Thoughts on No Country for Old Men

With the Golden Globes having been handed out recently and Oscar nominations announced this morning, we’re right in the midst of the Hollywood award season. And if you’re the kind of person who pays attention to these things, you might have heard a large amount of buzz surrounding No Country for Old Men, the latest film by the writer/director tandem of Ethan and Joel Cohen.

If you’ve already seen No Country, you’ll likely agree with me that it’s an extremely well crafted piece of filmmaking. On the other hand, you’d also probably acknowledge that it is not an easy film to watch. Movies that feature psychopathic hired killers rarely are (though Javier Bardem gives a superior performance as the chilling Anton Chigurh). In fact, immediately after viewing the film I wondered if the unsettling experience was worth it. Even now, if asked whether or not I enjoyed the movie, my reply would be something like, “No, not exactly.”

Upon reflection, however, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to see the film for at least three reasons (though I hope no one sees this as a blanket endorsement; each Christian should be aware of his or her personal sensibilities and weaknesses when engaging a particular film):

1. The aforementioned artistic excellence. Among the film’s many virtues in this regard: several noteworthy acting performances and an aesthetic feel that consistently matches the film’s overarching point of view.

2. It takes evil and its effects quite seriously. The film’s unsettling (and graphic) violence is wedded with moments of quiet terror to portray evil in a manner that does a large amount of justice to a biblical view of evil’s reality and nature.

3. It provides one of the most honest and vivid portrayals of a worldview without God that I’ve seen in some time. I won’t get into specific plot points here, but the entire film appears to be crafted to express the idea that life is essentially random, cruel, and ultimately without hope. When the closing credits began to roll, I was genuinely surprised, if only for the fact that I hadn’t expected the film to end as it did, with nothing approaching a typical plot resolution and/or some sort of redemptive element.

Why is this last point a reason to appreciate the film? Francis Schaeffer often sought opportunities to show people the logical conclusions of their worldviews in order to judge their consistency with reality. To that end, No Country for Old Men is an excellent dramatic illustration of what one must be prepared to accept if God does not exist.

To comment only briefly concerning such an exercise: it’s one thing to propose that life consists of little more than a random series of events punctuated by cruelty and death, but quite another to live consistently as if that belief where actually true. My guess is that the filmmakers do not wake up and consider their day’s activities as if none of them really matter. Nor would I bet that, if faced with a violent crime against a family member, they would be content with someone offering, “There is no hope or remedy in the face of life’s random cruelty.”

No, something within us cries out that such perspectives somehow don’t quite “fit” with who we are as human beings and the world in which we live. And that is the first step toward embracing a worldview that can account for those realities.

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