My younger son, John, came for a nice long visit over the holidays. Since we’re both film buffs, we went to several movies while he was here. Saw “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which we both thought was excellent, “Gone Baby Gone,” which we both thought was trite, predictable, and full of gratuitous sordid violence. Also saw “Juno” which enchanted us because the acting was so good, and then made us regret liking it because the plot was so dumb. The best of the lot was “No Country For Old Men,” the latest Coen brothers production with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. John was seeing it for the second time, but it was the first for me.
When the movie ended, several people around us erupted in loud fury. One man barked, “That’s the stupidest thing I ever saw!” and clambered over seats in front of him as if he were escaping a fire. I was mystified, but John said the same thing had happened in the New York theater where he’d first seen the film. The Coen brothers have always made provocative films, and this one may be the most provocative of all because it’s basically about life and its contradictions and mysteries. When it ends, you’re forced to interpret the last scene for yourself, and how you interpret it will depend on how you view your own life. In effect, it says, “What do you believe? How do you explain all the things you believe are wrong in the world? And how do you keep your integrity and sanity, how do you manage to love in spite of the corruption and violence in the world?”
For some people, those are questions that shouldn’t even be asked, or, if they’re asked, the answers should be spoon-fed to the audience. For those of us who understand the questions but don’t have ready answers, it expands our awareness. So, for what it’s worth, I think the Coen brothers have given us more than just a good movie, they’ve given us a question whose answer describes who we are.