After seeing the movie adaptation of No Country for Old Men I’ve been eagerly anticipating reading the novel. I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The novel is fast paced, brutal, and surprisingly filled with sentiment. Initially I didn’t consider it to be in the noir crime fiction genre, but as I wound further into the piece, it became clear that this truly is a masterpiece of noir. As is custom, I’ll take you through each beat of the noir definition as a means of defending my stance.
Noir Definition Run Down:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The arid Texas/Mexico borderlands. The setting’s bleak wasteland simultaneously highlights the despair that anchors the novel in place and the stark contrast between life and death. This boundary is shady at best.
2) The Anti-Hero
Llewelyn Moss, a vietnam veteran and a ‘good-ole-boy’ who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A drug deal gone bad, a pile of bodies and a satchel full of dead presidents singing the tune of millions floating on top of the carnage. He intends to buy a new life for himself and his young wife Carla Jean, but he quickly learns he’s in over his head. Pursued by a ruthless hitman (Antoine Chigur) and a gang of deadly ombrès, this noir crime fiction is one hair-raising scene after another.
3) The Femme Fatale
Not so much a femme fatale in the traditional sense, Carla Jean Moss fills this role. Llewelyn’s love for her and desire to protect her from the onslaught he has unleashed puts him in the crosshairs of individuals he cannot possibly escape.
Misogyny isn’t a blatant theme as in other noir crime fiction pieces, but the helplessness of Carla Jean, and her childlike misunderstanding of the situation which she shares with her husband is rather condescending. Her moment of actualization; the pinnacle of her empowered feminine potential comes the second before a trigger is pulled in her face.
“I’m not a fan of authors who do not deal with issues of life and death. I don’t understand them. To me, that’s not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange.” -Cormac McCarthy
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is the most sympathetic character in No Country For Old Men. His longing for kinder and simpler days is symptomatic of the horrors he faces on a daily basis. He views the folks in his county as his responsibility, and his pride is crushed when he fails to protect Llewelyn and Carla Jean. The entire book follows his quest for redemption, not only redemption for his current failures, but redemption from his past humiliations. He perfectly personifies the human condition: forever fallen.
6) Loss of Innocence
As the killer Antoine Chigur corners his enemies, he frequently engages in philosophical discourse with them before depriving them of life. His calculated brutality and seeming lack of conscience is frightening. He kills without remorse and balks at mercy. His word is his God, and he always obeys.
None. I will say that there is something intimate shared between Chigur and his victims before he kills them, but this is in no way erotic.
8 ) Blaxploitation
Some light racism towards those of Hispanic descent.
Often the only relief found by any of the characters is in the smoky embrace of tobacco. Cuts the stress, cuts the tension, blesses the unworthy.
If you haven’t read this novel yet, please do. McCarthy has put together a veritable masterwork of noir crime fiction in No Country For Old Men.