The Ending Was Only the Beginning

Harry Knowles and others dissect No Country for Old Men's ending.

Still gnashing over No Country for Old Men's No Easy Answers for Moviegoers knockout of an ending? You're not alone. Slate's spirited yearly throwdown, Slate's Movie Club, devotes some time to No Country's last act here and here (Dana Stevens, a detractor, made me laugh out loud with this: "No Country succeeds in the way Javier Bardem's pneumatic cattle-gun succeeds in annihilating his victims: It blows a hole in our brains, over and over again, without explanation, and then asks us to walk out going, 'Wow, that was quite a hole you blew in my brain. Thanks.'") The gang also devotes some time to unpacking the year's other controversial movie ending, from There Will Be Blood.

And Miramax, No Country's distributor, offers on their website a podcast, with Elvis Mitchell moderating a roundtable between Glenn Kenny (, Harry Knowles (, Jen Yamato (, and Jim Emerson ( I'm still pushing through the podcast -- it's really long, and the audio quality is crap (I'm pretty sure it's a conference call) -- but there've been some interesting bits so far. Knowles has a few things to say about the Austin screening with Josh Brolin in October, and one guy (Kenny, I think , but it's hard to tell 'em apart) made the case that -- semi-spoiler alert! -- the dream recounted by Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff in the film's final moments foreshadows Cormac McCarthy's next novel, the father-and-son-riding-out-the-post-apocalypse The Road.

I fought No Country for a long time myself -- by which I mean, I fought actually watching it. I'm not big on blood, and that charmless gorefest Sweeney Todd unfairly set me against anything lately with a whiff of violence. So a screener of No Country sat on my coffeetable for about three weeks (for a while keeping time with Kino's new edition of Nosferatu and its deliciously creepy cover art of Max Schreck -- talk about a double whammy of dread). In short: I scare easily, which means any late-night scary-movie watchings inevitably end with me, a night light, and my poor dog dragged to bed as makeshift security blanket.

Christmas eve I finally sat down to watch the damn thing. Lo and behold, just like everybody said: It's a great fucking movie. And it's a great fucking ending. The ending -- by which I mean from the scene with Barry Corbin on -- is what elevates No Country from a highly effective thriller into high art. Do I still have needling questions [FULL-ON SPOILER ALERT!] about where the money went, who pulled the trigger on Moss, what exactly went down in that hotel room when Chigurh was just a short cattle stun gun away from Bell, and if perhaps, chronologically, the Coens are playing fast and loose with us? You're damn right I do. But more significant are the film's open-ended questions about mortality and purpose. I fought No Country alright, but in the end I didn't feel scared -- I felt electrified by moviemaking that not only isn't easy, it's spectacularly uneasy. I also felt terribly sad and terribly alone... at which point I dragged that poor dog to bed as makeshift security blanket.

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More No Country for Old Men
Catching Up With No Country for Old Men
Catching Up With No Country for Old Men

Marjorie Baumgarten, Sept. 12, 2007

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