No Country for Old Men ★★★★

Memory is a funny thing. It's been, god, years since I've watched No Country for Old Men. I remembered a bit about it--the dead eyes of Chigurh, the air "rifle" that he used to bust locks, long ponderous shots, and a downbeat, unsatisfying ending. And, mostly, I remembered feeling lukewarm about it.

I was surprised when I saw, despite my memory, I had this rated 4 stars--exactly what I was intending to rate it after my viewing today. I feel like I came away from No Country for Old Men feeling more positive than either of my prior viewings. Maybe I have just come to expect a bit of downbeat to Coen Bros films.

What I can say is, the film sets up a pretty standard protagonist and antagonist. Good guy, who is easy to root for, and bad guy, who is easy to root against. This leads to a certain expectation on how such a narrative can satisfactorily resolve. Good guy wins, bad guy loses; good guy wins, bad guy doesn't lose; maybe even good guy loses, bad guy loses. There are subtle variations on that, but you get the idea: We don't necessarily need a happy ending, but we do need it to feel just.

Which is the problem I had with No Country for Old Men before; I didn't feel like it was just. It sidesteps the expected good guy/bad guy outcomes and does something different. It ends on a long(ish) monologue that, even now, I suspect I don't understand. But it keys into something I suspected before I hit play today: No Country for Old Men is not about the good guy, nor is it about the bad guy. We don't end with any of the satisfactory conclusions because they're not the story, even though one or the other was on the screen 90% of the time.

Now? Now I feel the ending is doubtlessly just. I just don't know that I understand the ending. But believe me, I can deal with not understanding better than I can deal with feeling like a narrative is unjust.

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