In Part 1, we saw that in this life there are no clean getaways – either a bad guy will get you, your bad choices will get you or your body will get you. That’s pretty much how life seems. In Part 2, we saw Chigurh says we all bet our lives on something and how Llewellyn in particular trusts himself to take ‘any comer’ – to cheat death – and make off with the big score.
I’ve been wanting to blog about this film for a long time. I didn’t know quite what to say or where to start – it’s so incredibly sparse and beautifully-crafted, and memorable for darker reasons too, perhaps. And then there’s that ending.
A couple of weeks ago, there were reports in our city of two shootings and another man showed up on someone’s doorstep at 2am in the morning with gunshot wounds to the torso (this is probably quite normal for many other cities around the world). Then it struck me – what must it have been like for ordinary people to wake up to suffering such as this? How does one get by without some framework for dealing with it? This is essentially the challenge facing Sheriff Bell. No Country is one of the few movies dealing with the effects of death and suffering on the way we look at the world and I hope you’ll bear with me for these final parts because there’s a lot going on.
After Bell realizes his failure to both save Moss and stop Chigurh he talks with a colleague, a friends and family. His first friend, the sheriff in the city where Llewellyn dies, laments with him the state of the nation, trouble brought on by money and drugs, the decline of common politeness, describing this decay as a dismal tide. But none of this, his colleague says, explains the killer. They agree this character is beyond anything they’ve seen before.
With his Uncle Ellis, Bell laments that he thought God would have come into his life, and speculates that God must hate him. Nonsense, his friend says rightly, you don’t know what God thinks of you (but can we know?). But Ellis reminds him Bell’s problem isn’t new and “it ain’t all waitin’ on you, that’s vanity” (which I think is great advice). He also says, like many characters, that Bell can’t stop what’s coming. Given the context, I think Ellis is referring to the seeming inevitability of evil and suffering; however, he and Bell don’t strike me as those who will just throw themselves into it for that reason.
Bell’s own self-revelation comes in the form of two dreams, which he relates to his wife. Much hinges on the interpretation of these two dreams. In story structure language, these final moments constitute the self-revelation and almost certainly the “resolution” together, which is I think at least part of why the ending feels so abrupt.
In the first dream, Bell is entrusted by his father to look after some money but he loses it. In the second dream, he envisions a cold dark trail ride, and sees his father going on ahead to prepare a warm place for him, and Bell catching up with him there. Then Bell says “then I woke up.” We see Bell for a brief second puzzling perhaps downcast over what it means. And then the movie ends.
It’s an ending which left many as puzzled as Bell, and I’m sure it left many wondering if there was an editing error! How could it end just like that? “Then I woke up?”
The first dream probably represents Bell losing his grip on the heritage he received from his father and grandfather: enforcing the law, upholding justice and protecting goodness in the land. Something we hold as precious and valuable that he was entrusted to protect.
The second dream precipitates out of this internal turmoil over coming to grips with the evil he has seen, this longing to see his father again (who gave him his heritage). The place in this dream is a beautiful place, where a dear relationship is reunited. In that sense, the dream is heavenly – supernatural – and stands in direct contrast to the isolation of the opening scenes. But of course Bell says, “then I woke up.”
Now where does all this leave Bell? Are his dreams merely fleeting thoughts in the night? Does life have real purpose and significance? Or is the resolution that there is no resolution?
Well, all will be revealed in Part 4. Just remember – it ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.