1.8.08

NEITHER BEASTS NOR GODS:

Rimwell, perhaps Patrokleia, was nice enough to leave a comment on my The Dark Knight/No Country for Old Men post, suggesting that I reconsider my view of the latter movie. You can follow his argument here and here.

The effort is a good one, and convincing in its way, but I remain unpersuaded. In part, this is because the text in question is so minimal:

Carla Jean Moss: You don't have to do this.
Anton Chigurh: [smiles] People always say the same thing.
Carla Jean Moss: What do they say?
Anton Chigurh: They say, "You don't have to do this."
Carla Jean Moss: You don't.
Anton Chigurh: Okay.
[Chigurh flips a coin and covers it with his hand]
Anton Chigurh: This is the best I can do. Call it.
Carla Jean Moss: I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me.
Anton Chigurh: Call it.
Carla Jean Moss: No. I ain't gonna call it.
Anton Chigurh: Call it.
Carla Jean Moss: The coin don't have no say. It's just you.
Anton Chigurh: Well, I got here the same way the coin did.


Rimwell/Patrokleia points out the incongruity of the last line, and much of his(?) textual analysis is devoted to making it fit within the story. What one gets out of this exchange depends a lot on what one brings to it. There may be some Nietzsche in this exchange; I find the prospect of Heidegger a little harder to accept, though they may, even so, be valid for analysis.

However, I don't think the question even needs to raise to that level, because Carla Jean wins the argument. She doesn't let Anton or the coin decide what will happen to her--she decides, in her refusal to accept the explanation Anton wants to give. He will kill her, she knows he will kill her, and complicated explanations only mask, as it were, the brute facts of the case.

To return to the larger point, about the ways in which violence was used in No Country, and, by the best accounts I've read, in TDK, too (as a bit of sadism or an attempt to become morally serious), the contrast with the Whedonverse is instructive. To kill someone is to step outside of the moral community, a place no one can stay for very long. The obvious example is Faith, who kills someone, denying at first that it has any effect on her whatsoever, then celebrating the power that she's found, then finally collapsing in on herself. Assuming the time span between seasons three and seven is four years, it takes a long, long period (in TV terms) for her to reappear as a human who can be integrated into the community. And that was for an accident. One can think of other examples, though: "Ted," in season two, where Buffy works through the consequences of killing someone (she thinks), or the turn of Dr. Horrible (here I go on a limb), who is on the fence as a good guy/bad guy until Penny's accidental death at the end.

What makes these different? I think it's there in the term 'moral community.' Anton has no relationships with anyone, and so is less-than-human. I borrow here from Ted Boyton's Iron Man v. TDK review: "Where TDK is most critically lacking, however, is where Iron Man cranks pitch after pitch over the wall — the humanizing element of humor, the baseline acknowledgment that if there’s no laughter, then there’s nothing worth saving." Anton, again, is, or has become, something other than human; he's just an enigma to the viewer. He represents no real human possibility, and so is of limited interest to me (I remain with Irme Kertesz on this one). Faith, Buffy, and Dr. Horrible all receive something of their human dimension from their relationships; so long as others cling to them, they are good, or still have the potential to be good--Faith's rehabilitation, after all, is only possible because neither Buffy nor Angel will give up on her.

Now for a very odd contrast, my favorite movie from last year was Lars and the Real Girl. I knew the premise, and dismissed it initially as far too hokey to be any good. What's riveting about the movie is the way Lars keeps trying to drop out of society, and how the people around him go to extraordinary lengths to keep him included. The movie aims for something less--there's no grand philosophical point to be made, and none is attempted (so far as I can tell)--but succeeds because it is real in a way 'realistic' movies can never quite manage.

4 comments:

rimwell said...

Just for the record, Patrokleia is a different person - though I would love to claim them, those essays are his. We were classmates in college.

I don't think the true drama lies in the fact that Carla Jean knows she will die. She, like Anton, won't know that until the coin is flipped. What she refuses is the opportunity to "call forth her own fate." She can say, "The coin don't have no say" while knowing that the result of the toss will decide. I think that only accentuates your subsequent argument about the difference between a "moral community" and an enigma.

It is an interesting question - whether Carla, in responding to Anton, "won" an argument. Another former classmate, Joey Prever, wrote this commentary for Godspy, suggesting that Carla Jean's most significant unspoken statement to Chigurh would be: "I don't believe it" rather than "You're wrong" or "You're evil."

(sorry for the over-emphasis on No country, but I haven't seen the other stuff you mention)

Nicholas said...

Thanks for the clarification on who's who; very much appreciated.

The coin doesn't decide, though, as I remember the movie. Carla Jean refuses to pick one way or the other, and Anton kills her anyway. By refusing to abet his scheme, she highlights _his_ agency as well as her own. It's her way, if you like, of trying to bring him back into the moral community.

Nicholas said...

Er, one addition: Anton tells two stories about why he's there. One is that he's there like the coin. The other is that her husband had the chance to get her out of trouble, and didn't take it. But that's, again, just to avoid responsibility.

rimwell said...

yeah maybe you're right - I just assumed that he flipped the coin anyway and called it himself, but I guess that wouldn't make sense, especially because he said the coin was "the best I can do" or whatever. he went there to kill her and gave her that possible way out. I'll have to watch it again. i didn't think about that, that the coin might not have been flipped at all.