In NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) tries to catch psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) before the latter catches Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) in a nihilistic game of cat-and-mouse. Join us as we discuss the Christian themes (or lack thereof) and so much more in this episode of the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast.
For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:
- 00:00:00 – Introduction and Previous Episode Recap
- 00:04:38 – Movie Discussion
- 00:27:58 – Listener Feedback and More
- 00:39:19 – Christian Themes in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Key Texts for No Country for Old Men
Let these passages be your guide as you watch NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN with friends and loved ones (that is, if any of them are willing and able).
Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB
That which has been is that which will be,
and that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 NASB
Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 CJB
Yet another thing I observed under the sun is that races aren’t won by the swift or battles by the strong, and that food doesn’t go to the wise or wealth to the intelligent or favor to the experts; rather, time and chance rule them all. For people don’t know when their time will come any more than fish taken in the fatal net or birds caught in a snare; similarly, people are snared at an unfortunate time, when suddenly it falls on them.
Anton Chigurh and the Hopelessness of Nihilism
As audiences of No Country for Old Men, we don’t know what to do with Anton Chigurh. In the beginning of the film, we see him calmly and coolly strangle a deputy. This shows us what kind of character he is. In the end, he limps away from a nearly fatal car crash after he pays a random boy $100 for his T-shirt. This shows us that even he is still susceptible to time and chance. His presence is, at the most, a stroke of creative genius, or, at the very least, a glaring inconsistency.
When faced with such a puzzling dilemma in art, it’s always best to turn to the original creator of the mystery. In this case, we turn not to the Coen Brothers but to Cormac McCarthy himself, but even that trail turns cold. Whenever asked about Anton Chigurh, McCarthy doesn’t offer up any solution to the mystery. In fact, the only response he gives to any question of the origination of this character is that he liked his name.
If the author of the story doesn’t give much consideration to Anton’s background, then neither should I. McCarthy, instead, employs Anton to carry the role of the “unstoppable evil” archetype that exists prominently throughout McCarthy’s work. It’s not so much about who Anton is but what he represents – what he symbolizes.
Our only insight into interpreting this symbol is Anton’s coin. He flips it to decide whether or not he needs to kill someone. When he meets the convenience store owner in the first act, he flips the coin and urges the other to “call it.” Anton then pontificates on how the shop owner has been charged to keep this appointment with the coin. Anton has the same argument with Llewelyn’s girlfriend Carla Jean at the end of the film. In both cases, Anton detaches himself from the others by consigning his will to time and chance.
If there’s anything positive about Anton, it’s that he’s always consistent with and obeys what the coin says. When the shop owner calls “heads” and the coin is revealed as such, Anton lets the other man live. Carla Jean, however, is not so lucky, as evident by Anton’s checking of his boots after leaving her house. All this to say, then, that Anton is simply an embodiment of the randomness of death.
This is a stout truth for anyone, especially anyone who adheres to the Christian worldview. In fact, it’s just as true for Christians as it is for anyone else. “The race doesn’t always go to the swift, nor the battle always to the strong,” surmises the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes, we can thus conclude, time and chance get the better of us. While nihilists see this as the reason to not really hope for anything, Christians can find our ultimate hope here. Death may befall us at the flip of the coin, but if we’re folded into the Kingdom, it won’t sting.
Ed Tom Bell and Foolishness of Nostalgia
Anton’s hopelessness doesn’t stop Sheriff Ed Tom Bell from chasing him, and Ed Tom chases the lop-haired antagonist religiously. He even gets close enough to drink from the same glass of milk that Anton poured just a few minutes before. Throughout the film, Ed Tom is always only one step behind Anton, though he can never seem to catch him.
In his defense, though, Ed Tom isn’t just chasing Anton; he’s chasing an ideal. He’s in pursuit of a better time, the good ol’ days, and the halcyon days of yore. Things were better in the past, and Ed Tom wants to get back to that time. It was a time when you didn’t have to carry a gun, even if you were the sheriff. His dad didn’t have to carry a gun, neither did any of the lawmen he knew while he was growing up. It was just safer; not as much evil intermingled with the world.
Of course, true wisdom says that such a pursuit is only a wild, murderous, psychopathic, lop-haired goose chase. Ed Tom is really just wasting his time. Ed Tom realizes this when he approaches the aftermath of the final hotel shoot-out. He sneaks up on the door, and he just knows Anton is waiting for him on the other side. The fear that spreads across Ed Tom’s eyes shows us that he’s not ready to encounter this great and mysterious evil. Thankfully, in a mustering of courage, he takes the chance and opens the door.
As Christians, we can sympathize with Ed Tom in that we, too, can acknowledge that fell state of this world. It’s foolish, however, to say that the past was better than the present. Ed Tom, unfortunately, doesn’t realize this folly and therefore chooses to affirm the other side of the coin (heh).
Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes – including links to articles discussed – by clicking here.
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