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No Country for Old Manhood

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Sheriff Ed Tom Bell's padre is the "younger man" now, but he can't help compare himself to the old-timers like his father, grandfather, Uncle Mac...

Yeah, I'm sick of those "No Country for..." headlines (and the "There Will Be..." variations, too, but this one fits so perfectly.... In the February issue of Sight & Sound, Ben Walters and J.M. Tyree write that, at heart, the Coens' film is "an interrogation of American manhood." This is a wonderful paragraph:

There are no edifying models of manhood here. Sheriff Bell is well intentioned but troubled and halting; Moss is courageously but disastrously foolhardy. (Both Moss and Chigurh make repeated attempts at the sort of improvisatory survivalism that was a staple of 1980s television shows like "MacGyver" and "The A-Team," though Chigurh is notably more accomplished.) In Bell's and Moss' marriages, though -- with Bell's strongly reminiscent of the loving, supportive relationship between Marge and Norm in "Fargo" (1996) -- the Coens once again suggest that human connection trumps Hollywood-style man-alone heroism. Just compare the relaxed, warm atmosphere of the Moss trailer or the Bell homestead with the dump motels to whose garish signage, flimsy walls and soulless decorations the film pays such keen and damning attention. Here as elsewhere, hotels are the setting for a series of big and little deaths, most of them pointless and dumb. Sheriff Bell recognises the absurdity at work in this world. "I laugh myself sometimes," he says. "Ain't a whole lot else you can do."

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Walters and Tyree offer a provocative take on the "Chugurh-as-serial-killer" angle, too. I've written about how he doesn't (literally the "serial killer," profile but I dig this a lot:

Bardem's character, however, fits satisfyingly into the Coens' ongoing interrogation of American manhood, which they present as always problematic and often absurd, gleefully suggesting here that its most successful incarnation might be a serial killer. Patient, implacable and ultra-capable, Chigurh is also alien, even supernatural in his presumptive superiority. The model of consummate self-sufficiency, he seems to lampoon the frontier ethos of the Reaganite Cowboy Man: to Chigurh humans are a form of livestock, occasionally diverting but ultimately disposable; his favoured method of execution is a hydraulic cattle-gun. Plainly though non-specifically foreign, he takes a Martian's-eye view of American life.

Sometimes a foreigner can offer an illuminating perspective that's harder for the locals to see....

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