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Evil Thrives Where God Is Absent in No Country

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Mar 13, 2008
Evil Thrives Where God Is Absent in <i>No Country</i>

DVD Release Date:  March 11, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  November 9, 2007 (limited)
Rating:  R (for strong graphic violence and some language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  122 min.
Director:  Joel Coen
Actors:  Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Tess Harper

“I feel overmatched,” Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) confides in a friend as he prepares to confront a psychopathic killer in No Country for Old Men. “I always figured God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn’t. I don’t blame Him. If I was Him, I’d have the same opinion about me that He does.”

No Country for Old Men, based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy and adapted for the screen by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a brooding, powerful film that depicts evil as an unstoppable force. Technically superb in front of and behind the camera, the film’s greatest asset—or liability, depending on how you interpret it—is the struggle at the heart of this disturbing story for answers to profound questions: How can well-meaning people confront unstoppable evil? Is there any hope to do so apart from God?

Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who stumbles upon a group of dead men, a truck filled with drugs and a suitcase filled with money. He chooses to take the money, marking him as a wanted man by cold-hearted killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and two men who hope to find Moss before Chigurh does: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones) and a slick businessman (Woody Harrelson) who fear Moss is in way over his head.

Moss knows he’s being pursued, so he flees town, ostensibly protecting his wife (Kelly Macdonald) from those willing to do anything to retrieve it. Bell chases after Moss, hoping that Chigurh’s trail of destruction won’t meet up with Moss before Bell can.

The story is simple, as are the motivations of many of the characters:  Moss makes an impulsive decision with dire consequences and Chigurh relentlessly pursues him. But it’s Bell who is the conscience of the film—an “old man” who wonders how violence has become so pervasive and extreme by the late 20th century (the story is set in Texas in 1980). He can’t come up with much of a response to his friend Ellis, who tells him, “This country is hard on people. Hard and crazy. Got the devil in it, yet folks never seem to hold it to account.”

“Most don’t,” Bell replies. He’s tried, but he feels defeated.

“You can’t stop what’s comin’, Ellis says, in an effort to ease Bell’s burden. “Ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.”

The threat of death is ever present in No Country for Old Men. The story’s law-and-order characters can’t contain the evil unleashed upon them, although Chigurh’s heinous deeds force Bell to reflect on his own spiritual state. His attempts to make sense of the carnage form the moral core of the film, but there’s an emptiness there. The film offers no firm answers on how to grapple with darkness, although its unconventional ending may offer a faint glimmer of hope.

The psalmist wrote, “Concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong” (Psalm 36:1-4).

No Country for Old Men is a study of that evil, but unlike the psalmist, it finds no refuge in the Lord. Its portrayal of Bell’s effort to do good to others out of duty, but absent the Lord’s leading, is worth considering, but even better is the stark exposure of the frailty of such efforts. In a world where evil runs rampant, God is our only hope, the source of joy in a world full of despair: “Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name” (Psalm 97: 10-12).

What do we do when we feel helpless against the assault of culture? Where do we turn when wickedness is rampant? Who will protect us against evil? No Country for Old Men is exemplary in raising such questions, but those looking for hopeful answers won’t find them here. The story is set in God’s “country,” but the characters don’t have access to anything beyond what they can see in front of them.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple profanities; a crude reference to sex.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A woman offers to bring a man beer, but we never see her follow through; stolen drugs are part of the story.
  • Sex/Nudity:  No sex, but a man is shown naked on a toilet, then with a towel wrapped around his waist.
  • Violence:  The threat of violence is everywhere; multiple shootings and sometimes graphic bloodletting; a dog is shot; a car blows up; washing of wounds; a man injects himself with prescription drugs; a car crash; a bone protrudes from an arm.