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Opening Arguments

Shine a light

I continue my impressive record of seeing buzzworthy movies on cable months after everyone else has stopped even talking about them. This gives me the advantage of being able to read a lot of informed comment immediately after seeing the movie, to see if there's anything I missed. And there's little need to worry about issuing a SPOILER alert for anything I might write. 

My most recent viewing experience was "No Country For Old Men," which my sister and I watched on Saturday. And it doesn't look like I missed much. The last 20 or 30 percent of the movie lost steam and meandered disappointingly, and the ending was abrupt and unsatisfactory. And what do I read in dozens of blogs and online reviews? The last 20 to 30 percent of the movie meandered, and the ending was abrupt.

But the Coen brothers are Hitchcockian in their attention to detail, so we can probably assume they MEANT for the last 20 to 30 percent of the movie to meander and for the ending to be abrupt. When you think of those elements that way, they start to make sense.

Think about the title. Put that with Tommy Lee Jones' opening voiceover about how violence has gotten worse and his last remark to his wife about the dream of his father riding on ahead to light a fire in the cold and dark ("And then I woke up"). And put that all together with the scene involving the wheelchair-bound uncle in which the sheriff is told "you can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waitin' on you. That's vanity." The movie is saying that evil is eternal and relentless and random in whom it strikes (as capricious as, oh, a coin toss). Even if it wanders off with a broken arm, evil will be back. Each generation comes along and thinks it can make a difference but gradually (meanderingly) gives up the fight. We finally (abruptly) realize we haven't been handed the torch we thought we had been.

It's tempting to see this as a cuationary tale -- that if good doesn't stay focused, evil will win. But the Coen brothers aren't sunny optimists, and these are cynical times. I suspect the movie pretty much represents their world view.

Ifeel that cynical sometimes, but it's hard to get through life with that as a permanent attitude. Evil doesn't have to do anything but be evil -- it has the much easier job. Good has to concentrate on fighting evil AND doing something meaningful with the time and space, however temporary and limited, wrested from evil's grasp. That's the much harder job. If we don't stay focused, each generation lighting the path for the next one, there's no hope for a sane and moral universe.

Anyway, a great movie, and for now, I will see it as a cautionary tale, even if that's not what was intended.

Next: Come back early next year for my take on "Sex and the City" and the new Indiana Jones movie!