Thursday, January 31, 2008

Culturist Movie Review - No Country for Old Men

The movie No Country for Old Men was fantastic. It raised important philosophical issues and refused the easy happy ending. The movie follows people in pursuit of a sociopathic hit man and features a lot of random violence. But the violence is not gratuitous as it is the point of the film; extremely brutal actions are an increasingly common part of our culture. This must alter our sense of this world; we should expect to increasingly see life as more arbitrary, violent and out of our control.

Through the ruminations of the sherif who chases the sociopath, played by Tommy Lee Jones, we are repeatedly told that the crimes now are of a different nature than those which previously plagued us. One scene contradicts this theme. It tells of ruthless violence from a much earlier epoch. As a culturist, one concerned with our culture, this is not a small discrepancy; it tells us to give up and be resigned to the violence engulfing us.

From a wide historical perspective, America has consistently diminished violence. The Native Americans were extremely violent. The Puritan's wars with them were equally brutal. Any conflict from that age would make the few random acts of violence in this film seem tame. But with the advance of civilization, this violence diminished. Within living memory, we had nearly taken violence out of our society; it was nearly relegated to fiction. But recently violence has not only deeply penetrated our film and music, lawlessness has become increasingly common in real life.

From the point of view of social commentary, the fascinating part of this film is its location. No Country for Old Men is a border film. We go in and out of Mexico several times. The violence and drugs gets traced up to American corporations, but they come across the border. Out continuing comparatively low levels of violence result from a slow process of instituting values and the creation of a state apparatus to crush violence. American history teaches that areas that are not civilized are violent. "Winning the West" was a civilizing process.

The location of this movie is not incidental. The wide open spaces remind us of the brutality of frontier life. All Americans should know that Mexico's crime is, for our taste, so brutal it can be easily descibed as savage. Corrupt police often partake in the sort of drug violence depicted in this movie. The idea that when criminals want to escape they run away to Mexico, the idea that people are less likely to be caught there, is not just fiction; that country has less law and order than ours. Every illegal immigrant is sign of lawlessness - they show our nation is out of control. Worse yet, drug runners who take advantage of our broken borders are importing a brutal way of life into our culture.

A good portion of our increase in violence is homegrown. As this movie's location subtley reminds us, we also have an infusion of violence coming across our border. This film aptly portrays the sense of helplessness and despair that accompanies a culture of violence. No Country for Old Men is, however, not just a metaphorical art piece. Our broken borders have resulted in large parts of the Southwest again becoming "the Wild West." The beauty of this film is its consistent focus on nostalgia and cultural decline. How the West was lost could have served as an apt alternate title. No Country for Old Men should wake us up to the fact that we are allowing our nation to go slip back to a time of lawless savagery.
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