Choice and destiny at the crossroad?
When Moss comes upon a drug deal gone bad and takes the $2.4 million, he sets in motion a chain of events that neither he nor Sheriff Bell could stop. And the psychopathic killer Chigurh, who follows a universal code of conduct and tries to control every event, believes he is taking the only possible course: to eliminate Moss and retrieve the money. He gives Moss the choice to surrender and die or to fight and risk his wife’s life also. After Moss died, Chigurh arrives to kill his wife Carla Jean. When she persuades him not to kill her, he says he gave his word to Moss that he would kill her. He believes that killing her is the only “justice,” the only destiny for him and for Carla Jean. Except he allows her to pick heads or tails on a coin toss. She picks the wrong side and he kills her. The irony is that a drunk driver runs a red light and smashes the car into Chigurh’s truck and severely injures him. A random event. Neither he nor the driver planned it. Chigurh is one of the most eerie and enigmatic characters in fiction. He retrieves the money and returns it to the drug dealer, taking only a percentage as a fee. Because he believes he is “making things right.”
And Bell, a local sheriff used to helping old women get their cats off the trees, can only watch the events unfold, watch the shootouts in the motels and watch Chigurh kill Moss and then Carla Jean. He realizes the drug deals are beyond him and Chigurh is certainly beyond him and the land that he lives in is changing and he no longer understands it. He feels he is getting old and he quits and retires and spends his time with his wife.
McCarthy’s writing style empowers the novel and pushes No Country for Old Men beyond just a crime drama, a cop and robber story. The bare dialogues sustain the tension and push the plot forward. The barren sentences reflect the harsh Texas-Mexico border and the rugged and relentless characters and the bloody and grim scenes. To create an austere beauty that saddens yet mesmerizes the reader.
The world of No Country for Old Men, like the worlds of McCarthy’s other novels, is harsh and cruel and its inhabitants must struggle to survive, and when they fail they perish. No redemption through courage and heroism. Moss struggled and lost and he lost his life and his wife’s life. Bell retreated and he didn’t lose but didn’t win either. Choice and destiny?
No Country for Old Men is an essential American novel by an essential American writer. And despite the blood and gory, I recommend it as a reflection on our changing times.
Posted by Leonard Seet
Leonard Seet is the author of the novels Magnolias in Paradise and Meditation On Space-Time. His short fiction have appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Banana Writers and Pilcrow & Dagger. Through his writings, he probes the dynamics of existence, including human consciousness, good and evil, and rationality and spirituality. He received the B.S. in Physics and B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an MBA from Georgetown University.