Danger: Plot Spoilers…

“The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”

So starts the most recent Coen brother’s film.
‘No Country for Old Men’ tells the story of three men in particular, who interestingly never meet throughout the film. It begins and ends with the ageing sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy-Lee Jones. He’s been working as a sheriff for many years and has seen the county (Texas) change massively over that time. It is now 1980 and Bell remembers a time when some sheriffs didn’t even wear guns. That time was long gone now. He was witnessing increasing violence as drugs were coming into the country. He tells the story of a boy who kills a young girl. The newspapers apparently said it was a crime of passion. The boy said he did it because he wanted to, that he had been thinking about killing someone as long as he could remember. All of this seemingly meaningless violence Bell is struggling to cope with. During this introduction we see Anton Chigurh for the first time. We never find out where he came from, but at the beginning of the film he is being arrested by Bell’s deputy, for what crime we never find out. He escapes custody by cold-bloodedly killing the deputy. It turns out that Chigurh is a psychopathic hitman. The final character that is going to be central to this story is Llewellyn Moss, a simple man who happens to stumble across a drug exchange gone wrong in the desert. The drugs are still there, and most of the people involved are dead. He tracks down the money that he knew must have been involved to a dead man, sitting beneath a tree some distance away from the fight. There’s about $2 million that Moss walks away with.
And so the chase begins. Chigurh is hired to track down the money and kill Moss. Bell is trying to track Chigurh, encountering the carnage that Chigurh leaves in his wake.
An interesting theme throughout the film is that of fate. Chigurh is described as having no sense of humour, but a strange code of ethics. He clearly believes that fate is driving him forward and so plays a game of chance with some of his victims. If they can call the coin toss correctly then they live, if not, then they die. It is out of his hands, he says.
He promises Moss in one conversation that if Moss does not hand over the money then he will kill his wife. He can’t promise that Moss will survive, because he won’t. It is said in a cool matter-of-fact way. That’s how it is. Moss declines the offer, choosing instead to try and hunt down Chigurh. They never meet because the Mexicans get to Moss first. As a result Chigurh feels obliged to follow through on his promise. At a later date he goes to see Moss’ wife and offers her the chance to save her life by guessing the coin toss. She refuses. She tells Chigurh that he doesn’t have to do this. He laughs in reply and informs her that ‘people always say the same thing’. He proceeds to flip the coin and Carla tells states ‘the coin don’t have no say. Its just you’ to which Chigurh replies that he got here the same way the coin did. Chigurh is committed to the idea of fate. He is described has having no sense of humour, and fate has no humour. It is blind, and it must follow its path, as Chigurh feels he must. You never see where he came from, and at the end where he goes to. There is something mysterious about Chigurh and as a result terrifying.
This film raises important questions about how history moves forward, whether or not we are responsible for our actions, or whether in fact we are following a script.
It also raises questions in the face of mindless suffering. Even if Chigurh is not correct in his belief in fate, the killing still is mindless. What are we to make of things when there is such a slapdash approach to human life. Should we retire from this world as Bell eventually does? Or should we ‘put our soul on hazard’ and say we’ll be part of this world?
The Bible presents a very different picture when it presents the course of human history. There is nothing blind about it. In Genesis 1:1 it states that in the beginning God… God was there at the start, a being who we find out is personal and relational. In the act of creation he talks about a plurality involved in the process, where it is very clear that it is God alone who creates. He is a God in relationship. We find out later that this is a relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. From Genesis 1:1 to the end of the Bible God is intimately involved in his creation. However, it is also clear that we are responsible beings, with choice. This is illustrated as God calls people to repent, to turn to him, since in the past they have chosen to turn away from him. Carla Jean Moss is right – Chigurh is responsible for his actions, not fate and God shows that ultimately in judgement.
The Bible also brings sense to suffering. Because we are responsible and God will hold us responsible in judgement God says that suffering matters. It is not meaningless.
We also see in the Bible story an approach to suffering that comes much closer to Bell’s ‘Ok, I’ll be part of this world’ because that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus suffered unjust suffering, mindless as people killed him when he had not done any wrong. But he did it bringing sense into such suffering as it was redemptive, providing the means for people to come into relationship with the relational God.