Stuck on No Country for Old Men

July 30, 2009

This happens every decade or so. I will see a film, and — for a whole host of reasons — get stuck on it.

On first viewing,  the story unfolds, crafted elegantly and with meticulous attention to story and character.  After that, when the basics of the story are no longer a mystery, one exquisite element after another is revealed with each viewing.

Sometimes it turns out that  the story was even more perfectly crafted than I thought. After all, great screen writing is not conspicuous and ingenious narrative structures don’t typically telegraph their arrival.

Sometimes the cinematography or the color pallette or production design is so sublime, so perfectly integrated with the narrative, that it begs to be appreciated again and again.

And sometimes the acting so perfectly serves a scene or a story or the development of a character that  individual scenes can be profitably watched again and again.

And so here I am, stuck on No Country for Old Men, the masterpiece by Joel and Ethan Coen.

As was the case with other films that have “trapped” me — their  film Fargo, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, Coppolla’s Godfather trilogy, and Scorsese’s The Departed and Goodfellas ,  Fellini’s Amarcord — the first viewing was a total immersion in a coherent whole. I  was not thinking about its elements. I was living the work.  Nothing can recreate that initial thrill of reveling in a complete work that is too carefully assembled to be seen as fragments.

But then the puzzle pieces begin to reveal themselves. And I am stuck.

A terrifying scene with Javier Bardem and Gene Jones. Lonely highways and cheap motels, photgraphed by the brilliant Roger Deakins, the dark night frequently punctuated by the blinding brightness of neon signs or oncoming headlights.  A haunting, gravelly narration by Tommy Lee Jones.  Craig Berkey’s sound design, a breathtaking symphony of creaking doors, wind, grunts, and scratches.  An almost unbearable sense of foreboding. And as much sadistic and cruel menace as the Coens have ever put in one film.

Yup, I’m stuck. And it is absolutely hypnotic.


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