewellyn ends up seeming—how do we say this?—downright unimportant. Which is exactly what the Coens want you to see. Like Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, you're supposed to wonder What It All Means, but not in a 2AM college dorm room sort of way:
- What does it mean that a guy as tough and resourceful as Llewellyn Moss gets a random and invisible death?
- What does it mean that Anton Chigurh lives on only to get struck by a random car running a red light?
- Why should we admire toughness or bravery if it's just going to be swept away in a cloud of random and meaningless violence?
In the end, Llewellyn Moss's life is less important than the questions that his death raises.