No Country for Old Men: Main Lines and Characters Analysis

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Sheriff Ed Tom Bell spends the duration of the film chasing shadows, always a step or two behind Llewelyn and Chigurh. He is constantly disillusioned by the world he is in as he moves from crime scene to crime scene, feeling more and more isolated from the times when ‘sheriffs never even wore a gun' that he looked back upon during his opening narration of the film. During the final scene of the film, having retired from police duty, Ed is pressed into describing two dreams he had, one of which is an allegory for the morality, or lack thereof present in the film. He talks about his father riding past him with “fire in a horn”. 

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This presumably is the light that his father will use to make “a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold”. Bell’s life as a sheriff and his tracking of the Chigurh and Llewelyn is represented by the snowy mountain pass he rides through on horseback in the dark of night in his dream. He feels he is carrying forward what he believes his father stood for, the time when guns were not even necessary for sheriffs to wear, in an attempt to escape the morality of the killer he has faced. Ed believes this will enable a return to the times of old he reminisces about, where morality was clear, and the good guys always caught the bad guys, much like the plot of a traditional Western.

 Yet, this dream he describes is not real, but simply what Ed desires to be true. He tells his wife “I knew that whenever I got there, he’d be there” referring to his father, showcasing his need for certainty that in the end there will be the fire he desires, but his dream is about something that never was and can never be. Bell started to realise this was the case in the scene prior when he converses with his uncle Ellis (Barry Corbin) and he says he feels ‘overmatched’ against the universe, which is undeniably true, Ellis also tells him “Can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you… that’s vanity”, referring to the old age that has hindered Ed from making his dream a reality. 

As Ryan Doom writes ‘American values only exist in old men’ and ‘the rest of society fails to exist to them’. Ed is one of the titular old men and his realisation that he is unable to stop these heinous crimes and that human morals are inherently corruptible reflects the statement in the title of the film, this is not a world for control, and thus this fictitious prophecy Sheriff Bell wishes to become true is shown to be impossible. The Coens demonstrate in No Country for Old Men the punishment they administer to characters who sacrifice their morals for criminal or monetary gains, like Llewyn and his theft of the two million dollars, whilst channelling their desire for a morally good world through the mentality of Sherriff Ed Tom Bell, even if they realise this dream was never and will likely never become a reality. 

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