No Country for Old Men — Don’t Underestimate the Audience

No Country for Old Men — Don’t Underestimate the Audience

Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. No Country for Old Men has become a modern
classic, filled with great characters, riveting sequences, and iconic moments. “Call it.” But what I love most about the film is how
it forces us to participate in the storytelling. In his TED talk from 2012 filmmaker Andrew Stanton describes what he calls “the unifying theory of two plus two.” “Good storytelling never gives you four, it gives you two plus two. If you construct your story correctly it compels
the audience to conclude the answer is four. “Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four. Give them two plus two. It’s the invisible application that holds our attention to story.” No Country for Old Men is full of this technique
in action, from how it establishes character details, to how it conveys its theme. So today, I want to explore how a character
can be revealed not just by what they choose to do, but how they do it… To look at ways of moving the plot forward while compelling the audience to fill in the
gaps… And examine how dramatically breaking from
storytelling convention can create an experience that is challenging,
surprising, and meaningful. Let’s take a look at No Country For Old
Men. I’ve spoken before about how important it
is for characters to make choices, quoting Robert McKee’s Story when he says: “TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices
a human being makes under pressure.” But part of what gives a story texture are the specific details of the people who inhabit it. These details are aspects of characterization. Returning to McKee: “Characterization is the sum of all the
observable qualities, a combination that makes the character unique: physical appearance coupled with mannerisms, style of speech and gesture, sexuality, age,
IQ, occupation, personality, attitudes, values, where he lives, how he lives.” No Country for Old Men has three distinct
central characters, and our understanding of who they are comes
not only from what they choose to do, but by how they choose to do it. When the protagonist, Llewelyn Moss, stumbles
upon a drug deal gone wrong, he realizes the money must be with the last
man standing… “Último hombre, last man standing. There must’ve been one. Where’d he go?” …so he chooses to track him down. This choice reveals true character: Llewelyn is someone who will to risk his life
for money. But how Llewelyn tracks down the money also
reveals a lot about his personality. Moss stops to look out at a new prospect. Flatland, no cover. He raises the binoculars. “If you stopped… to watch your backtrack… you’re gonna shoot my dumb ass.” He doesn’t see anything. He lowers the glass, thinking. He raises the glass again. “…But. If you stopped… you stopped in shade.” He sets off. Moss is calm and methodical, and just by watching his behavior in this
sequence, we can conclude that he is no stranger to
life or death situations… something confirmed later in dialogue. “Were you in Nam?” “Yeah. I was in Nam.” Similarly, when we meet the antagonist, Anton
Chigurh, we immediately see him make choices that reveal
his true character. He chokes the deputy in the police station. Chigurh has no problem taking human life
in order to achieve his goals… but it’s how he kills people that makes
him so frightening. The first murder we see is careful, violent,
and powerful… and the second is polite and clean. Chigurh reaches up to the man’s forehead with
the end of the tube connected to the air tank. “Would you hold still please, sir.” A hard pneumatic sound. His behavior conveys his apathetic attitude
toward murder, and his disturbing efficacy suggests a long
history of taking life. We don’t need any backstory to understand
how much of a threat he is. The third central character is Sheriff Bell, whose monologue opens the film. “The crime you see now, it’s hard to even
take its measure. I don’t want to push my chips forward
and go out and meet something I don’t understand.” While Sheriff Bell does choose to go after
the criminal, the way he does it demonstrates his apprehension. “We goin’ in?” “Gun out and up.” Wendell unholsters his gun but hesitates. “What about yours?” “I’m hidin’ behind you.” In particular, Bell’s dialogue is peppered
with dry wit that masks this fear. “That DEA agent called again. You
don’t want to talk to him?” “I’m goin’ to try and keep from it as
much as I can.” “He’s goin’ back out there and he
wanted to know if you wanted to go with him.” “Well that’s cordial of him.” Allowing the audience to glean this information
about the characters through behavior is more engaging than simply relying on dialogue to describe them. In this way, it’s a variation of Andrew
Stanton’s two plus two theory— showing us the details of how the characters
pursue their goals and letting us determine what it says about them. But No Country for Old Men doesn’t just
use this technique for establishing character, it also uses two plus two to reveal plot. There are several moments in No Country for
Old Men when the film refuses to acknowledge a plot event directly, and instead relies on the audience to put
the pieces together and deduce what has happened. One example is when Moss—now on the run—first
leaves his motel room. Moss pulls back one curtain to look out at
the lot. Nothing there disturbs him. He closes the curtains, crossing one over
the other. At first, this seems like he is simply checking
for danger and making sure no one can see into his room. But when he returns later, the significance of this moment becomes more
clear. The cab rolls slowly up the lot. His pivoting point-of-view of his room. The window shows a part between the curtains. “Keep going. Don’t stop.” If we’re paying attention, we can conclude that someone has been in his
room, without any lines of dialogue to directly
explain it. “Take me to another motel.” The gap in time between these two moments
is only two pages of screenplay, but another example of the two plus two technique
plays out across the entire span of the film. Before Chigurh bursts into Moss’s motel
room, he removes his boots. Initially, this simply seems like a way for
