No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler)

Read or revive posts that have been copied over from the old message board.
User avatar
Chris Huntley
Site Admin
Posts: 724
Joined: Jan 25, 2008 5:19 pm
Location: Glendale, CA USA

No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler)

Postby Chris Huntley » May 30, 2008 11:33 am

ogdencl -- No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler)

I just saw Old Country for Old Men, and for the first 3/4 of the movie I though the main character was Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), but after that character dies, it becomes obvious that the main character is actually (Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), which is quite a surprise, but makes a lot of sense in retrospect considering that Tommy Lee Jones is the narrator of the opening sequence. Was anybody else surprised about this?

It's pretty clear to me that the impact character is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), but interestingly, the only face-to-face interaction between Bell and Chigurh is a brief encounter (maybe even an imagined encounter--it's ambiguous) between the two on either side of a door in a motel room. They never actually talk to each other, or even see each other, but they Chigurh impacts Bell indirectly.

Anybody agree with that analysis?

ArmandoSaldanaMora No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler) #1

Here's my take (though brief, since I don't have much time) on NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (lots of spoilers follow).

The whole story hangs basically on two characters: Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh. The drug dealers and police are needed on this crime/thriller/modern western story, but they don't have much participation. Moss's wife (played by Kelly Macdonald) is almost a plot device. The Carlson Wells (played by Woody Harrelson) thread cut have ended in the editor's floor and it'd be the same story.

The Objective Story has an obvious Story of Activities with a huge Concern of Obtaining: everybody is after the satchel full of money. The Main Character is actually Llewelyn Moss, with a Throughline of Situation (a man on the run) and a Concern of the Future (becoming rich). The Impact Character (Anton Chigurh) is also the Contagonist (wrecks the whole manhunt on his bloodlust temptation). He has a Throughline of a Fixed Attitude (kill everyone) with a Concern of Innermost Desires (the man is crazy).

Now, the first trick of this story is that the Main and Impact Character cannot be together on the same scene because they'd blow each other's heads immediately (as it almost happens when they approach). There is a Main Vs. Impact Throughline of Manipulations clear in the way the two characters outsmart each other in hiding and finding the satchel of money, but the rest of the appreciations are not that present.

However, look at the scene where the Main Character calls Carlson Wells on the phone and the Impact Charcter answers. They go through the Main Vs. Impact Appreciations as if they were reading them directly from the Story Engine Report: "You have the money?" (Problem of Temptation) "Bring it to me or your wife dies" (Issue of Responsibility) "You think you're brave enough?" (Concern of Changing One's Nature)...

Now, the biggest trick the Coen Brothers play on this story, is that they kill the Main Character at the beginning of the third act. With that the audience goes "what the heck?" and tries to guess their way from there. An obvious choice would be "then Tommy Lee Jones is the Main Character," but Tommy Lee Jones refuses completely to become the Main Character. He does nothing from there to affect the plot or conveying any meaning to the story.

With this simple trick, the Coens achieved three things:

1) to throw the audience completely off the tracks and leave a sense of confusion and dissatisfaction after what otherwise would be a simple action story. This one is a true tragedy.

2) To make the critics wonder what the movie is all about and keep them talking about it right until Oscar season.

3) To make the movie a huge statement about how there is no glory in violence, just confusion and gore. The "There Are No Clean Getaways" tagline remains true till the end of the movie.

ogdencl Re: No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler #2

It's possible that there are two stories here, but I think it's clear that Bell is an MC. Whether Moss is also an MC, I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. While Chigurh is the most Steadfast character imaginable, Moss would also be a Steadfast character, but Bell is clearly a Change character since, near the end after his (imagined) confrontation with Chigurh, he chooses to retire and withdraw from this crazy new world where there is no country for old men. Also, while Chigurh is Logical, and so is Moss, Bell is a contrasting Intuitive. And while both Chigurh and Moss are Do-ers, Bell is a contrasting Be-er.

Another consideration is that there does not seem to be any solution to Moss's "problem". No matter what he does, he is a dead man and will lose the money. He has no choices to make in the story. The movie repeatedly shows how futile any of his actions are. Wherever he goes, he will be found. Wherever he hides the money, it will be found. The only choice he could have made, to die so that his wife could live, he rejected, and if he were the MC, that decision would have been a Steadfast choice. In the end, though, the choice made no difference, because the Mexican drug lords killed him before he could have had a final confrontation with Chigurh. The "climax" was between Chigurh and Bell.

