1. Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a novel about three characters intertwined by a drug deal gone bad near the Mexican border in 1980. The first, Llewelyn Moss, is hunting antelope when he finds the aftermath of the drug deal, coming across a dead man with a satchel carrying $2.4 million and a man dying of thirst. His remorse gets the better of him and Moss heads back to the site to give him, only to be seen by the cartel, which sets the novel’s events in motion. From there Moss is tracked by Anton Chigurh, a ruthless assassin hired by the cartel to retrieve the satchel, and Ed Tom Bell, a Texas sheriff haunted by his actions during World War II who is piecing the events together. Chigurh kills several people while tracking Moss, including rival assassin Carson Wells, but Moss is killed by the cartel before Chigurh catches up to him, although Chigurh is still able to retrieve the satchel. Bell, unable to save Moss and catch up to Chigurh, retires, and the book ends as he explains strange dreams he had of his father.
2. The film version of the novel, directed by the Coen Brothers, follows the same story as the source text with little alteration. The film version is marked by almost no dialogue, with Chigurh, Moss, and Bell mostly quiet (almost brooding in a way) throughout the movie; the most talkative characters in the film are Moss’s mother-in-law, Bell’s clueless deputy, and rival hitman Carson Wells. Instead, the film uses its setting (the desolate plains of West Texas and the border towns where Moss is chased through) and the actions of the characters to tell the story, whether it be the murders Chigurh carries out or Moss’s actions to hide the money.
3. The film version of No Country for Old Men stays faithful to its source text; only a few changes were made to the film version of the book. The biggest is likely the omission of Bell’s backstory; he is guilt-ridden in the novel for leaving his squad to die in World War II, an action that earned him a Bronze Star, one that he feels is undeserved. That story gives his character understanding in the novel, but is removed from the film entirely. The scene where Carla Jean’s fate is decided is also changed; in the novel Chigurh flips a coin to decide her fate and shoots her based on the flip, but after Carla Jean says the choice is his in the film, whether or not he takes action is left ambiguous (although it appears he does).
Carla Jean’s fate in the film is up for debate since it isn’t clearly shown, but I liked this person’s analysis of the book. He said Chigurh believed Llewelyn and Carla Jean had caused the situation, and their fate at his hands is their fault. When I first watched the film I believed he had let her live, but after reading up on the film and watching it again I changed my mind, particularly because he checks his boots when he leaves her door; in a previous scene he props them up while on the phone to keep them from getting bloody. However, the question of what weapon he uses still complicates matters; he is only shown with the bolt pistol and the silenced shotgun in the film, but is shown carrying neither in that scene.
This writer, a linguist, breaks down the scene between Chigurh and the storeowner to show just how ruthless and intimidating Chigurh really is, focusing on the dialogue between the two; Chigurh’s repeated questions draw the storeowner into a deeper and deeper hole, to the point where he “babbles” out of nervousness before Chigurh maneuvers the conversation into his coin toss.
A theory to the movie that Chigurh is an angel. Apparently the kills he made of people who touched the money were done with the silenced shotgun, while people he was forced to kill but weren’t directly involved were killed with his captive bolt pistol–a humane way to kill the innocent, which they connect to a sheep-Shepherd Bible mythos.
5. If anything, No Country for Old Men represents moral ambiguity than religious dualism. Although Chigurh is killing people without remorse, he does so because it his job to do so; he doesn’t show any expression when he carries out his killings. His deeds aren’t done because he is evil; they are done because his faith lies in chance rather than true religion. Both Bell and Moss don’t what they do because they are good; both are deeply flawed characters in their own right. Bell is troubled by a feeling of inadequacy because of an inability to stop Chigurh and Moss’s death, yet describes the dreams in which he knew everything would be all right. Moss steals the money from the drug deal gone wrong, yet returns to help the dying man when his conscience gets the better of him, despite the fact that the man is connected to an “evil” event–a drug deal. Morally though, Chigurh would be considered an evil character because of his placid nature towards his deeds, while Bell, like Uncle Ellis says, could at least take solace in the fact that he tries to do what’s right in a county stricken by violence–he’s a good character in a bad world, but it’s because of morals more than it is religion.