Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Nightmare Country

(Spoiler Alert: I will talk about the talked-about ending so if you don’t want to know how the movie ends, click away from here. You’ve been warned.)

I’ve been a fan of the Coen brothers ever since I saw their first movie, Blood Simple. Thanks to my friend Glenn, I got to watch almost all of their movies. They turned their wicked sense of humor up a notch with Raising Arizona (Nicolas Cage before he got lazy, and a hilarious turn by Holly Hunter), then went noir again with Miller’s Crossing (still one of my favorite opening scenes of all time). The weirdness started with Barton Fink. Fargo somewhat restored my faith in the brothers (excellent Oscar-deserving performance by Frances McDormand, and although the plot’s twist-upon-twist came close to becoming a parody, that movie was still wily and engaging enough to acquit the brothers). But the forced humor and head-scratching moments of The Hudsucker Proxy made me think twice when they came out with The Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges and John Goodman’s mugs on the posters didn’t help any). I never watched that movie from start to finish. By the time they made O Brother, Where Art Though? and The Ladykillers, not even the above-marquee names of George Clooney and Tom Hanks respectively could entice me to take a peek at them.

Most reviewers dubbed No Country For Old Men as a return to form for the Coen brothers. In a way, yes. The humor is there, but controlled. The twists are there, but not contrived. This is one of the brothers’ most accessible movies in its simplicity and straightforward structure. It is also one of their most mature.

I think what was most remarkable is the characters. Yes, Javier Bardem was a monster, but somehow he managed to make me believe that he was a monster you could run into on some deserted highway. Josh Brolin managed in not so many words to convince as a man who would never back down from anyone or anything, including an unstoppable psychopath. Perhaps the characters of Anton Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss were flat on paper. But Bardem and Brolin breathed flesh and (litters of) blood into the roles, so that even just 30 minutes into the movie I was already cringing with fear and dread at what may happen next to the characters.

The general reaction of most people who’ve seen it is: “It’s great except for the last 10 minutes”. The ending seems the most bothersome, troubling moment of the movie. Tommy Lee Jones tells his wife about a puzzling dream he had with his father. It’s a dream he cannot comprehend. “And then I woke up,” he ends his story, and the screen goes black. And the academy bestowed the Best Picture award for that? What the hell was that?

But really, the whole movie is very much a puzzle of a dream—or rather, a nightmare. Then we wake up. And we viewers realize that we were in the grip of two masterful dream weavers who, along with their excellent cast, managed to draw us in and not let us go until the very end.

The movie poster says it all: “There are no clean getaways.” The disturbing feeling lingered even after I left the movie house.

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