No Country for Old Men and the Value of Human Life

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Is it worth everything, or nothing? A new video explores.

Let’s start this off with a big question: what is human life worth? Is it filled to the brim with significance, every life one that resonates through and ripples across the rest of humanity, contributing to the collective voice of mankind, and thus priceless? Or is it utterly meaningless, just one more heart beating on a planet that’s full of them? Between these two positions is where the Coen Brothers set their perspective for No Country for Old Men, their Oscar-winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

In the corner of life as meaningless there stands Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the sociopath-for-hire who dispatches his contracts with ruthless nonchalance, and who holds such little disregard for the lives of strangers that he uses a coin toss to decide their fates. To Chigurh life is either ripe with purpose, as is his, or it is a thing people pass through mindlessly and thus without meaning. Those living the former kind of life have no right to it, in his twisted mind, and so are dispatched like so much dumb cattle, without feeling or moral consequence.

In the other corner, where life is sacred, there’s Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who believes that life isn’t a thing that happens to folks, it is a thing they forge out of the decisions they make and the ramifications these decisions have on their personas. He believe those who do right deserve the reward of living their lives uninterrupted, and those who do wrong, especially those who would take other lives without reason, should have their lives stunted by imprisonment, or sometimes even by perishing.

[watch] Storyboard to Screen: Creating the Coen Brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

In the latest and perhaps greatest film analysis yet from Jack’s Movie Reviews, this balance between life as priceless and life as worthless, as well as the balance between free will and determinism is examined in relation to the characters of No Country for Old Men ‐ not just Chigurh and Bell but also Llewelyn and his wife Carla Jean ‐ and how they represent these standpoints in the film’s narrative.

Above all else, No Country for Old Men is a morality tale, the fate of every single character hinges on the decisions they make, or don’t make, and as a result there’s no middle ground here, no gray area: people are either moral or immoral, their actions are either motivated by doing good ‐ even Llewelyn taking the money in the first place ‐ or by evil. How the film balances and reflects these opposing positions is wherein its brilliance lies, and this video from JMR provides its perfect excavation.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist