No Country for Old Men: Coens prepared for multiple plot possibilities?

This may be the first movie I’ve seen where it was as obvious as it was, but it seems to me that there are almost as many “open ended” scenes and plot lines as there are those that get resolved in a convincing way.

Some superficial examples (to which I hope others will add for a more comprehensive list):

  1. We don’t really know whose body Ed Tom is looking at in the morgue. We see Ed Tom’s face and must deduce from his expression (coupled with the editing sequence of scenes) that this is most likely Llewellyn.

  2. We don’t know what happened to Carla Jean, and must assume from Anton’s checking his boots on the way out of her house that he’s worried about blood or some other unwanted evidence.

  3. We don’t actually hear Carla Jean’s mom tell the Mexican in the suit just where in El Paso they plan to stay. We are left to deduce that from the events that follow that encounter.

There are other scenes that lead me to believe that the Coens were prepared to do in the editing room what they might have done in the script’s dialog but decided: 1) the way they put it together would make multiple viewings (or using the replay features on the DVD) almost a requirement; or 2) they weren’t committed to any particular plot line and could arrange the scenes any way they wanted, in terms of resolution.

We are left to imagine (after the particularly gory details shown at the beginning) all the gore and mayhem in later instances where it’s fairly clear that Anton must have killed at least three other people that were alive when last we saw them.

I’m all for having to figure things out and to have to go back and catch telltale signs and bits of dialog that clarify what really must have happened. But this is the first time I was acutely aware of how I was being toyed with.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad the Coens and Bardem got their Oscars, and I thought Tommy Lee and Woody did as good work as any I’ve seen from them. And Barry Corbin is a pro. And Kelly Macdonald continues to impress, and all that. And I can’t quite decide if I need to own this movie instead of just renting it again (or recording it to tape off the eventual cable channel), but I know I’ll enjoy seeing it again after some time has passed.

Anybody else get the ideas I’m talking about?

Does anybody else see parallels with The Usual Suspects? Pulp Fiction?

(I thought this deserved a separate thread rather than just hijacking the big one that’s in progress elsewhere.)

My understanding is that the movie sticks pretty close to the novel on which it’s based.

Yep, that’s my understanding too. In fact it’s been widely reported that unlike most screen adaptations of literature, they presented the scenes in the same order as the book.

Good to hear. That’s another slight problem I have with the movie and others like it. If we have to go outside the movie itself for resolution then: 1) it’s to boost book (or other outside source) sales; or 2) it’s lazy filmmaking. I don’t see the Coens as lazy.

Another movie we’ve seen this week that suffers even more from this problem is Atonement which (at least to me) has to appeal to some outside source, since it fails to make any real sense on its own.

Very closely. The only significant changes I can think of are the scene near the end with Bell and Chigurh in the motel room, and the deletion of some stuff between Llewelyn and the girl he meets at the last motel. The former scene was created for the movie, and it sums up one of Bell’s inner monologues.

There are a few other minor things. I can’t remember if the book actually depicts that chat between the Mexican and Carla Jean’s mother. They may have added a few things like that to show how Chigurh tracked her. In the book he just sort of gets to wherever he needs to be.

I need to watch it yet again, because I interpreted the Mexican in the suit (whom I don’t recall seeing before the scene involving their trailing the taxi while Mama is holding up the zero sign to tell the driver how many folks she knows in El Paso) as tying in with the truckload of unknown (and almost unseen) individuals screeching out of the motel lot (as Bell is approaching) who were most likely the ones who killed Llewellyn and absconded with the cash. Were we supposed to know that these guys (Mexicans most likely) were working with Chigurh? I thought the reason he killed Milton (hard to recognize without the stapler and thick glasses) was because he (Milton) had worked at cross purposes to Chigurh’s contract by providing the electronic gizmo to the Mexicans, and which Chigurh decided was worth a throatful of buckshot for Milton and the nobody who saw Anton.

I’m beginning to wonder if I understand the basic plot even now!

No, the Mexicans weren’t working with Chigurh. They had the same general goal, though. I suppose I was thinking that he could have followed them to the motel where Llewelyn dies - though there’s no evidence that’s what he did.

I need to watch again too. Didn’t Llewellyn leave the tracer thing in the hotel, when jumped out the window and ran from Anton?

So how did the Mexican gang find Llewellyn in El Paso? Carla Jean’s mom gave it away? Not just El Paso but the name of the motel?

Another detail that seems to be bothering others (in the main thread from 2007 that’s been updated lately after the DVD was released) is that the motel where Llewellyn and Anton play games in the airduct and where the money was stashed and then retrieved from another adjacent room was not the motel room in El Paso. That’s where Llewellyn told Carla Jean to meet him so he could give her the money and she could go off and hide and he Moss could spend the rest of his natural life trying to outwit Chigurh.

We know that Llewellyn made it to the motel in El Paso and that he might have even entertained the idea of breaking his marital vows with the beer gal by the pool. But all we know is that he has a loud enough shirt to make his body identifiable in the semi-dark sprawled out in the room after Ed Tom gets there just in time to be too late.