Chigurh to approach the room silently. But later, when Chigurh kills the man sent
to stop him, Carson Wells, we see that there is more to this. Chigurh cocks his head, noticing something
on the floor. He adjusts to sit back and raise his boots
onto the bed. On the floor where his feet were, blood is
pooling out from Wells’s chair. Chigurh is concerned with the cleanliness
of his boots. So toward the end of the film, when he has come to kill Carla Jean and we’re
unsure what her fate will be… “You don’t have to do this.” …rather than providing the answer with yet
another grizzly murder scene, the screenplay simply cuts to: Exterior, house. The front door swings open and Chigurh emerges. He pauses with one hand on the jamb and looks
at the sole of each boot in turn. We’re left to put two and two together. If we know that he cares about his boots being
clean, and he’s checking to make sure there is
no blood on them, then we understand what happened to Carla
Jean. What is particularly powerful about this technique
in this instance is that it changes how her death affects us emotionally. Her murder doesn’t happen within the distant
boundaries of the movie screen, it happens in our imagination. And meaning is always more powerful when it
can be synthesized in the mind of the viewer instead of spoon fed through on-the-nose dialogue, which is why one of the most remarkable aspects
of No Country for Old Men is how it lets the audience synthesize the moral of the story. From a structural standpoint, the film seems to follow the conventional
three-act structure I outlined in my video on The Avengers: There’s an inciting incident… …a first plot point… …a break into act two… …and a midpoint that alters the momentum
of the story. And as the film heads toward the end of the
second act, everything seems to be building to the ending
that we’ve come to expect. As Ethan Coen said: “The convention is ingrained that the good
guy is going to meet the bad guy and they’re going to confront each other. Most stories end with a showdown between the
protagonist and the antagonist, and for most of No Country for Old Men, that seems like a reasonable expectation for the audience to have. But instead, every convention is thrown out
the window as Llewellyn Moss, our protagonist, is killed offscreen… and not even by the film’s main antagonist. This abrupt turn is one of the puzzle pieces
we’re given to synthesize the moral of the story. The other puzzle piece is the stated theme
of the film, and while Moss is the protagonist of the story, the theme is explored through Sheriff Bell— the only central character to actually change
over the course of the narrative. In his opening monologue, Bell talks about the old days, when he feels that life was simpler and made
sense. “Some of the old-time sheriffs never even
wore a gun.” But now, he can’t comprehend the senseless
violence of contemporary crime. “Can’t help but wonder how they would’ve operated these times.” During the first two acts of the film, the plot is simple and follows convention
in a way that makes sense. But when Moss is killed before we’ve even
gotten to the third act, it makes us uncomfortable. This is not how stories are supposed to go. So in a way, killing the protagonist suddenly
and off-screen puts us in the same headspace as Sheriff Bell— unsure of what to make of this senseless violence. The third act of the film then becomes about following Bell as he continues to wrestle with the theme— ultimately choosing to end his career… “Loretta tells me you’re quittin’.” “I feel overmatched.” …and realizing that fear of changing culture
certainly isn’t something he invented. “What you got ain’t nothin’ new… This country’s hard on people. Ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” So instead of a shootout with the antagonist, the film quietly ends with Bell describing
a dream of what he perceives as a simpler time, concluding with: “…and then I woke up.” In this way, Bell accepts his fate. The world is changing and his time is nearly
up— and we’re left to decide what the greater
meaning is in this story of the Sheriff realizing that this is no country for old men. As I’ve said many times before, I appreciate films that respect the audience. No Country for Old Men is one of the greatest
in that regard. It relies on our knowledge of film language, allowing us to connect the dots and inviting us to participate in the storytelling by doing so. The surprising and unsatisfying death of the protagonist challenges our notions of how a story is supposed to play out. It is certainly not movie-watching on easy
mode. But that is exactly why it stands as one of
the best examples of how to consciously depart from storytelling convention in a way that enhances the story’s meaning… Of how to create a textured world with simple,
but rich characters… And how to design a story that is more than
simply the sum of its parts. No Country for Old Men was the first film
edited with a completely digital workflow on a Mac to win Best Picture at the Academy
Awards. It was edited by the Coen brothers on the
old version of Final Cut Pro, and in 2013 they switched to using Adobe Premiere
Pro for their films— the same software I use to edit these videos. If you want to learn the ins and outs of professional
video editing software, I suggest beginning with some of the great
classes available on Skillshare. Skillshare is an online learning community
with over 20,000 classes in design, filmmaking, technology and more. Premium Membership gives you unlimited access
to high quality classes, such as Jordy Vandeput’s class: “Video Editing with Adobe Premiere Pro 2018
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free by clicking on the link the description below, or heading to So head over to Skillshare to start learning
today. Thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this video. Hey guys, hope you enjoyed the video. There will be a another new video next week! So if you want to make sure you don’t miss it, click on the bell icon to enable notifications for the channel. Thank you as always to my patrons on Pateron and my supporters here on YouTube for making this channel possible. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next

