Friday, November 30, 2007

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: ADDENDUM. Sometimes I worry that my film reviews may not be up to snuff, so thank God Jonah Goldberg occasionally steps up to make me look like Manny Farber:
For example, I'm kind of surprised that the movie left no lasting impression on Steve Sailer. First and foremost it made me want to read the novel.
High praise indeed. I wonder if Goldberg has ever read Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.
But more importantly, I think you can find some very rich commentary on the American character and predicament in the movie (as Ross suggests in his review in the magazine but, I think, doesn't explore enough). The fatalism, determinism (philosophically speaking), the rejection of cant and the waving away of nostalgia, were all powerful ingredients of the film, at least for me.
Determinism, philosophically speaking! No Country For Old Men is an excellent chase film with twangy talk about the persistence of evil inserted at puzzling intervals. Something that's more like what Goldberg is imagining is John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle. Everyone in it speaks a mannered pulp argot, which gives them enough rhetorical headroom to comment in high style on their own "predicament" whether at rest or in action. This keeps the highflown thoughts wedded to character and threaded into the plot.

In No Country, Chighur's conversations are a little in that vein, but the pronouncements of Sheriff Bell and Ellis are closer to the tedious lecture Commissioner Hardy gives the reporters near the end of The Asphalt Jungle: an insertion that is supposed to radiate meaning onto the action from the outside. In Jungle this comes off as a quick gloss or a way of getting around the Hays Office, and is followed by a more appropriate, though downbeat, spurt of narrative; in No Country the Hardys just hang around the periphery being premonitory until near the end, when they surge to subsume and kill the story. This is the real "dismal tide": geezers talking about good and evil (and what do they say, exactly, besides good sure is good and evil sure is evil?) till their chatter drowns out a perfectly good action picture.

Of course Goldberg ends with his own dismal tide:
Anyway we can revisit later. But one last quick point: I've been surprised more people haven't compared it — favorably or unfavorably — to A Simple Plan which I've long argued was one of the most conservative movies made in recent times. The plot alone is remarkably similar (though hardly identical).
Like anything that made Goldberg forget his popcorn for a moment, it has something to do with his politics. I wonder why he goes to the movies at all: doesn't he have a "Star Trek" boxed set and a microwave?

UPDATE. Today's No-Prize goes to Scott C.: "For Goldberg I believe [ars gratia artis] translates literally to farts for farts' sake."

With respect to the Coens, I must say it is rather cheap of me to associate cosmic readings of No Country with Goldberg. For a much worthier essay, see Glenn Kenny.

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