Chris Huntley Re: No Country for Old Men #3

To me, the whole movie "feels" like a novel--especially a Cormac McCarthy novel. There is a lot of thematic exploration regarding the subject of the title which is nearly all in the story thread involving Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). The first scenes with him and the last scenes with him explain everything you need to know about the title. Personally, I think it is impossible to say who SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be the Main Character because there are chunks of story missing from the film. We spend a LOT of time with Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and see a good chunk from his perspective, as well as that of his pursuer, Anton Chigurh. But I never got the sense of standing in either of their shoes. Moss made weird decisions (bringing water back to the dying man, for instance) that did not make sense in the context of the situation. Sure, it was a nice thing to do but also incredibly stupid given the amount of time elapsed. Chigurh's code of behavior was equally foreign (e.g. flipping the coin) and something I don't think we were meant to share--just watch. I didn't notice much growth in either of them which, under normal circumstances, I would attribute to the fact that they were primarily objective characters only. However, with critical pieces of the Overall Story throughline missing, it is hard to say for sure about any of it. I find it interesting that the critics (and Academy members) are so attracted to the "anti-story structure" nature of the film. Perhaps it is a Story Reception backlash against some of Hollywood's storytelling traditions. Or maybe it is just plain old propaganda, Dramatica-style.

ogdencl thoughts #4

I think there is much more to this story than first appears. Some of the story elements are there, but I think the storytelling approach disguises many of them so that you don't see them except in retrospect. There is something about the story that seems to resonate in the subconscious, and when this occurs it is usually because of a good storyform.

On the issue of who is the MC and who is the IC, I think that the Bell/Chigurh theory is the most widely accepted. Leading up to the Oscars, that is almost always how the story is described. It's always "A cop and a psychopath who pursue a man through the desert." I'm almost certain that Bell is intended to be the MC, and Chigurh is intended to be the IC.

Here's my first stab at the storyform, as I currently see it (asterisks reflect those I am more sure about):

*MC: Bell
*MC Resolve: Change (He learns to withdraw and retire)
*MC Growth: Stop (Audience is waiting for the chase to stop)
*MC Approach: Be-er
*MC PS Style: Intuitive

*IC: Chigurh
*IC Resolve: Steadfast
*IC Growth: Start (He is holding out until he can recover the money or until "justice" is done, only then he can he move forward)
*IC Approach: Do-er
*IC PS Style: Logical

*Story Outcome: Failure (Bell does not catch change Moss's mind, nor does he manipulate or capture Chigurh)
Story Judgment: Good (He retires and is better off for it)
*Story Driver: Actions (Actions always force decisions)
*Story Limit: Optionlock (Story climaxes when the characters have run out of options)

*OS Throughline: Fixed Attitude (the characters cannot change their attitudes)
*OS Concern: Impulsive Responses (the characters are compelled to obtain or recover the money; OS Chigurh cannot help but to follow through on his promises to kill, or to be bound by a coin toss, etc.; Moss cannot help but take water back to the dying man in the truck, despite the danger)
OS Issue: Confidence (the characters are certain that things will go according to their vision)
OS Problem:

MC Throughline: Manipulation (The only tool in Bell's arsenal appears to be psychology)
MC Concern: Playing a Role (Bell is there to play the role of sheriff, though his heart is not in it)
MC Issue: Desire (It's all about Bell's desire or lack thereof, to continue in his role, given the changing world he lives in and the fact that he is obsolete)

Maybe there are some better choices for the above, but at least some of the appreciations seem right on the mark. Plugging these intro Dramatica leads to a few other conclusions, such as OS Catalyst being Worry, which seems right. Also, OS Inhibitor is Security, which also seems right. The Overall Story slows down when Moss is relatively safe.

On the other hand, my first guess would have been that the IC Concern was Obtaining, whereas the above decisions force its dynamic opposite: Doing. However, on second thought, I think Doing might be correct and that Obtaining is actually the IC Benchmark. Chigurh is more concerned with Doing than Obtaining. For example, even after he obtained the money, he still went back and killed Moss's wife for the principle of the thing. Moreover, his impact was related to what he Did, rather than what he Obtained.

Any thoughts?
Chris Huntley
Write Brothers Inc.


Re: No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler)

Postby Sean » Aug 21, 2008 9:39 am

I think I've cracked it! It's a split MC/Protagonist story just like To Kill a Mockingbird where Finch is the Protagonist and Scout is the MC and narrator. So:

Moss is the Protagonist.
Chigurh is the Antagonist.
And Bell is the Main Character.

