Great Movie Openings will be an ongoing article which focuses on 1 film that know how to grab you from scene 1.
Today’s Scene is from: No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men is one of not only my favorite Coen Brother’s film but one of my favorite films period. To me, it’s about as perfect as you can get. From the sparse but nessacary dialogue to the always beautiful, stark, and breathtaking cinematography by Coen faithful Roger Deakins. Many people have issued complaints against the film due to the abrupt murder of what most thought was the main character of the film. A film that is full of violence was panned for not showing one more scene. But again, this character was not the focus of the film. Spoilers will follow if you have not yet seen the film.
No Country for Old Men has only one true protagonist and that is Tommy Lee Jones’s Sherriff Bell. I can understand how people thought it was Brolin’s as he has more screen time. But this film is the story of Sherriff Bell at the end of the day. He starts and ends the film with two brilliant monologues. I’m here to talk about the film’s opening so let’s get to it.
The opening shot is blackness followed close behind by the Jones’s narration. As he is talking we slowly see the sun rising over the plains. At first he is nostalgic about the way things used to be. The pride a man of the law took in his job. He speaks of how some of the men older than him never even wore a gun. He talks about how he likes to hear their stories. Stories of a different times and different people. Under his voice, the sky is brightening, the world is coming into view and it’s still beautiful. Then Bell breaks into a story about how he had to send a fourteen year old boy to the electric chair and how the boy was not remorseful of what he had done. He wanted to murder and knew he’d do it again. Bell says that he never could understand that.
By this time the sun is up and the landscape is no longer beautiful. It’s vast. It’s barren. It’s practically devoid of anything. This mirrors the speech of Bell. What once was beautiful and special holds nothing more for him. It’s the true No Country for an Old Man. A man who has seen too much and gotten to the point in his life where things of the new make no sense and nothing has meaning anymore. It’s a wasteland and he knows and through-out the movie truly realizes that the world has moved on past him. And he is unable to stop or prevent the evil anymore. His time is done.
Toward the end of his speech, he speaks of how he knows you put your life on the line in his job. However, he says even he, now, is weary of putting himself in the middle of something he doesn’t understand. Right at this point we get our first look at the killer Anton Chigurh. At first he’s seen from the back as he’s being loaded into a cop car. The officer places Chigurh’s weapon of choice, a cattle gun, in the passenger seat and gets in. You only see Chigurh’s profile in blackness and another symbol of the nothingness of the times that Bell was speaking of. From here the scene goes to the station where Chigurh murders the officer in cold blood, by strangling him to death. In Chigurh’s eyes are nothing but pure elation and madness.
This is exactly the situation that Bell says he doesn’t want to put himself into, although he does. Throughout the film he is always one step behind Chigurh and Moss. He sees the devastation and severity of what’s going on. It’s entirely clear if he’s unable to catch up or if he’s holding himself back not wanting to get caught up in the plight of the young.
No Country for Old Men is an absolute masterpiece in my opinion. It’s a film that has so much under the surface I could discuss it for hours on end. It is definitely a film that begs repeat viewings, like most Coen films. It is definitely worth your time and it has what I would consider a Great Movie Opening.
Check out the Opening Scene Below
Check back soon for the next installment