What does “No Country for Old Men” have to do with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”?

by sockacoach on December 11, 2008

(Warning: may contain spoilers to both movies. You are advised to have watched both movies before reading the following. However, I am not sure if anyone below the age of 35 would want to pay the local DVD store to watch “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.) 

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“How can ’No Country for Old Men’ won the best picture award?” This was my first reaction after viewing this movie. As quite a movie junkie, I have not heard of this movie until the Academy Awards. But the movie junkie instinct dictates that I have to see this one.

The opening narration by Tom Lee Jone’s character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell seemed to confirm what the motif and the plot of this movie are all about. The world is spinning so fast that old men (like myself) are not able to catch up anymore. Crime is the image used in this movie to illustrate the point. Sherriff Ed Tom Bell is lamenting that he could not understand how crimes can be committed in such a way today. He has never seen crimes done as unfolded in the story throughout his career.

Well, so much for this movie after the first two minutes. The thesis is unveiled. The rest is predictable. The Academy people were losing their minds to make this as the best picture of 2007.  Well, having seen ‘Infernal Affairs’ before ‘The Departed’ was even being made and won the best picture, the Academy had already lost their minds, I thought. 

Reading up most of the commentaries by movie fans has confirmed my opinion.

Then I came across the following that has totally nothing to do with this movie at first sight:

“It was mentioned that “Genocide is not of God but Satan is behind the scenes to control the leaders of countries.” Are we certain that Genocide is the work of Satan taking control of the leaders of the nations? Or is it our own spiralling sin that perpetuates such massive acts of violence? How do we differentiate the sin (performed by our own freewill) which we can repent and the sin (controlled by Satan) which we cannot control?

It seems we are conduits for both the work of God and Satan. Given freewill, can we truly resist either? God has hardened our hearts, and Satan has compelled us before. How do we manage this?”

As I reflect on the above questions, the more of ‘No Country for Old Men’ came into my mind. I relate the answers to these questions to what the director/writer of this movie is trying to say. They are saying the same thing. In other words, the answers came from a flection on the movie. But please bear with me. The starting point begins with one of my favorite western spaghettis: ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.’

The year was 1966 when this movie first came out. I was born a few years prior; therefore, I did not get to see it until my teenage years. As implied in its title, three distinct character are in this movie: the good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy. The roles are clear; the good guy did good things, the bad guy did bad things and the ugly guy was the in-between guy. The ending is also clear. After a gathering of the three guys for a shoot out, the good guy won out. The ugly guy survived and the bad guy died. Moral of the story: good guy wins and bad guy dies; the in-between guy (the ugly) survives but not as glorious as the good guy. The movie shows the process that moves towards the happy morally right ending.

If you have to teach your children anything from this movie, it is to emulate the good guy and do not grow up to either be the ugly or the bad. Plus Clint Eastwood was the good guy and he was good looking. This was one of the top movies in the 1960′s. The music score was unfogettably beautiful.  It is still being used of today for background musics. 

But how times has changed. Today’s teenager will get up after two minutes of the opening of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

“It is slow.”

“It is boring.”

“It is predictable.”

“There is not enough action but too much still shots and talking.”

Fastforward to 2007. The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy are once resurrected in the three main characters of ‘No Country for Old Men’.

Sheriff Tom Bell is the good guy.

Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem and won the best supporting actor award – I do agree with the Academy on this one) is so obviously the bad guy.

Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) is the not- so- obvious ugly guy (I may have embellished this comparison a bit more than the writer has intended. But when one seriously considers Llewelyn’s life situation, he is really neither a good guy nor a bad guy).

‘No Country for Old Men’ does not end with a shoot out between the good, the bad and the ugly. As a matter of fact, the good, the bad and the ugly have never officially met one another (or rather shown in the same scene in the movie). The movie ends without an ending. But the fates of the good, the bad and the ugly are clearly shown. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell retires without being able to catch the bad guy. Llewelyn Moss, the ugly who tried to get a decent life for his family using what we considered to be undecent means, died. However, the undecent means that he used was quite acceptable in his culture and times. Anton Chirgurh, the bad guy lives to continue his evil deeds.

Of course, this movie is more appealing to this present generation than that of the “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” generation. At least, the pace is faster. There is more blood and fighting. More excitement. Most of all, there is no conclusion. No moral lession to force upon. It is not forcing the audience to emulate the good guy. As a matter of fact, if there is any choosing, one would rather choose to be the bad guy. Both the good and the ugly lost out in this one. The bad guy won. It is fatalistic. Life seems hopeless. Good guys are too ‘Old’ for the times – No Country for Old Men.

No country for the ’Old’ ways of thinking.  

