Final thoughts on No Country

by Nikki Tranter

10 January 2008


No Country—hard to make a bad movie from such stellar source material. The book is a brilliant meditation on life and fate, and the choices we make that effect who we become, who we interact with and the consequences of those interactions. Most every conversation in the book reminds us of this theme. The story highlights with it’s violence and horror just how the simplest of motions can have the deepest impact.

The movie continues this theme, though not nearly as starkly. Notions of fate and choices are in there, but whereas Bell in the book (Tommy Lee Jones’ character) is driven by one very specific choice he made back in the war, the Bell in the movie is simply a man on the land, doing his job in a society gone mad with drugs and violent crime. Bell’s meditations in the book appear as introductions to new chapters, so, essentially, he guides us through this story, commenting all the while on its effect on himself, his family, and the main characters, Moss and Carla Jean. That is removed from the film almost entirely, popping up only as brief narrative in the beginning and peppered through conversations Bell has with various characters.

I realise it’s a movie, though, and so it’s difficult to include that narration, but if I really think about, I can see where perhaps the narration might have fit. But I guess I’m not a filmmaker, so maybe not. I was disappointed, too, that Moss’s trip to the Desert Sands Motel was constructed differently in the movie, removing the hitchhiker character, who I thought was so very important in bringing out a bit more of the Moss character and his motivations. Moss is as concerned about choices and fate as Bell, and here is where we find that out. From the book, Moss talking to the hitchhiker:

You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? You life is made out of the days its made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess whos layin there?

Later he says:

There’s a lot of bad luck out there. You hang around long enough and you’ll come in for your share of it.

Prior to this, Moss is really just a man who, as he sums it up, took something from someone who wants it back (Moss stumbled on a drug deal gone bad in the desert and took a bag of money). Here, though, we realise there’s much more to Moss. The movie version of the character is rarely anything more than a hunted man who refuses to yield. But his whole point is about following through with your choices, to see where they lead, what they teach you. One character in the movie remarks, “you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from”, and this seems to illustrate Moss, too. Luck is luck and you play your hand.

The movie, I thought, was more a meditation on the land and the violence it creates, with dribs and drabs of social commentary about the world a-changin’. I was sad that some of those tiny bits that made the book so powerful to me were overlooked in the final film. Still, what a great movie. A stripped back version of the full story, I guess, which is usually the case in adaptations. I can’t complain too much about the adaptation, though. The movie is, for the most part, a wonderful reconstruction of the novel. My complaints aside, it’s its own work of art, suspenseful and violent, confronting and beautiful.

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