We have to rely on the word of the El Paso sheriff in his chat with Bell in the diner that no money other than $200 Moss had on his person was recovered at the scene. That leaves open another batch of unanswered questions (if you just saw the movie and didn’t read the book) about exactly what Chigurh’s relationship with the still missing (from his viewpoint) money may be – or ever was (see another thread here). It also allows the interpretation that the El Paso sheriff is not quite on the up-and-up in spite of his spoken indignation with green hair and nasal bones.

I’m all for letting the plot holes to remain open in favor of the overall point that it’s Tommy Lee’s character that we need to understand, and that the movie does that part quite well and quite movingly.

But I’m all about being tricked by filmmakers and nobody since Hitchcock has been able to cover every little detail so that after you know the truth and that you were fooled (misdirected?) on the first viewing if you go back through again and look for answers you’ll find them and find that they do indeed tie together neatly (if obscurely). It’s just that this movie seems to rely on external answers to questions like the ones mentioned here, and we may never know the real answers unless we go to the book. I don’t feel the need for that much understanding, since reading a book after seeing its movie is about as dull an exercise as I can imagine.

Maybe we need to define “plot hole”. A plot hole isn’t the same as an unanswered question or an alternate possibility, is it? I think a plot hole is a contrivance that doesn’t make sense.

Llewellyn returning to the desert to take water to a dead man might be a plot hole but it’s explainable in a couple of ways. The easiest is that he felt bad for not trying to help. An anonymous tip to the cops – he’d have to find a pay phone and chance someone recognizing his voice. I think he went back because he was drawn to it. I remember finding the body of a dog when I was a kid, and I went back to that body several times, until the dog was dust. Sometimes I went with friends. It was totally outside my experience and I couldn’t stay away.

The El Paso sheriff and the money – did he even know there was money to look for?

I’ll accept the “plot hole” definition as you put it. Unanswered questions are more what I’m curious about in this thread, but even then it’s more about how the way scenes are actually played/scripted/revealed and how the fewer things that are actually shown or said but that are implied and nothing is done or said to refute the inference(s) we may be led to make, would allow the filmmakers the option of shooting other scenes that followed a different inference to come up with an equally consistent interpretation in a different plot line.

The answer here – that it’s all in the book – answers my basic set of questions.

As for the sheriff and the money. Ed Tom knew there ought to have been money and asked about it. Unless the El Paso sheriff knew there was some money (because he or his deputies found it and are keeping it for themselves) he would have no reason to go beyond the simple “$200 on his person” and “it was likely taken by the guys who shot him” line of response to Ed Tom’s question about the money.

But if you allow the line of reasoning that the El Paso sheriff did know about the money (and has it himself) then the way the scene with Ed Tom in the diner (green hair and bones in the nose) is interpreted can have a totally different meaning. It’s that sort of open-endedness that I was suspicious that the Coens had in mind until editing time, and that quite a few of the scenes were mounted with that prospect in mind.

Just some food for thought, really.

It hadn’t occurred to me until now, since I have just made use for the first time of the feature at IMDB, but I can’t argue with the plot synopsis for the movie as provided there. It seems to cover the really thorny questions and most likely came from a fan of the movie who had read the book, too. At least that’s how it seems.

In that description, though, I do notice quite a few “it would appear” and “presumably” and other such vague terms that suggest I’m not the only one who finds implications and innuendo not quite satisfying for plot details.

That’s an accurate synopsis, but there are still questions. I might read the book.

I’d like to know what set the dead guys against each other – the bodies we saw at the beginning. Was Milton a supplier or a buyer? How did the colonel track Llewellyn and Carla Jean? Why did Anton kill those two managerial types? Why did he kill the deputy? What did he do that caused the deputy to arrest him in the first place? Who got the drugs? Why did Anton set the car on fire so close to the carnage?

I haven’t read the book, but I’m planning to.

Reading this thread, though, I get the impression that Zeldar took Captain Lance Murdoch’s and Swallowed My Cellphone’s comments in posts #2 and #3 to mean “you have to read the book to find out the answers to your questions” (hence post #4). Am I right? However, I understood their comments to mean “your questions are not answered in the book either”.

Can someone who has read the book tell us whether it’s made clear that it’s definitely Llewellyn’s body in the morgue? That Chigurh definitely does kill Carla Jean? That Carla Jean’s mother definitely does tell the Mexican where they’re going to be staying in El Paso? Or are these questions left open (although I personally think the answer to all three is “yes”) in the movie because they’re also left open in the book?

Yes, this is made clear and there is a detailed third-person description of how Llewellyn came to meet his death. In the book, it is described how he took a shot to the face and that it blew out most of his teeth.

Yes, this is depicted in the book. I believe it is carried off nonchalantly like much else in the book with the line “And then he shot her.” Later in the book, Bell discusses her death with other people, as well.

This one I can’t remember exactly, but I believe it’s just implied as it is in the movie.

Additionally, the book gives a good description of why Chigurh is in custody at the beginning of the film through a much longer conversation he has with Wells before he kills him. From my memory, he had an epiphany at that time and decided to kill someone and get caught just to see if he could get out of the situation. He says that it was probably not a good idea in retrospect.

