Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alter Ego

We watched "No Country For Old Men" last weekend. It reminded me quite a bit of Fargo. I liked our mark who went for the money and I liked the aggressively laconic lawman. (Tommy Lee Jones barely moves his face while speaking during this film. I was glad I had a native Texan on hand to translate.) I could barely watch the old man in the highway gas station get menaced by the Bad Guy. And there was plenty of ultraviolence I could have done without just like in Fargo. I think the Coens make decadent art although I'm still trying to define what I mean by that term. They like cinematography. They like suspense. They like making the audience wince or turn away. They have a talent for creating characters we like and root for. (Poor Llewellyn's wife.) There is no beauty or larger meaning to be drawn from any of it as far as I can tell. And I feel a little bad about being entertained by it. I am not sorry I saw it but I wouldn't choose to watch it again. This surprises me because I loved "Blood Simple" as a young person. It seemed so mysterious and funny in between the shocks. 

I looked for film reviewers who felt the lack I did. Here's Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, "...there remains a nagging sense that the Coens are not so much investing their emotions in a cinematic genre—in this case, the Western revenge drama—as picking it up, inspecting it, and then setting themselves the task of constructing a perfect copy. Acts of monstrosity are coolly perpetrated throughout, but the resulting film strays beyond cool to the verge of the passionless; if Deakins’s camera leans in close to gaze on damaged flesh (we focus on Chigurh’s leg as he swabs and stitches a gunshot wound), that is not because the Coens harbor any tenderness or pity, still less an urge to lament the legacy of violence. They simply retain a juvenile weakness for gore, challenging us to match their sang-froid and saluting Chigurh himself for showing the way."

And a Chicago reviewer named Michael Phillips wrote:  "The Coens may well be interested in the dramatic consequences of the violence. One gets the feeling, though, that they’re more interested in the precise mechanics and capabilities of the stun gun."

Speaking of violence: three mice down so far. They look like pet mice, grey backs and white bellies. Nod told me he's worried that we'll transport them to the new place. Seems unlikely unless they've nested in the living room furniture or our mattresses. Wait, was that a squeaking noise I heard last night?

Sunday seems to be the day for the large item moving. Saturday Nod has to work. When I heard this I groaned but honestly his continued employment (by the hard nosed screws who get 55 hours a week out of him) is necessary. I suppose Sunday will be fine. Early Saturday morning I will go to my first pilates class. Ah, that makes me breathe deeper just thinking of it. Then the girls and I will move some things. And take ourselves out to lunch. And when Nod gets done with his work then he can help us move a bunch more and clear paths for the large items to go the next day. I have been making some extensive moving lists here at work. I think I'm going to cut out some newspaper footprints to show the size of our book cases so we can decide what goes where. I'm pretty terrible at mental furniture arrangement otherwise.

We've told the children that we'll be sleeping in the new house by the end of the weekend. I figure their excitement at the new will help us get there.

A passage from Byatt's The Children's Book that gets something just right:
Dorothy was in that state human beings passed through at the beginning of a love affair, in which they desire to say anything and everything to the beloved, to the alter ego, before they have learned what the real Other can and can't understand, can and can't accept.


Bee said...

Yes, Byatt's words express something very true. The other progressively gets more Other; and then, if you are lucky, less so again. But there is never that same belief in one-ness again, is there. (Even if it is only a projection.)

I really liked No Country for Old Men, even though I hate watching violence as a rule. I like to think there are lawmen like the Tommy Lee Jones character.

amenaneri said...

I really liked No Country, too, but I do understand what you see about the emotionless way you are made to view the horrifying things. Another way to look at it is that they don't overtly manipulate you to feel something, and give you space to feel it for yourself. So many movies ramp up the music, gore, suspense and MAKE you scared or grossed out, etc., and I hate being manipulated like that, thus I rarely watch "horror" movies.

The reason I like Coen Bros. movies is that while there are often grim things to see, they kind of leave you alone to experience them. They use silence or minimal music and like you said, the camera is pretty objective (although there is never really anything objective about a camera--even minimalism is a point of view). If they use music, it's kind of obvious, or ironic, not meant to be in the background manipulating you.

Anyway, that's why I like the Coen Bros.

Did you see "There Will Be Blood"? The 2 movies are kind of together in my head--came out at the same time, I saw them back to back. While I liked it and there were a lot of amazing things in it, the violence in it was a little too much for me, but it was more because the pain and cruelty of Daniel Day Lewis's character was almost incomprehensible to me--I could see it, and maybe see why he was that way, but I just had no compassion for him and it made me really uncomfortable. I wanted him to be different, or to show some love or humanity or forgiveness or something, and he so stubbornly held to his misanthropy it was hard to watch.

It's weird--the Chigurh character was such a cipher that I didn't need to know why he was that way or feel any compassion--he was just the inexorable force of evil--nothing to resist.

Whew--must have been good movies--I haven't watched them since they came out and I'm still charged up about them!

Nimble said...

I like hearing about your experience of the film.

Bee, I enjoyed watching Tommy Lee Jones every frame he was on the screen. I indulgently wanted to see that character kick some ass and restore some order.

AM, I did mean to mention the sound of NCFOM, it was wonderfully quiet most of the time. That at the cinematography (same guy) reminded me of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Then that hotel phone ringing was a surprisingly physical experience. There Will Be Blood didn't sound like it contained an entertainment experience for me.