Melina Duran

English 329b


            No Country For Old Men written by Cormac McCarthy, in 2005, takes place on the US-Mexican boarder in 1980, where Llewelyn Moss (welder and Vietnam veteran) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong, leaving dead Mexicans and a truck full of drugs.  Moss figures there is a last man standing and finds him not far from the blood bath, dead, next to him a satchel full of millions of dollars.  He takes the money home but later returns to give one of the dying Mexicans some water when he finds himself being chased by Mexicans looking for the money and drugs.  This sets in motion the story in which Moss starts running from everyone who wants the money, one of them being Anton Chigurh (hit man), who believes that if you cross his path your time to die has come, unless he gives it to chance by flipping a coin, which rarely happened.  Chigurh was hired to recover the money.  Ed Tom Bell (Sheriff) is in pursuit of Moss knowing he is in grave danger of death.  Bell tells Carla Jean (Moss’s wife) that he wants to help Moss and bring him to safety.  In the end Llewelyn Moss and his wife pay the ultimate price and Chigurh gets away with murder leaving Bell with the sense of lost hope in his abilities and retirement.

            There are hidden but obvious philosophical meanings in this novel.  One is in the title, No Country for Old Men, implying the change in the times we live in.  The “country” meaning the United States of America, and “old men” meaning the older generation, the old school respect and honor that people used to display.  Throughout the book Sheriff Bell’s monologues at the beginning of the chapters talked about past experiences and how things used to be.  One being about how the old-timers did not have to and some would not even wear a gun on duty; there was no use for it.  Bell mentions a couple times in the book about kids with colored hair and piercings, showing his outlook on the changing times.  The country had no more room for the old men anymore; the times pushed them into retirement.  McCarthy uses the old western feel using the classic good guy (Sheriff Bell) and the bad guy (Chigurh) but with the ending letting the bad guy get away signifies evil growing stronger in today’s society and the good ethos of past generations stepping aside, or retiring.  McCarthy shows the conflict between free will and what Chigurh calls fate, for example, when he uses the coin as a way of explaining ones fate, he quoted “I got here the same way the coin did” (McCarthy, No Country for Old Men).  The beginning of the book walks right into the character of Chigurh as a psychopathic killer as he kills a sheriff and then a random man for his car giving readers the understanding right away of what kind of person they were going to be dealing with throughout the novel.  It also helped them understand what Bell was talking about in his previous monologue:

“…Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I don’t want to confront him.  I know he’s real.  I have seen his work.  I walked in front of those eyes once.  I wont do it again…” (McCarthy, No Country for Old Men)

Bell struggles with whether or not he is fit physically and mentally for the “new” criminal.  In the end he decides to hang up his hat and retire, leaving readers with a dream he had about his father.  As Diana Mican, from Pajiba Book Review, says:

“The book ends just as the title suggests. It’s sad. It feels unfair. Bell is out. Chigurh is free. You know it has to be this way. The old lawmen don’t stand a chance against Chigurh. It will take a new breed who can understand and predict his actions to stop him.”


The adaption film No Country for Old Men, by the Coen Brothers, was released in 2007.  The film is considered “…almost scene for scene, and what the camera discloses is pretty much what the book describes: a parched, empty landscape; pickup trucks and taciturn men; and lots of killing. But the pacing, the mood and the attention to detail are breathtaking, sometimes literally” (A. O. Scott, New York Times). The film starts out with scenery of a western style landscape with a monologue of Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) talking about the old-timers and how things have changed.  It moves right into the meeting of Chigurh (Javier Barden) and his murder of the young sheriff and the random man, for his car.  It moves slowly into Moss (Josh Brolin) hunting antelope and then stumbling into the Mexican bloodbath aftermath.  The film is quiet and slow for a while as you trace Moss’s steps finding the satchel of money, hiding it at home and then returning to the scene with water for a fatally wounded Mexican.  Just as viewers start to think he is a fool for returning, their fears come true with Moss being spotted by the Mexican cartel.  The scene continues with the Mexicans wounding him and chasing him to a river where they release their dog on him, which he barely kills on the opposite shore.  This scene in the film is the transition of Moss beginning as the hunter then becoming the hunted.  The story continues with Moss instructing his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald), to go to her mothers as he heads in the opposite direction.  Chigurh finds out who took the money and begins his pursuit of Moss.  There is a scene in the film where Chigurh sits on Moss’s couch looking at his TV drinking some of his milk and then shortly after Sheriff Bell is sitting in the same seat drinking the same milk almost tying all the characters together, as Thierry Jutel from Senses of Cinema put it,

