There will be no abrupt ending to this series. We’re up to the fourth and final part! This post continues straight on from Part 3 so if you’ve just landed here, start at Part 1. For everyone else, Part 4 will reveal all…
In essence, the interpretation of the ending and the film as a whole relies largely on what these characters represent. Bell’s character represents order, morality, goodness – as a lawman he is the embodiment of the law, even as he is feeling overmatched. Chigurh on the other hand you might think is the embodiment of evil – the opposite of goodness – and I think that’s a good first pass. The film builds this idea that you have of Chigurh as an ultimate evil that the law is powerless to contain. For example, Chigurh’s escape from the police station at the beginning; and in the ending, in the sense that for Bell, there is no final confrontation with evil. Evil just disappears into the night. Only in Bell’s mind can he even come close…*
So, yes, Chigurh embodies many of our fears and for most of the movie he seems more than a man. But as the conclusion shows, he’s just as susceptible to this world as the rest of us – and the last we see of him is limping off looking more like a wounded animal. In the beginning, there’s a direct parallel drawn between Chigurh as hunter of men and Moss as hunter of animals. Does that place Chigurh as the ultimate predator, the ultimate hunter? Could “no country for old men” be another way of saying “survival of the fittest”? According to Chigurh, life is both random, unguided (chance), and that it has to be this way (necessity), like the gas proprietor’s coin, much like two pillars of evolution.
Personally, my conclusion is that Bell “wakes up” to the evolutionary view of life and to fight nature with moral law is futile.
And the clincher of this naturalistic worldview: this brand of fatalism cannot pass judgement on Chigurh or anyone because what is is and there ain’t nothing you can do about it. Carson Wells describes Chigurh’s modus operandi as “principles”, as distinct from morals. It reduces our outrage to mere illusion, or the result of socio-cultural conditioning or personal preference; there is no moral component to Chigurh’s or anyone’s deeds. Fatalism or biological determinism make a mockery of our moral outrage, and the desire for justice which it evokes. Whatever outrage we feel over Chigurh is, in Chigurh’s world, our own overlay on reality.
Most people believe good and evil exist; we believe in Bell’s career as a law man, and his long family history of upholding justice and goodness; we believe in bringing Llewelyn “home” and his fatherly compassion for Carla Jean. We find it hard to shake the sense that things like love and compassion are important and that thieves and murderers ought to be put away. We live and act and feel as if those things matter and that people do matter. And I think most people deep down want to believe they do matter (even if we sometimes act as if they don’t), and that some things really are evil. They are tangible non-material things but no less real things distinguishing us from the other creatures which inhabit the planet. But naturalism would say no – we and Chigurh are just dancing to the music of our DNA.
Biblical authors have often reflected deeply on the nature of life and evil. The writer of Ecclesiastes talks of the cyclic nature of life, and how life just seems to go on. Things live and things die. Even the management observes that the dead bodies will make for some fine petunias! Another writer, King David, finds his soul crushed and longing for God as he looks out on the world and sees a dry and weary land with no water, no life to satisfy his soul (Psalm 63). As I suggested in part 1, the setting of the desert aptly describes the nature of life presented in the movie. And I think Bell is somewhere in that same space.
Christianity claims God is doing something about the evil in the world. The evil out there that stems from rejection of God and his rightful rule over creation. Romans 3:10-18 says:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Does this sound anything like what Bell has lamented? This would be genuine cause for despair! But only 6 verses later the Apostle Paul declares that in Jesus Christ, we can be made right before God! Freely, as a gift of grace! At the cross, Jesus dies for people like Chigurh and Moss to break their natural tendency to do what they believe is right in their own eyes; in his resurrection, Jesus rises to new life, to give hope to those like Bell who feel as if there is no hope in this harsh world.
In conclusion, No Country for Old Men is a fine movie crafted from a clever story with characters embodying worldviews and actors who skilfully play out their beliefs on screen, depicting the seemingly harsh nature of life we see around us and endure ourselves. To the extent that the film, the writing-editing-directing team of the Coen Brothers along with their superb cast achieves this, No Country is, in my view, nothing short of brilliant. The main character faces serious questions which we each have to ask ourselves; questions which affect how we see the world and how we live. Is Chigurh right in that we are living blindly until we realize there is no meaning, no morality, no goodness? Does this pervasive suffering rule God out? Or is there a just and loving God waiting for us to wake up to His goodness?
* Chigurh appears to be hiding behind the door but when Bell enters there is no-one in the room and there is no other evidence presented to us that Chigurh left the room with or without Bell’s knowledge.