The conventional wisdom regarding No Country for Old Men is that it represents a return to greatness for the Coen brothers, a return to the glory of Miller’s Crossing and Fargo. Maybe that’s true, but when I watched it, I didn’t see their fingerprints. I saw Cormac McCarthy’s.
I was introduced to McCarthy’s work during a seminar I took spring term of my senior year of college. I was miserably sick at the time (either a relatively mild case of shingles or a relatively bad case of mono, depending on which doctor you believe—it infuriates me that I don’t have a label to ascribe to two of the worst months of my life), so I stumbled through Child of God and Suttree and Blood Meridian in a weary, queasy fog—an all too appropriate state for those books, which, despite their lyricism, are so nightmarishly grim that they’ll leave you dazed if you aren’t already. Honestly, I don’t consider myself a particularly idealistic person (and god knows I’ve become angrier and more paranoid in the past few years), but if I shared the shockingly cynical, pessimistic worldview McCarthy’s work seems to reflect, I’d end my life.
In any case, watching No Country for Old Men was like reading Blood Meridian. I appreciated its artistry and even enjoyed parts of it in a detachedly intellectual sort of way, but I spent much of the time desperate for it to be over.