I ordered all of my books for the upcoming semester over the winter break while staying with my parents. Upon their arrival from Amazon, my dad plucked No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy from the pile with enthusiasm. Not that I do not trust or honor my father’s opinion, but usually his taste in novels is questionable. Besides his collection of Jimmy Buffett biographies, most of his choice novels feature soldiers or guns on the cover. I don’t have anything against these books. They just aren’t my style. So, when my dad picked up No Country for Old Men, I expected a plot driven, action novel that my anxiety and patience probably wouldn’t be able to handle. I anticipated a work made for an easy transition to film. However, I was wrong. Cormac McCarthy’s novel, in my opinion, was much more than another made for-screen-thriller. Surprisingly, I found the novel to be nuanced and ambiguous, featuring thought provoking ethical decisions that blur the boundaries of right and wrong.
This novel is riddled with moral complications. Cormac McCarthy challenges the seemingly black and white nature of society’s rules by highlighting the gray areas of love and motivation. If you break the law, your actions are illegal, but are they wrong? This is the question McCarthy asks the reader throughout the entirety of the novel. McCarthy’s multi-layered novel is able to weave ethical questions throughout the plot with the use of three main characters acting as narrators: Anton Chigurh, Llewelyn Moss, and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Each gives a situational explanation of their faults that makes it impossible to identify one character that is completely innocent, and therefore a hero. The only thing that links Chigurh, Moss, and Bell is that they all are guilty.
No Country for Old Men, as I previously mentioned, is very much a multi-layered novel. While the main plot features a chase between the three narrators, there are background tensions over immigration, drug wars, and an ever-changing society. So after I finished reading the novel, I questioned how in the world was this book going to be made into a film. Time constraints alone would severely cut into breadth of the text during the process of adaptation. There is no way that a director could drag a viewer through the multiple big issues of the novel within a two and a half hour time frame while properly executing the main story. And, I was right.
For the most part, the directors of the adaptation, the Coen brothers, stay true to Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Of course, there are small alterations or deletions in detail, but overall I would say that this is a very faithful adaptation. That is, until the ending. This is where the Coen brothers exert their voice. The directors take Cormac McCarthy’s morally complex ending and strip it down to a simpler ending by only altering Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s (Tommy Lee Jones) character. There is definitely a different feeling I am left with after watching the film, as...