100 thoughts on “No Country for Old Men — Don’t Underestimate the Audience

  1. Without the brilliant performance of Shugurr, it would have been just another stern character portrayal by Tommy Lee Jones and a much less effective film.

  2. Thanks for a great analysis! There are so many levels to this film, your video could have been 2 hours long, but a short snappy summary is easier to swallow and comment on.

    I thought about the fates of Anton and Ed Tom for ages before concluding that Anton was nothing more or less than a curse upon the earth, wandering alone, killing and corrupting as he goes. Ed Tom is a thoroughly decent man who is deeply troubled and haunted, but he has a loving wife to help him cope with his demons. He doesn't deserves to be alone, unlike Anton who richly does deserve to never know true love and inner peace.

    Anton offers the two boys a unprompted bribe at the scene of the car crash when they were simply doing the natural thing in helping a wounded man in front of them. The bribe corrupts their innocence. Anton's so-called moral code which leads to Carla Jean's death is total bulls..t. He simply uses it to rationalise his psychopathic pleasure in every murder he commits. By insisting he had no choice in killing her because he promised Llewelyn he would only shows he is equivalent to God in his own mind. He was home free with the money and Llewelyn was dead, so he could have left Carla Jean alone. He may be hard is steel but he is is also as brittle as thin glass, because deviating from his personal God complex even to spare a life would cause him to start doubting and second guessing himself.

    The Cohens make a superb choice in leaving Carla Jean's sickening and totally unneçessary execution off-screen. Instead the last we see of her is her defiant courage in refusing Anton's amoral coin toss, totally rejecting his attempt to rationalise away her murder by pretending his game gave him some sort of out when he invaded her home armed to kill her in cold blood.

  3. Hitchcock would do similar things. In his final movie, "Frenzy," during the film several quirks of the killer are established. One is what he says just before committing a murder. In this scene, he utters the words, the door is closed to a second floor apartment, and then the camera seamlessly backs down the zig-zag staircase, out the front door and across the street. And, without seeing it, you know what has taken place above the noisy street.

  4. One of the reason I’ve returned to this movie so often. The understated menace of Anton coupled with the slow developing plot totally driven by character’s behavior. Definitely my favorite Coen film.

  5. there is so much more small plot points in the scenes that tell whats going on with the characters and what makes the next scene happen.
    fucking love it, like every single shot and scene has meaning.

  6. WHAT!?! So you're telling me that tattooing "Damaged" onto the head of psycho villain to let the audience know that he is a psycho villain isn't good writing!?! Well, I just learned something new today.

  7. Moss was also handy with a hunting rifle which is common, but his ability to pick up a submachine gun and check the magazine for rounds left, leaves you thinking his firearms background is deeper than just hunting.

  8. Seriously, why do all you want to s quote McKee's book? He has a long tongue to simple understanding. Is that what you need? Someone to quietly wish you off to sleep with dreams of applauding fart noises?

