Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A tale of Two Dreams: Philosophy on Celluloid

This article is an attempt to understand the underlying theme of freewill, fate, chance, and predestination as depicted in the movie ‘No Country for Old Men.’ I think it is the best movie ever made on a philosophical subject.

The movie opens with the retrospection of good old sheriff Ed Tom Bell who has seen a steady rise in the crime rate in his county. In spite of serving as a sheriff for his whole life he don’t know what to make out of all the senseless and wanton killing taking place all over the country. He is about to retire and frankly admits, that he do not want to risk his life for something he do not understand. This is wild-wild west back in 1980.

After this short prelude, enters Anton Chigurh. At first glance he looks like a cold, emotionless, crazy, unreasonable, dangerous, psychopath who kills people for no good reason.

But this appearance of Chigurh is deceptive for he has his own principles. He believes in free will. Whenever he meets his victim he believes that it’s not a co-incidence but a predestined event. His victim has come to him because of what he (victim) has been doing all his life. The pleas of his victims make no sense to him because everybody, whether an ordinary man or a dangerous criminal, would say the same thing,” You do not have to do this.” Thus whenever he feels like his victim deserves a second chance or he may be wrong in his decision he gives him an offer to decide his fate by a coin toss. This way he assures himself that that he has done justice to his victims. 

Let's be Fair CC

However when he is dealing with a criminal or anyone who is a potential threat to his life, he is crystal clear about what to do. This is depicted by his dealing with Carson Well. Carson is a cocky and overconfident detective agent hired by drug lords to recover the money from Chigurh. He knows what he is dealing with and is also aware of the risks involved.

Thus when Carson is trapped like a mouse and sits in front of Chigurh pleading for his life. Chigurh just looks at him and smiles in a sarcastic manner. Carson tries to save his life by offering him money, but he is not able to make any impression on Chigurh. Out of frustration he tells him,"Do you have any idea how crazy you are?" Chigurh reveals his philosophy in his reply to Carson that if everything you did in your life led you to this, then your time might have just come. In the end when everything fails Carson comes up with the same plea, “You do not have to do this.” There’s no flipping of a coin for Carson of course. His journey ends there.

In the end Chigurh meets Carla Moss wife of dead Llewellyn Moss. He tells her that he is not there for the money, but to full fill his promise that he made to her husband. She looks puzzled. It makes no sense to her. But Chigurh remembers the words of her husband who had a chance to save her life in exchange for the money. Carla has obviously done nothing to deserve this fate. It’s her husband who has done this to her. It’s just her bad luck that she happened to be wife of Llewellyn Moss.

Just like an innocent man who knows nothing about the real business of his employer becomes a party to his crimes and suffers the consequence of his ignorance, the same way Carla is bound to suffer the consequence of her being a party to her husband.

Carla for sure looks innocent and she tells Chigurh, “You do not have to do this.” Chigurh offers him the best he can i.e. a coin toss. But she refuses to make a call, forcing him to make a decision. She gives him no choice. Thus we can imagine what would have happened to Carla.

In the end, the seemingly insignificant car accident Chigurh meets confirms the role of chance in every one’s life. It’s not that bad things happen to bad people or bad thing should not happen to good people. It’s just that things happen—and sometime for no good reason.


Anastasia F-B said...

I thought that was a great movie, Yogendra. I enjoyed your review. I suppose you know the title comes from a poem by W. B. Yeats? Oh, if you like reviewing movies in general you might care to join Flixster, a dedicated site. I'm there already.

Yogendra Rawat said...

Hi Ana,

Thanks for your comment,

I am pleased with your response. I think I have done a good job with this post.

Thanks again

Yun Yi said...

nice review Yogendra! i love this movie too. it was intense, one of most intense movies i ever watched. thoughts provoking too. i did not really know carla was killed at the end. i thought her different attitude saved her...

Yogendra Rawat said...

Hi Yun,

Thanks for your comment. The author of this book is very subtle in giving his message about free will and fate. Like all philosopher he do not reveal his philosophy directly, other wise it would become too dull and lose its charm. He wants people to wonder about this movie and come back again and again to watch it to understand it fully. There are lot of "whys"
and everyone is left to his own to find out the answers. Thus its a great movie.

If you have seen the movie then you also remember the encounter of Chigurh with the ordinary man at the highway hotel. He tells Chigurh all about his life and says, "yes , sir if that's the way you want to put it." Chigurh says," It's not the way to put it. That's the way it is."

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