“Anton Chigurh is occupying Llewelyn Moss’ seat; the gesture seals their converging fates. But a reverse point of view shot shows us the television screen where the figure of Anton Chigurh looms abstracted and motionless with light streaming from a window behind his back, his figure is reduced to a projected shadow. He is transfixed by his projected image. A few moments later as Ed Tom Bell visits the same location also looking for Llewelyn Moss, he replicates the ritual. He settles on the same coach, pours himself a glass of milk from the same bottle out of which Anton Chigurh was drinking earlier. Sitting on the coach, he also gets transfixed by his projected image on the television screen in the same affective but unqualified response. Both emblematic moments require the viewer’s deciphering: the repetition of actions, composition and editing structure invite a symbolic reading which would parallel and link the fate of these two characters.”

The film builds the suspense when Chigurh and Moss are just a wall apart at a motel as Moss recovers the case from its hiding place and Chigurh kills some Mexican cartel members waiting for Moss in his hotel room.  Moss later finds out of the tracker device in the money satchel and encounters Chigurh again this time wounding him and becoming wounded himself.  Moss finds himself in Mexico recovering in a hospital after throwing the satchel over a pass separating America and Mexico.  Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), who was also hired to recover the drug money and an acquaintance of Chigurh, meets with Moss in the hospital to offer him his protection in exchange for the money.  Chigurh kills Wells and when Moss calls Wells to consider his offer Chigurh answers and asks for the money which Moss decides to make it his mission to get Chigurh, which puts his wife’s life on the line.  In the mean time Carla Jean tells Bell where Moss is and asks him to help him.  Bell shows up to late to help Moss, who is already dead from a Mexican cartel shoot out.  Bell leaves the scene only to return later with a hunch that Chigurh would be there but finds no one there and the air duct, where Moss hid the money, open and empty.  Chigurh makes a visit to Moss’s wife, giving her the option to pick head or tails in a coin toss for her life, she picked wrong.  A car, running a stop sign, hits Chigurh in his car shortly after, injuring him.  He gets out and offers random boy some money for his shirt and to keep his mouth shut.  The ending is with Bell telling his wife about his dream about his father.


The film plays almost parallel with the book as a whole, even though there are little things that were in the film that did not happen in the book at all, for example the Mexicans never released a dog to chase Moss into a river and the scene in the novel lasted several hours but was filmed in about sixty seconds, taking away from how difficult and tiring that segment was. 

You could see this story as breaking the rules of film, as C. Jerry Kutner from Bright Lights Film Journey says, “…The Coen Brothers have unforgivably broken the rules… We expect that as in most classic westerns… there will be a climactic shoot-out or some other kind of confrontation in which the Bad Guy, or maybe both the Good Guy and the Bad Guy, are killed. That does not happen. Sheriff Bell never confronts Chigurh directly. Neither man dies. (Allegorically speaking, neither Good nor Evil can be destroyed, only crippled.) Instead, the film concludes with Jones’ recitation of a dream…”

The film leaves out some important aspects, about Bell.  For instance, the point that he was a bronze star awarded World War II veteran, who struggled with the fact he left his men behind only to be awarded a medal for it.  This might have been a big factor in Bell wanting to save Moss and not leave him behind to be killed.


The novel and film use great metaphors especially when it comes to Chigurh’s character.  Chigurh represents the growing evil in today’s society, showing in the end during the car accident, that evil cannot be killed.  It also shows in our society good principles, the old men, are stepping aside bewildered at the ever growing evil.  As written by Edmond Burke “All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”  Which brings us to Bells dream in the end. He speaks of two dreams one of his father giving him money and him loosing it and his second dream of his father passing him carrying a fire into the darkness to set a fire somewhere. The first dream depicts the money being virtue and how Bell lost it and the second dream shows how Bells father had the fortitude to battle evil and how Bell lost his hope and faith and was defeated in the end, left to retire.





















Works Cited

Primary Text:

Cormac McCarthy. No Country for Old Men. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print. 

Secondary Text:

“He Found a Bundle of Money, and Now There’s Hell to Pay”
A. O. Scott
New York Times
9 November 2007

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Diana Mican

Pajiba Book Reviews

No Country for Old Men, Visual Regime, Mental Image and narrative Slowness

Thierry Jutel

Scenes of Cinema

7 October 2011

No Country for Old Men – Breaking the Rules  

C. Jerry Kutner

Bright Lights Film Journal