“Well all the time ya spend trying to get back what’s been took from ya, more is going out the door.”
In 2007 this budding amateur enthusiast hadn’t yet even thought about opening up my thoughts on the movies I thought was “cool” and “lame” the true extent of my vocabulary then – I don’t think it’s improved much – just yet. However, one thing is for sure I knew that No Country for Old Men was something special.
I can say that at first my biggest gripe was with the ending of the film. We spend near two hours following the battle of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and Llewelyn Moss (John Brolin) as they treck across the border and back all over a satchel of money only to arrive at a scene with Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) discussing a dream he had with his father which leads to a quick cut to black and that’s it. Initially I was just truly confounded by what the dream had to do with the film in the first place, which led to one of my very first really heavy conversations with my friends over a film that wasn’t just a back and forth of listing action scenes that rocked our world.
So over the years I’ve tried slowly but surely to piece it together and I’ve come up with the answer to my problem. The film wasn’t about Anton vs. Llewelyn just like how every episode of Law and Order isn’t about whoever they’re trying to convict. No Country for Old Men is actually about Sheriff Tom Bell’s final case and how it eventually puts him to find out he has to retire, almost like many other existential pieces about men coming to terms with their mortality. While Tom Bell isn’t the one in imminent danger he sees something in this particularly gruesome, and even random, pair of opponents that reminds him of the case he spoke of in the opening monologue:
“There was this boy I sent to the ‘lectric chair at Huntsville Hill here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killt a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it. Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell. “Be there in about fifteen minutes”. I don’t know what to make of that. I sure don’t.”
As he discusses the horror of the previous case and how his lack of understanding of the criminal’s mind, even to the point of just dismissing it, you can see the difference between the way he viewed it then – just writing off the boy as a psychopath somewhat and not thinking about it too deeply at that point – and with this movie how he views the acts of Chigurgh so differently. He’s able to see all the signs of a killer on the rampage and know that this story isn’t going to have a happy ending, and when he reaches to end of it all he recognizes that he isn’t ready to die, as he says one must be willing to be a sheriff, which leads to his obvious retirement and makes him visit Ellis (Bobby Corbin) and his cats.
So when we reach the end of the film with no longer Sheriff Tom Bell discussion of his dream where he meets his father…
“Alright then. Two of ‘em. Both had my father in ‘em . It’s peculiar. I’m older now then he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he’s the younger man. Anyway, first one I don’t remember too well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he’s gonna give me some money. I think I lost it. 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 there was snow on the ground and 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. ‘Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and 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…”
Taking a moment to think about it the dreams seem to me about death. Tom is, now that he’s retired and has nothing to do, thinking about his future. His future has nothing certain other than his eventual death, and in death he’ll finally meet up with his father at that place that he’s setting up a fire with his blanket and horn. However, the fact that he can’t reach his father, and his father keeps going on ahead (somewhat) not allowing his son to reach him shows that while Tom is considering the future he’s not yet ready to meet his death. Just as the previous two hours of movie was about his eventual retiring thanks to this final case it leads him to that eventual retirement of life. The dead pan delivery of the monologue shows the depth of thought, and maybe even concern, at the notion of these dreams.