WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE. IT CONTAINS SPOILERS.
The critics are raving about it. Your best friends are telling you that it’s the best fucking movie ever. It’s a drama. It’s a thriller. It’s a modern day western. You know it’s about stumbling upon a fortune and the unfortunate events that follow. You know it’s about getting your piece of that sweet green apple pie. You know it’s about how in even in the most traditional of places, the times, they are a changin’. But after seeing the movie, you want to know what No Country was really about. Well, search no further.
“The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and snowin’, hard ridin’. Hard country. He rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’ goin’ by. He just rode on past and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down. And when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and that he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.”
These lines, pulled directly from the script, are the end to No Country for Old Men. Spoken is a voice as old and worn as the gravel roads of west Texas, the imagery here is all left up to us; onscreen we are only given Tommy Lee Jones’ tired, weathered face. The Coen brother’s chose to end the movie with this dialogue very dilbertly; they meant for us to stumble out of the theatre with these words still ringing in our ears. And it is these final lines that the movie sends its message.
Sherriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is our guide through “No Country’s” dark, twisting plot. His voice fades in with the opening shots of west Texas. So it only makes sense that the movie should end with his words.
I’ve thought for a while about what this dream metaphor means, and I’ve come up with the following.
The opening lines of the passage above give the sense that we have traveled back in time to when both Bell and his father were the sherriffs of their respective counties. Traveling together through the cold and the darkness, they have each other to rely on. But then, without words, Bell’s father leaves him, riding ahead with a blanket and a fire. It becomes apparent here that Bell’s father is prepared for the cold and the night and that Bell is not. Bell states that he thinks his father has gone ahead to build a fire, and will be waiting for him there. We can intrepret this as Bell’s father dying, passing on to a better place, where he can see things more clearly. Bell, however, is left to wander through the dark and the cold, and then he abruptly wakes up. This simply means that because Bell is still alive, he is left out in the dark, to wander through this chilling and distant life. Life’s mysteries and happenstance will not become clear to him until his life is over, a time when we will meet up with his father again.
This is a rather dark interpretation of the dream, but I can see no other meaning. But if this is the correct interpretation, what does it mean?
It means that the events that happen in life are too grand for us to wrap our meager human heads around. They are moments made up of chance, of forces are playing at random, moments of fate and circumstance. Bell will never know why Llewelyn and Carla Jean Moss had to die the way they did. He will never understand what drives Anton Chigurh to kill. Instead, he is left to blindly ride on horseback through the snowy path of his life.
Anton Chigurh believes that things happen for a reason. He believes that objects and people travel through to time to come together for determined events. “This coin has traveled over 20 years to get here,” he says to the man at the gas station, as if all the three of them, the store owner, himself, and the coin, have been placed on the earth for this particular meeting. And even though he is so often in control, Chigurh’s life almost ends in a random accident, when someone runs a red light and sideswips his car.
The Coen brothers are playing with both ideas of predestination and ideas of free will, but their message is not that life is made up of one or the other. Their message is that either way, life is not meant to be understood.