There is also a scene in which Chigurh returns the money to an unnamed business man. This man does not know Chigurh at all and Chigurh basically says “I’m returning the money. Some of it is missing, there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m doing this because I want to make a name for myself as someone who can be depended on to do hard jobs.”

I see what your interpretation implies, but coupled with what Marley23 had to say in Post #5, I was able to accept that at least the thesis of the OP – that the Coens were just playing fast and loose with the plot and various potential resolutions until editing time – was at the very least not supported by the needs of the book. It’s also clear that they didn’t worship the book slavishly.

I’m still curious if others noted similarities in treatment to The Usual Suspects or Pulp Fiction or any of several other Kevin Spacey movies, or even Memento where it’s virtually a certainty that half the fun of that movie is the audience’s “getting used.” At least we didn’t find out that Carla Jean had a penis! Or that Llewellyn was dead the whole time.

Would anybody put Anton Chigurh up against the original Terminator for likelihood of getting the job done?

I read the book a few days ago. It clears up a few things in the film, and I’d recommend it to anyone who liked the movie.

It was probably just an old-fashioned ripoff gone wrong. One of the things that the book clears up with respect to Chigurh and his employers:

[spoiler]One of the main differences between the book and the movie is that in the book, Chigurh isn’t actually working for Stephen Root’s character, but the leader of an unspecified cartel, probably Mexican. Stephen Root’s character seemed to be kind of a middleman. Once again, we’re left to guess, but in my opinion, Root was an amateur in the dope racket, a corrupt businessman who God knows how found himself with this opportunity to broker a deal between the Mexicans and another businessman who did not show up in the movie. Not being that level-headed, Stephen Root decides to try a ripoff for the extra profit, not realizing the extreme danger he’s putting himself in.

At this point, at the behest of his actual employers (the cartel), Chigurh probably steps in through a middleman and pretends to be on Root’s side, offering his services to collect the money for Root. Instead, he kills Root’s managers, kills Root’s hired gun (Bell), finally kills Root, and then returns the money to its rightful owner, businessman #2, in order to establish his bona fides. He tells the businessman to do drug deals with the people he represents, true professionals who can be trusted.

Note that most of the above isn’t spelled out in the book, and there are several other possibilities, although I think I got the main gist above. You’re left to guess at the actual relationships between Chigurh, Root, and the businessman, but this explanation is the only one that covers the bases. The book version makes more sense than the movie version, because in the movie, Chigurh really is working for Root, and he kills Root, because Root brought in Bell and other people. The problem is that in the film Chigurh has no reason to kill the two managers at the beginning, because Root only hires Bell after the managers are killed. [/spoiler]

We’re left to guess, but again in the book, Bell is a pretty smart guy with a lot of experience in this sort of thing. I forget whether the the film went into this, but in the book, Bell is also an experienced hitman, and Llewellyn and Carla Jean don’t have enough street smarts to cover their tracks.

He killed a man with his bare hands in a barfight (not in the film) and got pulled over an hour later by the deputy. He allowed himself to be handcuffed and taken to the station, because he wanted to see if he could escape “through an act of will.”

The Mexicans (not part of Chigurh’s cartel) who had been ripped off by Root’s men. They came upon the scene of the carnage before Llewelyn returned to give water to the Mexican, disabled Llewelyn’s car, and tried to kill him.

I’m not sure. Neither the book nor the film go into it, really.

Sorry to be so long replying to this one, but the whole point to the guy with the chicken coops in the truck was that Chigurh only suspected what Llewellyn would do next and where he might go. The soon-to-be-ex-chicken-rancher helped Anton to decide the best bet was the airport in El Paso. How Anton gets to the actual motel (and when) and whether Llewellyn is alive or dead at that point, we’re left to infer. I contend we’re left to deduce or infer that Anton and Ed Tom are in the same room at the same time. Other comments in the other threads suggest “yes” but I believe somebody wanting to make a sequel could find plenty of reason to play off the fact that we just don’t really know.

Reminds me of how they used to end episodes in those old Saturday afternoon serials, then come back in the next episode and show that some other facts were actually at play. The hero didn’t actually fall off the cliff, or get burned up in the explosion or get cut in two by a bandsaw. He ducked at the last minute.

“He didn’t get out of the Cock-a-Doodie Car!” :cool:


This movie’s gonna stay with me for a long time. I’m not a big Coen brothers fan so I don’t know how Country compares with their other movies. I’ve seen Fargo, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, O Brother (those are all Coen films, aren’t they?) and I remember them as fairly straightforward – they didn’t leave so much stuff open to interpretation.

I like the choices they made. Like not showing us the gun battle there at the start – I think seeing just the aftermath made it almost mythical. Plus it showed us Llewellyn’s tracking skills, and there was a lot of tracking in the movie. I also like not seeing the motel shootout at the end, or Llewellyn banging the beer woman (if he did). I liked the stuff I didn’t see almost as much as the stuff I did see.