Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Country For Old Men

My wife and I went to see "No Counry For Old Men," a Coen brothers adaptation of a work by Cormac McCarthy. Before I get started, let me just say that I won't be surprised if there are a few Oscars for this film, as it's the kind of film the Academy loves to reward. That having been said, the Coen brothers and their brilliant cast did the best they could to rescue it from being a work by Cormac McCarthy, but they didn't quite pull it off.

I read McCarthy's novel "Blood Meridian," and found it to be one of the worst, most ridiculous novels I've ever had the misfortune to have read. I wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't had to have read it for a novel writing class. This novel takes place in the late 1800's, but he talks about a "Skiffle-like band" playing when there was no such ting until 1905, and it was used to describe jug bands in Louisville, KY (the band in the novel was playing in the desert southwest -- Mexico if I remember correctly). He talks about Harpy eagles in the desert southwest when no such eagles are found that far north. And probably I could have overlooked these things if he didn't use terrible metaphors -- the worst being his description of Indians "popping up like funhouse figures" from behind the rocks, which is a completely clownish metaphor in a serious scene -- and wasn't overly impressed with his muscular writing style. That style manages to bleed through onto the big screen, creating quite a bit of tension at first, but eventually becoming tiresome over the length of the film.

Like I said, the acting is quite good, but you reach the end of the film and feel quite unsatisfied with it overall. It doesn't end -- it just sort of stops. It ends with the recitation of a dream the sheriff had, which I'm sure is meant to be symbolic or metaphorical, but which is so bash-you-over-the-head supposed to be symbolic that it's just annoying.

McCarthy says he was greatly influenced by William Faulkner. I love Faulkner, but Faulkner is such a brilliant experimentalist that his works tend to be combinations of success and brilliant failure. If McCarthy is influenced by Faulkner, one can sum up his style this way: imagine if you took all the failures of Faulkner and eliminated all the successes -- that would give you McCarthy's style. If you did the opposite, and took the successes and eliminated the failures, you'd get Toni Morrison. I suppose that's why it's she who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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