No Country for Old Men (2007)


Howdy, stranger. You’re the first one I ever seen in my Speedy Mart with one hand behind his back and the other hand thrustin’ forward a spread card deck.

Take a card.

Well, aw right.

It’s a 9 of hearts, right?

Actually, it’s a 4 of clubs.

Blam, Blam!


Hello, sir. My name is Brandon. We’re about to close. All Ace Hardware stores close at 9 pm. That’s probably why you’re the only customer left. But can I help you? There’s still a minute to go.

Shut up. See this coin?

Yes, sir.

I’m going to flip it. Call heads or tails.

Sir, may I respectfully ask what you’re holding behind your back.

Just call the coin flip. Could be your most important decision ever.

Well, sir, may I say something?

Make it quick.

Well, sir, I’m a math major at the local state college. Did you know that if you were to flip that coin infinitely, heads versus tails would even out. Of course, with actual coins, I mean their engravings and all, the slight differences between sides might change those odds–

Blam, Blam!


Howdy, it’s yours truly. Hope I haven’t spoiled the plot suspense in No Country For Old Men.

I have to admit, that movie got me to thinking. It hit me that there’s a simple way that a whole lot of movies can be sized up quickly. Bein’ able to do this can be very useful. You can save yourself considerable hassle at the cineplex by taking seats at the ends of rows so that, depending on how the movie passes the test, you can get up and leave without crawling over other people and interrupting their viewing. I guess they call this a graceful exit. Of course, you probably won’t be able to get a refund for the price of your ticket, even though it’s a good argument to the theater manager that familiarity breeds contempt (though I guess I’d just put it to most theater managers I’ve known as, “Today I’ve been cheated out of my entertainment dollar”)…well, regardless, maybe it’s less costly by making sure you don’t see any new films these days until they reach DTV or Netflix. Contempt is a lot more affordable that way. Besides, you’ve popped your own popcorn. Save a few bucks there. Gas money as well.

Anyway, here’s the test: Just ask yourself a few minutes into the thing: “Am I watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?”

Is this story based on Everyhuman being basically Old Man Hyde? If so, then the movie is sure to be a predictable retread. There won’t be any explanation of the motives of the characters, especially the villains (or, more exactly, the monsters). The drama won’t be about Man versus the World. Or versus Other Humans. None of that tried-and-true old stuff regarding drama.

In short: Down deep, we’re all just still in the swamp.

Yep. Are the screenwriter and the director, and the studio suits behind them, simply posing the question: How long can the men and women who do the protagonistin’ up there on the silver screen (or tube) do procrastinatin’ as Dr. Jekyll before they show who they really are–how long can they hide Old Hyde before they just up an’ kill someone or a whole bunch of people?

There bein’ no strong reason behind the killin’.

That’s the thing to look for.

Sometimes, of course, the screenwriters and directors try to misdirect you from the shallowness. Especially the ones who used to be intellectuals. But usually, especially of late, since a lot of them haven’t thought for a long time, they don’t even resort to such cleverness. (I’m guessin’ they have contempt for us.)

Really important in all this is Vengeance (AKA “accountability,” “paying’ the price” and similar). Vengeance, according to some authorities, belongs to the Lord.

I don’t know about that.

But now it’s sure Hollywood’s. The Great Serviceable All-Purpose Motivation for the Present Gore (i.e., Bad Human Behavior). Plays OK in Boston and just about everywhere else.

Hyde Rules. Hyde is good business. Hyde lets you make small movies. Hyde doesn’t complicate things. Vengeance. Genetic predisposition.

So: How long before one of the mobsters loses it and kills somebody or a whole group? Can’t be more than a coupla scenes from now, can it? Isn’t Jodie Foster in The Brave One just getting a kick out of vigilante killings? (Sure reminds you of Charles Bronson in a lot of old ones not to mention…well, space constrains. I mean, we’d need pages.) Tony Soprano can’t control himself through this whole episode, can he? We know he can’t.

One Hollywood screenwriter in the 1960’s, who evolved into another species called an anthropologist, and who was named Robert Ardrey, said the following in his book called African Descent:

“Man had emerged from the anthropoid background for one reason only: because he was a killer. Long ago…a line of killer apes branched off from the nonagressive primate background. For reasons of environmental necessity, the line adopted the predatory way. For reasons of predatory necessity, the line advanced. …the predatory transition (from ape to man) and the weapons fixation explained…man’s bloody history, his eternal aggression, his irrational, self-destroying inexhorable pursuit of death for death’s sake. …Man is a predator with an instinct to kill and a genetic cultural affinity for the weapon (and whose) natural instinct is to kill with a weapon.”
Ardrey invented “the territorial imperative,”as you remember. Desmond Morris, who wrote The Naked Ape, is in tune with Ardrey.

My hunch: Ardrey’s earlier life as a screenwriter fathered his later life as an anthropologist.

Kubrick, who liked Ardrey’s thought, said, “Man is not noble, he is ignoble.” Mamet says, “We humans love to kill.” And then there’s the “journalism” mantra: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Ardrey’s a tad simplistic! Or so a lot of estimable thinkers think. But he’s an oracle of filmdom. Kubrick said that the ape sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey comes from Ardrey. So does the de facto pessimism in Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. (See the above citation from Ardrey about weapons.)

But the profit-motive really explains Hyde-As-All in so many films. Throwing that bone-weapon into the air in 2001: A Space Odyssey and then having it morph into the spaceship has been hailed as an inspiration. It’s, however, a huge finesse. The Hyde-Is-Everything stuff can’t account for the complexity of human history. So you Rush Over History.

In essence: for many if not most in filmdom, it seems to me, complexity = bad business. The simplistic Hyde ploy is strictly business.

Anyway, it’s easy to submit any movie to the Hyde test.

BTW: Ardrey wrote the  screenplay for Khartoum and was nominated for an Oscar. It’s a very intellectual version of Hyde.

Robert Louis Stevenson, sire of Hyde, sure found a treasure island for more than a few people.