Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Movies and messages

No Country For Old Men is a despairing look at people. We have the capacity for immense evil in us. Josh Brolin makes the one false move that gets the killer played by Javier Bardem on his trail. He goes back to the scene of a drug deal gone bad, to give a dying character, a drink of water. He's ambushed and even though he gets out of there, his abandoned truck provides all the information the killer needs to find him and his family.

The Coens in Fargo made the case that the ordinary fellow down the hall was where the horror really lay, not necessarily in the system of class and race and socialism and McCarthy. At the end of the movie the money is gone back to the drug dealers who also kill Brolin. But Bardem having lost sight of the money still goes out to kill Brolin’s wife to keep his word to Brolin. Afterwards he gets into a random car crash which is the only “justice” that’s ever served in this movie. Tommy Lee Jones plays a sheriff who is out gunned in the war on drugs. The state is just another bit player on the road, frequently several days behind the savage capitalists, and in grave danger from both dealers and Bardem, who unlike the state have nothing to lose. Tommy retires before he gets killed himself to ride horses with his girlfriend (wife?)

The trusted truck which hands Brolin to Bardem, and the final car crash, are structural elements that hold this story together. Brolin camps out in motels around the road and Bardem, drives down these same lonely highways with a transponder, and finds him. Brolin could have hiked crosscountry and been totally lost in the west Texas landscape (he is hunting out here at the begining of the movie) but staying in the restricted confines of the road he traps himself and all he holds dear. The road is a metaphor for social blinders that lock us into behavior detrimental to our wellbeing and our possessions end up becoming social handcuffs.

The LA Times in a mediation on violence and the State writes
"While we were all jumping to conclusions that movies couldn't address what was going on in the world because the films about Iraq failed at the box office, we almost missed what was right in front of us -- that movies like 'No Country,' 'Michael Clayton' and 'There Will Be Blood' reflected a real darkness, a grim despair and a sense of mistrust that was very much about our world today," says Mark Harris, author of "Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood." " 'The Bourne Ultimatum' is as cynical a movie about our government and covert operations as any film since the 1970s."