Firsly, he's the narrator, he's in the title. But more crucially, he undergoes the climactic emotional change in the story. He is basically retreating from the modern world with baffled resignation. He no longer understands the random violence. In retirement, however, he tells his wife about a dream, which suggests he has regained some optimism. Thanks to the Coens taste for ambiguity, it can read the other way too. He retires, feels a bit better, but is still fundamentally haunted by the ways of the world.

(I can't recall if the decision to retire isn't already in action when the film starts.)

Anyway, what's daring and unsettling for the audience is the Coens killing off the Protagonist at the end of Act II. Because he's not the Main Character - there is no moral or philosophical debate going on inside him - we don't feel overly sad at his death. We feel pathos and sympathy at his wife's death - a poor innocent victim. But our empathy in the story is with Bell.

If you run Psycho through the Dramatica prism, you find a similar sense of dislocation, but it's made even more emotionally shocking because Janet is also the Main Character (and yes, hot!) It's Hitchcock at his most mischievous and perverse. He gets us to shift our identification from Janet Leigh (dead after just 45 mins) over to neat and tidy Norman Bates as he tidies up the blood. Later we discover he's the antagonist as well as a henchman, so to speak.

As for No Country and Sheriff Bell, the question still remains: Who is his Impact Character?
Who makes him change his belief about the world like Boo Radley does to Scout?

I'd say it was a succession of people like his Wife and the Uncle at the farm.


Re: No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler)

Postby kerryb » Jan 25, 2009 1:50 pm

Being a newbie to Dramatica, I find value in my reaction to this movie, even before I had heard of Dramatica, because in the past I was your typical audience consumer of movies. In other words, if one's goal is to create a popular movie-novel that people love, the audience, like the customer, is "always right" sans theory.

For example, I love a good, compelling story that feels possible within the framework of the movie (in this case it's urban society 2007+) and it has a fulfilling ending (whatever inequity/problem the movie starts out with, the movie answers period--no waffling).

This movie's story has a blue collar cowboy run across a suitcase of money from a drug deal gone bad. Xmas comes early for him. Next, he finds out he's being hunted by the owners-controllers of that money. No offense to Dramatica theory, but it's a gimme now that this movie is about the cowboy versus the bounty hunter period. Everything else is filler. That's what was compelling to me as an audience viewer.

After about half the movie has run, the bounty hunter calls the cowboy on the phone and wants to make a deal. The cowboy responds with essentially saying NO, and now the bounty hunter has become the hunted--the roles here have reversed in the cowboy's eyes. NOW I'm really interested-compelled to see what happens next (and boy am I excited too) as this cowboy appears to be a match for the bounty hunter--AND the bounty hunter reveals concern/fear upon hearing this.

Oh boy oh boy, imagine my JOY and surprise to see the cowboy get killed--heck I don't even see it happen, but Tommy Lee Jone's character finds the cowboy DEAD. Now, I'm like What the #$# happened? I had to rewind the movie to confirm the cowboy was actually dead. Unbelievable!!!! Like killing NEO in the Matrix before he had the showdown with Agent Smith.

How oh how does this stuff make it to the screen and novel publishers? Never ever had I gotten so mad at a story. I'll NEVER watch another cohen movie again, nor read anything the author least that's how I felt.

So I ask myself, do I want to create a movie-novel that pisses off an audience to that degree, at the very least go what the @#$ happened like the above? It's like Jurassic Park's T-Rex trips and dies into a canyon while chasing the good guys...


Oh I'm aware that others liked it...or so I am led to believe. I keep reading that this movie is some kind of creation masterpiece.

I don't get it...for the above reasons. Yeah, I understand it was about "violence" and chance...but that's not what was implied in the movie.

Of course, most of the movies today I don't really like...the Saw sadistical movies, dark and dreary monster chasing movies (Clint Eastwood said as much on the IMDB about Hollywood's lack of stories)...I talk to people in the video stores, and the impression I get is that people who want a good story tell me they don't want to see a movie that has nothing but special effects, blood and gore darkness. Yet another swath of society appears to love watching a video first shooter game without a plot---just kill kill kill. I think those people are driving up sales.

I spoke the other day with a lady who's worked the movie industry and said for example, people told her they got bored of "Little Miss Sunshine" because they couldn't understand it and--it was boring. This lady said many people like these "must have" a fix of explosions and chase scenes every X minutes or the movie can't hold their interest. BUT try to get this crowd to think--forget about it.

I'm a deep thinker and LOVE this Dramatica theory deal.

But I worry that society is-has become too dumb to figure it out.




Re: No Country for Old Men: surprise main character (spoiler

Postby DarlynRoger » Apr 01, 2010 3:23 am

Yup. I agree with Chris not fully but much.

Return to “Classics from the Archives”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest