Study Guide

No Country for Old Men Themes

  • Violence

    We hope you're ready for a little of the old ultraviolence, because No County for Old Men should be subtitled "No Hold Barred."

    After Anton Chigurh brutally murders two innocent people in movie's first five minutes, you know you're in for a bloodbath. But don't expect any stylized action or lingering shots of carnage. In the West Texas of No Country, brutal violence is your standard weekday programming. After hearing about the murder of three Mexican gang members, Sheriff Ed Tom promptly says that they died of "natural causes"—as in, their deaths are natural for the dangerous life they've been living. It's not like we don't care about the deaths in this movie. But we have to wonder whether the universe cares about the deaths in this movie. There's never any dramatic music, only horrible silence.

    Like Ed Tom Bell, we have to ask: what's the point?

    Questions About Violence

    1. Do you think there's anything productive about all the violence in this movie, or is it just pointless blood for blood's sake? Why?
    2. Who is the most violent person in this movie? Why is he the way he is?
    3. Why does Ed Tom feel "overmatched" by the violence around him? What does he do about it?
    4. Why do we never get to see Llewellyn Moss killed? What larger point does this off-screen violence make?

    Chew on This

    In No Country for Old Men, we learn that there's really no larger point to all of humanity's violence. It's just a cold fact of life.

    No Country shows us that hope can find meaning in even the most brutal types of violence.

  • Strength and Skill

    Stubborn pride aside, Llewellyn Moss is a tough and resourceful hero. Psychotic killing sprees aside, Anton Chigurh has insane amounts of skill in escaping death and generally getting his own way about everything. Sheriff Ed Tom has a special ability to make people trust him, and Carson Wells—well, he's just plain good at his job. So, yeah, there's plenty of strength and skill to admire in No Country for Old Men. But where does it get them? Mostly dead. So we have to ask the Coen brothers—as we have more than once—is there a point to anything, guys?

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. What do you think is Anton Chigurh's greatest skill? Why? Should we admire him for it?
    2. Do you admire anything about Llewellyn Moss? Why or why not?
    3. What is Carson Wells' biggest mistake in this movie? Why?
    4. Do you think it's possible to admire someone you might also not like a whole lot? How so?

    Chew on This

    In No Country, we learn that all the strength and skill in the world won't protect someone from the randomness of the universe.

    No Country teaches us that the only thing we can count on in a violent world is our own strength.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Pop quiz: are we masters of our destiny … or are we just ants controlled by forces way, way, way bigger than us?

    Don't worry if you stuttered, because No Country for Old Men can't seem to make up its mind, either. Oh, it has plenty to say on the subject, for sure. On the one hand you've got Anton Chigurh, who seems to believe that some sort of random chaos controls everything in the world, including himself. On the other hand, you have Llewellyn Moss who refuses to believe that anything other than himself is in control of his life.

    What's the final answer? In the end, Moss dies and Chigurh lives, which might count as a point in favor of Chigurh's view. But then again, Chigurh gets into a totally random car crash and escapes only because of his toughness and quick thinking.

    Hm, might be time to ask the audience.

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Do you think this movie tells us that we're in control of our own lives? Why or why not?
    2. What's the significance of Anton Chigurh's car crash at the end of the movie? What does it tell us about fate and free will?
    3. Why does Chigurh compare himself to the coin he likes to flip? Why does he see himself this way?

    Chew on This

    In No Country, we learn that there neither fate nor free will. There's only randomness and we're totally at the mercy of it.

    No Country shows us that there's no hope for humanity unless we can rely on our free will as individuals.

  • Memory and the Past

    Ah, the old days—back when music was good, men were men, and criminals were honorable.

    Wait, what?

    We get the feeling that Ed Tom Bell, the most nostalgic old sheriff this side of the southern border, just wants to rewind everything about fifty years. He spends a lot of this movie talking about how good things were back in the old days and about as much talking about how bad things are in the present. Well, take off those rose-colored glasses, Sheriff Bell. As his relative Ellis reminds him, cold-blooded killers aren't anything new to the modern world. People are people; they always have been; they always will be.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Do you think that Sheriff Bell has a good point about things being better in the past? Why or why not?
    2. Do you think Sheriff Bell will listen to Ellis' advice and stop thinking about himself and his spiritual beliefs so much? Why or why not?
    3. Why does Sheriff Bell like to hear about the "old-timers" so much? What is it he admires about them so much?

    Chew on This

    In No Country, we learn that there's no room in this world for old men who just want to reminisce about the good old days. You need to keep looking forward or the view never changes.

    No Country shows us that the world truly is getting worse every year.

  • Philosophical Viewpoints

    For all the bloody action, No Country for Old Men is really a movie for a thinking guy or gal.

    The characters aren't just pitting their wits against each other; they're also bringing different worldviews into conflict. Sheriff Bell thinks that the world is slowly descending into random violence, while Carson Wells thinks that money is the only thing worth pursuing in life. Llewellyn Moss is determined to live and die completely on his own terms, and Anton Chigurh believes that he is nothing more than an agent of chaos. Throw it all together and you've got yourself a pretty tasty philosophical salad—extra croutons.

    Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints

    1. In your opinion, which character has the most appealing philosophical viewpoint in this movie? Why?
    2. Do you think Anton Chigurh is actually an agent of chaos, or is he just some crazy guy who's kidding himself?
    3. Could Llewellyn Moss have saved himself if he'd had a different philosophical outlook? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    No Country shows us that it doesn't really matter what our philosophical viewpoints are. The big bad world will play havoc with our lives no matter how we look at it.

    In No Country for Old Men, we learn that the only people who can survive in this world are the ones whose philosophical viewpoints are best adapted to it.

  • Spirituality

    Everything's bigger in Texas, including the churches—so where has God gotten to in No Country for Old Men?

    Way to ask the tough questions, Shmoopers. Sheriff Bell would like to think there's a God pulling the strings on all the stuff that's going on around him, but it's hard to believe so when all he sees is senseless violence. Anton Chigurh, on the other hand, accepts total randomness as the only truth in life, which is its own sort of spiritual code. In the end, Chigurh, randomly creamed in a car accident, might be the victim of his own beliefs. So what's left? If we take the end of the movie as a guide, it might be up to each of us to find a little fire to carry around.

    (Metaphorically, guys. Leave the lighters at home.)

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. Do you think this movie has a hopeful ending? Why or why not?
    2. If this movie wants us to ask one major spiritual question, what is it? Why?
    3. What do you think Sheriff Bell's friend means when he says, "It's the dismal tide. It is not the one thing"?
    4. Would you believe in God if you experienced the things that the characters of No Country for Old Men do? Why?

    Chew on This

    In No Country for Old Men, we learn that there probably is a God. He just has a really messed up sense of humor.

    No Country for Old Men shows us that the only way to survive in a violent world is to throw spirituality out the window and accept things as they are.