From the Novel by Cormac McCarthy

by | Dec 16, 2007

Yesterday the rains fell, so we made our way to Sea Turtle Cinemas for a Saturday matinee. The draw was a new Coen brothers film, No Country for Old Men. I didn’t realize until the credits rolled that it was an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel of the same name. My bad.

Here’s how Miramax describes the story:

The story begins when Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) finds a pickup truck surrounded by a sentry of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law—in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones)—can contain. As Moss tries to evade his pursuers—in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives (played by Javier Bardem)—the film simultaneously strips down the American crime drama and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines.

While there’s plenty to say about the film, I’ve been meaning to read All the Pretty Horses for years, so when we got home from the theater, I did some interweb sleuthing on the mysterious man of letters. According to Wikipedia, literary critic Harold Bloom named McCarthy one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Philip Roth. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner and sometimes to Herman Melville. That’s some stout company.

One of the links I followed from Wikipedia describes the dark depths that McCarthy mines. “Like the novelist Honoré de Balzac, who minutely chronicled every aspect of 19th century French society, McCarthy examines exhaustively the reptile brain of Appalachian hillbillies, and assorted Sonoran flotsam.” This latter category is where No Country for Old Men falls.

The imagery from the film (or book, I would imagine) will linger. But not all of it’s vile. Southwest Texas is rendered beautifully, for instance. In the Coen brother’s expert hands, it’s a romantic and timeless place. Sure, it can also be seen as an inhospitable desert, but human dramas play so well against these stark settings.