Day 250: No Country for Old Men

I have no idea why I haven’t heard about this before: The Coen brothers directed an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (limited: November 9, wide: November 21). I am slightly scared to see the outcome of this gutsy project.

Personally, I don’t think the novel lends itself well to filmic adaptations. The outcome will doubtlessly focus more on the actual action of the novel than the psychological struggles, the political backdrop of immigration and globalization, which is juxtaposed with traditional US values, morals and narratives and the philosophical conflicts contained in the interaction between the characters–or so I fear. Maybe it is just because I am actually writing about the novel in my dissertation and fear that too many hack critics will write crappy CS criticism about the movie I will have to deal with when revising the dissertation for a publisher later on. In any case, the novel is fantastic. Especially memorable scenes include the final encounter between Chigurh and Llewelyn’s wife, in which Chigurh explains in painstaking detail the reasons that require him to kill her. In the novel this is a long, drawn-out scene that contains a very complicated argument regarding the attachment to universalizing teleologies, an argument that runs through the entire novel via the intersected passages that reflect the thoughts of the Sheriff on the “new world,” which is simply no country for old men. McCarthy’s novel, however, illustrates to us the pervasiveness of those desiring structures that are clearly outdated, but which at the same time appear to be difficult to supersede. Many of us, so McCarthy, are old men in a country that seems to travel faster through history than we appear to be able to.

Let’s hope the Coen brothers are able to at least capture a part of McCarthy’s extraordinarily sentitive and insightful exploration of the present US psyche.

Here a trailer:



  1. I must admit I haven’t read “no country for old men”. I did, however, read “the road” a while ago, and I just recently heard hollywood is planning to make a movie out of that one, too! granted it is a novel that on first sight may lend itself a bit more to the making of a movie because it focuses on the outward daily struggle of the characters as they slowly and painfully approach the end of their journey rather then concentrating on their psychological inward struggle, but still! I can’t see how making it into a movie can possibly work. you can’t create the sort of post-apocalyptic world the book describes on screen without having it turn into a cheap horror-flick (“children of men” comes to mind at this point – entertaining enough, but without any real content to speak of…and that wasn’t even the worst one in that category…). at this point I’m just curious to see who they will cast in the role of the father (god, I hope that one won’t go to tom cruise…) and who will direct it.

  2. I know. Sometimes people should just realize that there was a reason McCarthy wrote a novel and not a screenplay. I think _The Road_ is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful novels I’ve read in a while and part of its beauty is that you automatically read it slowly (slower than you would maybe read other novels), adopting its somber mood and the speed of the journey described in it (or lack thereof). If only for this reading speed argument (i.e. taking the time for introspection, which is so central to the ways in which the novel implicates the reader), this film project cannot do justice to the original.
    I’ll be teaching this novel in one of my classes in a few weeks and I’m rather excited to see what the student reaction will be (sadly, the novel now has an Oprah sticker on it!).

  3. you know, I think it’s a beautiful novel, too. however, I also think it’s flawed, the flaw coming from the fact that we can not kill our children – not even in fiction it seems. he was thinking of his son while writing and so the boy in the book survives and is saved. I don’t think that sort of hopeful ending works overly well for the book even though it is an interesting choice. I think if you choose to draw such a bleak picture of our future (or our children’s future rather – and I do realize that the emphasis of the book is on the relationship rather than the world in which it takes place, but still…) you have to be true to that choice all the way to the bitter end. one book that sees this choice through to its indeed VERY bitter end is Ishiguro’s ‘never let me go’ and it is for that choice, in my opinion one of the greatest novels written in recent years.

  4. PS: ah yes, the Oprah sticker, well yes. I see your point…however, I think people should read! and if it takes Oprah to make them, then I can live with that. Mind you, I felt the same way about her putting her sticker on Schlink’s ‘The reader’ a few years back….I didn’t like it! But then I realized that it’s just the literary snob in me that resents her approval of what I, too, think is a wonderful book. now I don’t care. I just try to read the books BEFORE she has a chance to approve of them ;-)!

  5. The Oprah thing, yes, reading is a good thing. However, I wonder if literature (and art in general) needs to be degraded via rampant commodification more than it already is via the inclusion in the self-aggrandizing and surplus-poducing project of another billionaire (wearing the hat of a philanthropist). I am not really invested in the postmodern erasure of the high/low art binary. Reading is good because it contributes to the sociopolitical education of people, i.e. it is good because it should lead to independent critical thought and independent social critique. This in turn works a lot better, if not all culture operates within the realm of the mainstream and is read from a perspective/discussed in the language/logic of the mainstream.
    Also, do we really need to dig up and resurrect the canon in order to get people to read? Before Oprah, I thought the problems with that logic had long been discussed and understood. Let me summarize this via a detour: I think Obama is a good political option for this country. At least he’s a lot better than any Republican and many Democrats. Yet, the fact that his campaign experienced in surge in popularity (and financial contributions) after Oprah decided to meddle in it leaves a bad aftertaste. This is neiter how culture, nor how politics should work. Oprah contributes to the rampant trivialization of both.

  6. Oh, and about _The Road_: your point is well taken. However, McCarthy does not just want to write a story about destruction. In fact, these are often a lot easier to write and contain a lot less critical impulse (as Zizek has recently illustrated so well). This is, indeed, a story of hope and for that you need children. In fact, for me a teleological narrative is much more direly needed these days than another narrative of destruction (of which we have so many in contemporary [popular] culture). I would argue that it is just as important to look at the only thinly veiled philosophical traditions that die with the father (and the mother), which ones are upheld and how that distinction operates within the context of our present.

  7. and cereal for breakfast is always a healthy choice.
    sorry, just had to throw that one in. I’m glad you disagreed on ‘The Road’. I think it would have been quite an unbearable read without that ending. I think we liked it for different reasons (yours being more intellectual, mine probably being more emotional, but nevertheless…interesting, I didn’t expect you to like it). however, I don’t think the story would have been ‘just another story about destruction’ even if the ending had been different. it was always going to be about the relationship more than about the world it takes place in. but still…Did you like ‘never let me go’? Have you read it? Maybe you wouldn’t like it. I tend to be rather emotional about books and you seem to be more analytical. But that probably comes with the job, too…
    oprah: I guess I don’t feel as strongly about it as you do. I don’t think a work of art, in this case a novel, can be trivialized by the person who promotes it. the novel in itself can be trivial or meaningful and it will be that no matter who promotes or discards it….mind you – I never watch oprah. I don’t know how she introduces the books she promotes on her show. I rather hope she just lets them speak for themselves. I just know that she exists because she occasionally puts her little sticker on books I like. and that’s something I can live with..

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