  9. The writers of Game of Thrones could have taken some of this advice lol. You don't have to explicitly tell the audience things. They aren't stupid (mostly)

  10. To me the protagonist is the Sheriff, not Llewellyn, I don't understand why people keep saying he's the protagonist or the hero, yes we see (read about) his story but is not about him. It's about the old man coming to the realization that he's gotten old and doesn't know how to deal with it.
    Anyway, I think Chigurh was hiding in the room to the right where they found Moss, because it looked like the lock was punched in but the Sheriff didn't notice. 2+2.

  11. To me the protagonist is the Sheriff, not Llewellyn, I don't understand why people keep saying he's the protagonist or the hero, yes we see (read about) his story but is not about him. It's about the old man coming to the realization that he's gotten old and doesn't know how to deal with it.
    Anyway, I think Chigurh was hiding in the room to the right where they found Moss, because it looked like the lock was punched in but the Sheriff didn't notice. 2+2.

  12. While it's a great movie I feel like Cormac Mcarthy deserves a lot of credit. Not only for the story he created, but his writing style translates into film extremely well.

  13. Voices that you just know wouldn't be able to make even a coherent cartoon to save their lives. And now all these image makers are going to listen to the analysis and copy.

  14. What gets me is Moss's death is set up through out the story.
    First he goes back to the dying Mexican and is reveald as the man who has the money.
    The Mexicans through out the film keep track of him first in the hotel and later in El Paso where Carla Jean's mom tells them were Moss is.
    Also Moss and Chigurh already have their big fight in Eagle Pass after Moss discovered the tracking device. It showed that the two are pretty evenly matched. The only thing that really separates them is that Moss has a wife he cares about.

  15. Thanks tou your video, I realized how amazing and informative is it to experience the story through watching the film than reading/hearing the script (and vice versa). Beauiful.

  16. I think one of the main things I like about Coen Bros movies is satire, and parodies of real people and situations. Examples include "Blood Simple," "Barton Fink," "The Big Lebowski," "A Serious Man," and "Fargo."
    "No Country" seems to totally lacking in those qualities, along with an over-reliance on graphic representations of gore. Chigurgh is a totally impossible human being, if he is supposed to be human at all.
    My recommendation: Don't waste your time on "No Country," and check out "Blood Simple" instead. Unless they're supposed to be funny, 'monster-movies' (i.e. "soul-less evil" and such) are a waste of time.

  17. 1st timer to this channel. There won't be a 2nd time. Too much talk of analysis without much substance. And you jump around too much (e.g., analysis of character after character without much depth nor time per character) to be helpful to novice filmmakers and screenwriters such as myself.

  18. i would like to add one point also:
    When sheriff is returning to the crime scene in El paso-
    Pls note when Sheriff is moving towards the bathroom, the reflection of the "crime scene tape" on the wall is clear. Once he is out of the bathroom, that reflection disappears which clearly suggests that the tape has been broken, thereby suggesting that Chigurh was in and left during the "extra" time that Bell gave him to escape while checking the bathroom.

    I believe Bell saw his reflection in the broken lock. In fact i would go a step ahead and say that Chigurh also saw Bell and knew that he had seen him. But Bell "turned a blind eye" in a conspicuous way so that Chigurh knows that Bell has ignored him deliberately..which is one of the main theme of the story where in the author is suggesting that evil is thriving due to the good not confronting it.

    Bell did say earlier that he does not like to meet something he does not understand.

    A beautiful movie…for all ages.

    Pls let me know what you think about my view. Its a movie that can be discussed a lot.

  19. I would like to read the book, although I know it’s based of the original screenplay. Which is why it has me wondering, if it would express even more depth in details even though the movie already acquires much. Nonetheless, I would read it either way……. seeing as though it’s a unique film on its own.

  20. Movie was excellent! Your breakdown and explanation only made me appreciate the movie more! Your work here is greatly appreciated. Great expertise. Thank you

  21. i think that the idea of breaking his heart was geniusely satanic , its because he have nothing in his heart that bring any women to break his heart that he never expected that ( specially the existence of sugur and the team behind the scene…)+ he never think that such a women (paris bitch) exist (she's a real satan) she can kill directly like sugur with guns & knifes…

  22. After watching this video and watching the film for a second and third time, I now know why this is a brilliant film. And now its my favourite film.

