Analysis of the Book:

Cormac McCarthy published No Country for Old Men in 2005, mixing the Western and thriller genres in his highly acclaimed novel. Through his unconventional writing style, McCarthy places protagonist Llewellyn Moss in the battle between freedom and fate – a theme that is present in many of McCarthy’s works. After stumbling across a large sum of drug money, Llewellyn is caught between psychopathic serial killer Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Bell, each of whom represent opposite sides of this deterministic spectrum.


Analysis of the Film:

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men was highly acclaimed, winning 98 international film awards out of 144 nominations, four of which being Academy Awards. The Coen brothers strive to remain as faithful to the original novel as possible, following its action almost scene-for-scene, attempting to put on screen exactly what the text describes. Although this is a difficult way to adapt a novel and prone to criticism about small details, No Country for Old Men did an excellent job. This is exemplified in their depiction of the western landscape which sets an ominous tone for the rest of the film.


Analysis of the Adaptation:

Although it is widely agreed that the Coen brothers did an outstanding job remaining faithful to McCarthy’s original work, there are a few aspects of No Country for Old Men that are very difficult to translate to the film medium. The most important of these differences in the adaptation is the removal of many of Sheriff Bell’s monologues. In the novel, his inner thoughts not only clue the reader into many of the underlying themes of the book, but also establish the sheriff as a main character and the philosophical antithesis to Anton Chigurh. By cutting many of these ramblings out, the audience is deprived of his insights and view the sheriff as a secondary character, giving him much less importance than he deserves. Unfortunately, such monologues are hard to put on screen, simply because of their monotony and slow pace.


Online Research:

  • Joel and Ethan Coen Interview – No Country for Old Men:
    Collider interviews the Coen brothers to uncover the reasoning behind their decisions and their intents with different aspects of their film.
  • Jim Emerson – No Country for Old Men: Out in All that Dark:
    Emerson examines the impressive filming of landscape and nature in the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country for Old Men, linking some of the seemingly insignificant backdrops to central themes of the work.
  • No Country for Old Men – The Ending Explained:
    This article investigates the somewhat surprising ending of No Country for Old Men. The title “No Country for Old Men” derives from William Yeats’ poem ‘Sailing to the Byzantium,’ whose “central message was that in order to be happy in old age we should abandon the world’s more primal pleasures and turn to the spiritual and eternal instead.” With this in mind, we see how the tone changes in the conclusion of the film, trading the plot and thriller-style action for a more contemplative ending, as “the money fades into insignificance.”


Critical Analysis:

A common interpretation of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is that it is a commentary on determinism with its characters representing the different ends of the deterministic spectrum. Anton Chigurh portrays the extreme side of nihilism; Sheriff Bell depicts extreme freedom, and Llewellyn struggles to navigate the space in between. In particular, Chigurh is unmistakably nihilistic, finding all the principles that humans value as baseless, ultimately rendering life entirely random and thus meaningless. One of his most memorable quotes from the film emphasizes this point: “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?” Interestingly, Chigurh also introduces an element of randomness in some of his killings, offering the decision to chance by flipping a coin.