- NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN VS. THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Came out together. No Country won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Director. Blood got two including Best Actor. Cream of the crop for 2007.
But something bugged me about No Country For Old Men. Couldn’t put my finger on it. I hadn’t read either book at the time so it wasn’t the adaptation of the source material.
99.9% of directors, after following Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) around for the entire movie, would show the co-protagonist’s death. Not the Coen Brothers. We roll up with Tommy Lee Jones to find Brolin already dead, killed by Mexican hitmen who drive off in a pickup truck. Ballsy choice, but it wasn’t the problem.
It was the ending. I couldn’t get my arms around it. The ambiguity of it. From the IMBD plot synopsis:
“Carla Jean finds Chigurh sitting in her mother’s house. Chigurh explains that he made a “promise” to Moss that he was going to kill her. Chigurh offers that if she calls correctly in a coin toss, he’ll spare her life. Carla Jean dismisses Chigurh’s game, saying that he’s the one who decides on whether or not to kill her, not the coin. He is unmoved, however, insisting on his lack of a free choice in the matter. During this exchange, we see two boys ride past the house on bicycles.
We next see Chigurh walking out of the house, stopping to check his boots, apparently, for blood. Driving off, he is looking at the same two boys in the rear view mirror as he proceeds through the green light when he is suddenly hit broadside by a car speeding through the intersection that he just entered. The other driver appears dead, but Chigurh gets out of his car, his eye nearly popped out of his skull and his bone protruding out of his elbow in a compound fracture. The two neighborhood boys come up to him to see if he’s all right. Chigurh pays the kids for one of their shirts, which he uses to make a rough-and-ready sling for his arm, and to have them not report having seen him. Chigurh limps away down the street.
At Sheriff Bell’s house, he ponders what to do for the day at breakfast with his wife, Loretta (Tess Harper); he is restless in retirement, but she rebuffs his offer to help out around the house, as he will just throw off her established routine. He recounts a dream he had about his sheriff father. Bell dreamed that he and his father were riding a mountain pass in the night. His father, carrying a horn with embers inside that glowed like moonlight, rode ahead into the darkness and disappeared. Though he couldn’t see anything in the dark night, Bell dreamed that he kept riding forward since his father would have a warm fire waiting for him. Bell ends the film with the final words: “And then I woke up.”
Bad guy gets away, good guy dies. Tommy Lee Jones is left to his bad dreams. What the….$#%!?
Compare this to the simplicity of There Will Be Blood, from IMDB:
“As Plainview, like a beast, gnaws the cold steak leftover from his dinner, Eli reveals that old Bandy has died and that his grandson wants to sell the oil drilling rights to his grandfather’s land in order to fund his goal of becoming a movie star — with Eli as the broker for the deal. Plainview agrees but only if Eli will say that he is a “false prophet and God is a superstition.” When Eli does so several times, Plainview reveals that, having owned all the wells around the Bandy ranch, he has already taken the oil from the Bandy property through drainage.
Eli reveals that, despite a successful radio preaching career, he is broke due to bad investments. Plainview chases him around the bowling alley then bludgeons him to death with a bowling pin. When the butler comes to see what the commotion has been, Plainview announces to him, “I’m finished” .”
Eli Sunday dead. Plainview “finished”. Bad guys go down. Simple, clean, the normal retribution meted out in most movies.
No Country is harder to stomach–bad guy gets away, good guys all fucked up–a brutal but great ending because it gives us no easy answers.
- THE SOPRANOS VS. THE WIRE
I found a great breakdown of The Wire’s last episode here. Here’s a piece of it:
“The finale provided closure by the barrelful for all the human characters — in many ways, it was the antithesis of “The Sopranos” ending — but the one character whose fate remains very much up in the air is Baltimore itself. When the cycle turns round and round — when a Bubbles escapes the junkie life only to be replaced by Dukie, when Carcetti sells out every last principle in order to become governor, when the keys to the police department are taken from Cedric Daniels and handed to Stan Valchek — what can be done to save the city (and, by extension, America)? Can anything? Or was Bunny right last week when he said that there was nothing to be done?…
“Some people I know…thought it provided too much closure, that Simon tried to rush too many endings into 93 minutes — or that he spent time spelling out fates (like Dukie and Michael) that should have been clear from previous episodes. I’ve also heard some complaints that too many characters get something too closely resembling a happy ending (McNulty seems okay with losing his badge, Daniels looks happy as a lawyer) or the direct opposite, that the ending is far too dark (Carcetti is governor, Nerese mayor, Valchek commissioner, Marlo is a free man, Jimmy and Lester and Daniels aren’t cops anymore, Templeton gets a Pulitzer while Gus and Alma are demoted, Dukie’s a junkie, etc.).”
For me, The Wire’s resolution was too dark. I get it– real life in Baltimore doesn’t comply with happy-ending Hollywood fiction. The power of The Wire is that it never blinks from that brutal Baltimore reality. I’m all for gutsy realism…
Doesn’t make it any easier to watch Marlo Stansfield go free, Carcetti become governer, McNulty and Lester get booted from the force, or my man Omar Little shot by a nine year-old.
Controversy flew about the final episode of the Sopranos in 2007. The black screen ending confused many, some calling it a letdown. Predictable reaction, yet incredible…being as it might be the greatest 60 minutes ever to air on television.
Check out this fantastic interpretation of the ending. Here’s a excerpt:
“‘If you look at the final episode really carefully, it’s all there.’ These are David Chase’s words regarding the finale of the Sopranos. He is right, it is “all there”. This is the definitive explanation why Tony died in Holsten’s in the final scene of The Sopranos…”
Tony dead?! Wait…we didn’t see that. The hell is the guy talking about? Screen went black, end episode, end Sopranos. What kinda way is that to end the thing?
“Chase uses the ringing of the bell of the door of Holsten’s to signal to the viewer that he will be using the traditional point of view shot discussed above (character looking at something/cut to a shot of what the character is looking at from the character’s POV/cut back to a shot of the character, usually for the reaction). This is repeated five times in the final scene to create a “pattern” that logically concludes that the last “shot” of the series (10 seconds of black and silence) is from Tony’s POV. The implication being that Tony sees “blackness” and “nothingness”. Tony is dead.”
Seeing the killing is too easy. Chase won’t give that to you. You have to piece it together. This isn’t Scarface or Public Enemy or Key Largo. You don’t get to see the gangster die. It’s complex, and complex pisses people off. Classic film resolution is simple, it’s on the plate. The necessity of it is a fallacy, as Chase shows here.
“The bell rings and Tony’s face is shown in close-up looking up to see who is coming through the door (this shot is about 2 seconds). According to the pattern, the next shot should be Tony’s POV of who is coming through the door (this should be Meadow as she is seen about to enter the diner a few seconds before the bell rings). Instead, the screen cuts abruptly to black mid-scene (at the exact spot where we should see Meadow from Tony’s POV) and the audio cuts off. All the viewer sees is “blackness” where Tony’s POV should be. This is Tony’s POV because he is dead. We no longer hear Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing because Tony no longer hears it. In a normal ending, the screen would simply fade to black followed immediately by the credits and the music would probably still be heard. Instead, the blackness and silence lingers for 10 seconds before the credits are shown. This emphasizes the blackness, nothingness and eternal nature of death. The 10 seconds of silent darkness is a scene unto itself-as significant as any image or line of dialogue. Chase originally wanted no credits at all and the blackness to last all the way to the HBO logo … This would further emphasize the eternal nature of death. Tony is dead…”