My first reaction to the movie — “No Country for Old Men” — was one of revulsion and remorse:  I initially felt there was too much senseless bloodlust for my taste.  Then I watched the movie again and began to appreciate its warning.  Then I watched the movie again and again and again and found a depth of understanding that I find curious and vitally important for humankind.


“No Country for Old Men” is a mythical story about the Wages of Sin and the personal price one must pay to set things right again in the delicate tipping of the universe. 

No one honorably righteous or fundamentally moral is wounded in the movie. 

The only people who find their deaths are the dishonest, the misbegotten and the prejudicial.

“No Country for Old Men” is modern day fairy tale — a moral homily, if you will — about the necessary degradation of humankind into the depths of suffering and the punishment and retribution meted out to those that propose to rise above us while really living beneath us.

The preservation of the status quo — the leveling the pendulum — requires the heavy hand and a loaded shotgun of an anointed Balancer to keep the moral peace. 

The Balancer is the hammer of justice, the watcher of the undead, the caller of debts owed, the overlord of the Gods, and the whimpering child in us all.

The trick to understanding “No Country for Old Men” is that you must be old enough to have enough life experience to recognize the ethereal workings of a tertiary world few of us know and none of us understand.

In the movie, only the old and the wounded comprehend the job and the mission of the Balancer. 

They are in awe of Him and they fear Him, because while they recognize Him, they already know they cannot hope to catch up to — or beat — the Balancer in the end:

…Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and snowin, hard ridin. Hard country. He rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothin goin by. He just rode on past and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down…

…and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. Out there up ahead.

All the old men in us have left is mercy for Him and for each other — and that is the ultimate lesson of “No Country for Old Men.” 

Once you realize there are powers — stronger than you and more urgent than you — ruling the world… you’re too old and too wise to care to do anything about it… except to keep your own nose clean and hope that the drop of a coin won’t seal your unnatural fate in helping the Balancer correct the right wrongs in a wringing world. 

32 Comments

  1. Janna —
    Yes, you certainly “got it” long before I did when it came to the inner beauty of the movie. I agree the suggestion of the true horror later in the film builds on the early gore in really interesting ways.

  2. Just one question. The first person that the balancer pulls over in the stolen police car: he didn’t seem immoral in any way. Seemed like he was just in the wrong place at the most wrong time.

  3. Gordon! Excellent question. The first officer was in the way of the Balancer. When greater justice is impeded by a lesser power — the overall good must prevail over the tinier infraction. Justice delayed is justice denied and the pendulum never stops — even when momentarily leveled.

  4. Hi David,
    My very first reaction to this movie was – “how come this one got an oscar?”
    Then I realised why.
    I understood it regardless of liking.
    Justice is rough!
    Interestingly, I didn’t like “Fargo” either – directed by the same person – if I am not mistaken.

  5. I didn’t mean the officer. I meant the person who got pulled over – it was the first time when we saw him using his weapon. He pulls the guy over, tells him to get out of the car and then hold still and the pop! It was over and he took the man’s car. What did that man do other than be in the wrong place? 🙂

  6. Hi Katha!
    Yes, Fargo was by the same director. I thought Fargo was terrific from moment one.
    I understand it’s hard to get past the initial blood and gore in Old Men — but when you realize justice will not be denied no matter what false impediments are placed in its path — you begin to see just how frightening a “correction” is in the greater scheme of the universe. You pay with your death.

  7. Hi Gordon —
    The man was in the wrong place at the wrong time — the coin did not drop his way — the Balancer needed a method for transporting justice and the price for the “wrong flip” and having “bad luck” was his life.
    There are other presumed innocents in the movie — like the hotel keeper and others who quickly find their end — and I suppose one could argue they were necessary sacrifices in the undeniable force of justice… much in the same meme as as “we must kill our children.”
    http://wordpunk.com/2008/06/19/are-we-required-to-kill-our-children/

  8. Katha —
    I think Fargo is a movie that finds humor in horror if you’re especially embedded in that sort of Midwestern mindset. I percolated in that sort of insanity for many years before I escaped.
    I have not yet seen “The Last King of Scotland.” Are you recommending it?

  9. Exactly, I couldn’t connect with “Fargo” at all – now I know why.
    “The Last King of Scotland” is worth watching because of Forest Whitaker.
    It’s downright gory, at times repulsive – but extremely captivating.

  10. Katha —
    Yes, Fargo relies upon the initial conception of Midwesterners that people are always false and phony and self-satisfying as they stare at you warm-faced and bright-eyed and claim the opposite in the name of the Lord and the power of justice. Knowing the rotten undertow gurgling beneath the facade — that eventually explodes all over Fargo — is its captivating power as a murder tale gone right.
    Do you prefer “No Country” or “Scotland” as a superior experience?

  11. Hi David,
    “No country” has a message, “Scotland” narrates history.
    “No country” is of calculation, “Scotland” has passion mixed up with shrewdness.
    It’s tough to choose!
    If you ask me which one will I prefer to watch second time (which I rarely do) I will go for “Scotland”.

  12. Katha —
    Me too. Babel, in many forms, was a tremendous horror story. Lost in a country. Dying. No one really cares if you live. A masterpiece of human trepidation.

  13. Right David, I have read the article.
    Couldn’t really relate with it but tried to absorb it with an academic interest.
    The entire concept seemed to be “wrong place and wrong timing” – somehow.

  14. Katha —
    The article I linked about “Death Wish” had to do with “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoos — doesn’t a tattoo somehow suggest a predetermined state of mind in deciding the end of a life in advance of an inevitable demise?

  15. Katha —
    They would hope to refuse medical help — via their tattoos — if they were dying and the only way to keep them alive would be to use life-sustaining equipment. They don’t want to live brain dead or on a respirator. They prefer to die than to live a life of non-movement or no fluid thinking.

  16. Ok, that makes sense; in fact no sensible person would like to live like a vegetable.
    Somwhow I thought they would deny medical help in the first place – glad I turned out wrong.

  17. Katha —
    Right! The tattoo is supposed to send a message that they don’t want to live anything less than a full life and that they’d rather be allowed to die naturally than to be kept alive artificially.
    You see more formal “DNR” forms signed by older people in nursing homes. They legally instruct the medical teams to let them die if they go into some terrible trauma than saving them just so they can exist on a breathing tube.

  18. Oh, it’s a good one, Nicola. It’s very dark and tough and universally bloody. There are a lot of lessons to be learned. “Get out of the way of inevitable justice” is one of the first!