No country for the ‘Old’ ways of doing things.

No country for the ‘Old’ paradigm of ‘good guys finish first’.

No country for believing in anything that shreds a light of hope.

No country for doing anything good.

No Country for Old Men to understand the times.

Simply put. No Country for Old Men.

This is our times.

Now which character are you if you are forced to choose? Which character do you want to emulate? Being either good, bad or ugly really does not matter. Truth be told, it may even be good to be the bad guy since he won. Nonetheless, life evolves on. There will be another version of “No Country for Old Men” in 40 years.

Life is futile. Human beings are like pawns of something bigger.

“It seems we are conduits for both the work of God and Satan.” Aren’t we?

Two movies. Forty years apart (one generation?). Different endings. One cares much about the finale. The other one has the process of the story as the finale. Two different messages.  

But the same three characters. The good, the bad and the ugly. It suggests that I can still be free to choose whoever I want to emulate though their fate may not come out the same in the end.

Perhaps it goes the same with the “we are conduits for both the work of God and Satan” concept.  We cannot deny the feeling that life is like a conduit or a pawn of something bigger. If I believed in the story of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, I will choose to be the good guy for he won in the end. If I believed in the story of “No Country for Old Men”, I will choose to be the bad guy for he won in the end.

Though I can be entertained by both stories, I cannot believe in the fate of being the good, the ugly or the bad of both stories can be different and true.  My rationale and conviction will not allow me.

It goes the same as a ‘conduit of both God and Satan’. They both tell a story about us. One says that we are created to be his friend. One says that God is lying for fearing that human beings be like Him one day. Which story do you believe?

I have chosen to believe in God’s story; therefore, I choose to be God’s conduit. Could I not choose to be God’s conduit and be Satan’s conduit? I believe I can. This is free will. However, the end of the story that I believe tells me the consequences of both choices. I am not forced to choose but free to choose sides. It seems futile and fatalistic. Then believing in God’s story give me hope though it feels painful to be on God’s side at the moment.

It is like God and Satan are in a battle. We human beings are parachuting down from sky into this battle zone. We have to choose sides for we will definitely be killed in the middle of their crossfires. Which side to choose? It seems that God’s story is more believable than that of Satan’s. Therefore, I fight on His side. I am His conduit.

40 years ago, there was only “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Since then, it has evolved into “No Country for Old Men”. It does reflect our times today.

Fatalistic. Futile. Hopeless. Confusion. Pain. Violence. Psychotic. Rapid.

However, the ending of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” still do make more sense to me. I am still being convicted that good guys do win in the end regardless of what they have to go through in the process.

For getting me into above reflection, “No Country for Old Men” perhaps does merit the best picture of 2007.

                The Good     The Bad    The Ugly

5 comments

{ 5 comments }

Phil March 11, 2008 at 9:45 pm

As my favourite highschool english teacher once said: “You have to peel back the layers of the onion, to get to the core.” You got to more than the core on that one. So much so, I’d say you are hard-core.

I was about to write a response, but I still have to clean my brains off the keyboard. My head exploded once again. I will take these thoughts with me to Mexico and reflect upon them. Thanks for the epic references. I always enjoy good throw-back movies like the GB&U. I guess I’m getting old myself given that I can appreciate that movie. No Country for Oldmen? Still unsure about that one, though many a worthy interpretation you’ve raised for me to think about…

Pastor Ka, I think your blog posting deserves an Oscar in and of itself. Bravo.

patrick March 12, 2008 at 1:39 pm

just saw no country for old men, it reminded me of “The way of the gun” starring ryan phillipe

anyway, the movie is unassumingly unconventional yet (thankfully) never over-the-top. the Coen bros. deserve their Oscars; well done indeed.

J September 17, 2008 at 1:29 am

I saw this movie, I don’t get the car wreck at the end. and when he speaks of the rule when he is about to kill the day trader by the Mexican border. What rule does the socio path have?

Dave December 30, 2010 at 9:34 pm

The movie was fantastic, but the book makes a lot more sense. In many ways I got the same things as you did out of No Country. Cormac McCarthy wrote NCOM immediately prior to writing his Pulitzer prize winner The Road. And in many ways I look at No Country as a prequel to his post-apocalyptic masterpiece. In the context of The Road, No Country For Old Men is exactly as you describe it – devoid of hope, with no message other than that the time of our fathers is coming to an end. Anton Chigur is a messenger of the apocalypse… All of his statements in the book/movie indicate such (“you can’t stop what’s coming, etc.) In The Road McCarthy’s message comes full circle, to one of redemption at the end of the chaos. Nice blog, by the way.

peta dunia satelit November 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Excellent observation/review and a well informed comparison. Love it

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