  23. Wackest movie ever…. doesn’t explain anything I’ve watched it twice and I still don’t have a clue what the fuck happened

  24. Three things irritated me about this movie. The first two being the old women side characters and how obnoxious their dialogue was, that might count as one thing, but the other thing is when Chigur blows up the car by lighting the gas tank on fire you can hear car alarms going off. I’m pretty sure there were no car alarms in the early 1970s.

  25. Sure gets easier when you have a Cormac McCarthy masterpiece to work with…we’re going to run out of classic novels and comic books people…

  26. Moss showed his compromised heart when he returned (too late) to bring relief to the dying criminal. The fact is "No one can serve two masters…God and mammon." Moss' REAL master dealt out the punishment for his responding to his conscience. The entire story turned at that point.

  27. At least this video made me feel barbaric for not liking this film very much. I guess I like my expectations to be satisfied in an old fashioned and boring way.

  28. It's still not believable that it took him that long to locate the gps tracker in the money. It's just not realistic.

  29. Regardless of everything stated in the video, I still hated the movie because of the decision to kill the protagonist off screen. I can respect them for wanting to be unconventional, but it ultimately made the movie unsatisfying.

  30. No Country For Old Men is my favorite Coen brother's film and is in my top five favorite films of all time. It's a film with so much to take in, it throws all conventional storytelling tropes out the window and instead tells an enthralling psychological character study. Great Vid.

  31. Moss takes advantage of found money, just like Janet Leigh in Psycho, and is killed off sooner than expected. Moss could have called the DEA and left. No human sin and no story and no movie.

  32. The Black Dog you see staggering away from the drug deal gone wrong at the beginning of the film foreshadows the ending where Anton who also is in black is staggering away.

  33. One of the first things I did in GTA V was purchase a suppressed shotgun so that I could Anton Chigurgh myself around the desert towns, flipping coins vs. NPC shopkeeps.
    His character is so hard-hitting, so memorable, so scary, and yet it's somehow also inspiring.

  34. I won't make comments to make myself seem intelligent enough to fully comprehend the thought behing Great Art. I just know it when I see it & Thank God for those who bestow it upon us !

  35. The art-house abrupt ending! How many times do the audience have to be reminded that life does not have neat conclusions? Michael Haneke a repeat offender.

  36. Within the past year I saw this movie for the first time. Brilliant film. But it was one of those movies that while I enjoyed, I ended up completely disagreeing with the message or point of view of the film. Still, it was one hell of a movie and the best example of a dramatic Anti-plot film that I can think of. It was so good I've watched pieces of it since then. On second thought–perhaps this is more Mini-plot than anti-plot, because it does depend on standard conventions, it doesn't quite thumb its nose at them all. (I'm depending upon my reading of McKee here too–these are the terms he uses in his book, Story, same one mentioned here in the beginning.)

  37. The liberalism of the Cohen Brothers eeked itself out at the and, by having the Sheriffs old friend say, This country is hard on people.
    We all know when compared to most people in the world, it is one of the easiest.

  38. It is have a heart … not he art … not he ar t. and have a heart doesn’t implies had a chest .. che s t … algorithm update … marcado

  39. Great movie. I noticed (though I didn’t as far a s calling it the 2+2 thing) that respect for the audience throughout the movie. In fact, I THOUGHT I had deduced that moss deduced the last man standing would be at the tree, or else watching for any one trailing him, so I was a little shocked to see in the clip here that Mosses thought process WAS given to us, and I hadn’t deduced it only been impressed with the logic of it.

    That said, the ONLY flaw for me in the movie was Moss carrying around the same suitcase the money was found in, and not thinking about the good possibility of a transponder in there. With such a savvy person as Moss, it is unbelievable to me that he wouldn’t explore the contents completely, and suspect tracking devices. How did he even know if it was all that much money? Could have been layers of real money with smaller demoninations or even newspaper clippings under there.
    And a tracking device would come to ,mind for such a person as he is depicted. He’s hiding it in the ductwork but never checked, that part falls apart for me.

  40. It didn't make sense to me. You come across all the money from a drug deal gone wrong.You get home and then you decide to go back because one guy ,who's probably dead now anyway, ask you for water. Knowing that there will be some people coming to look for that money. Who woudl do that . ….no one , that's who

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