Friday, October 3, 2008

Tension/Suspense and No Country For Old Men

Howdy folks,
We're talking today about SUSPENSE at the behest of our fellow scribe .

I didn't see it in the theater but I did catch it as soon as it hit cable. Actually I've seen it three times, so the analysis should be pretty thorough. We're going to go scene by scene chronologically and hopefully readers have seen it to be able to follow along.

To start we'd like to define the expectation that invokes suspense. We can direct you to UNK for his definition of suspense - recreated here for your convenience:


I'd like to extend that to venture into the territory of why such cinematic concepts are so intriguing:

Suspense is evocative of a simple thread existent in life. It extends to all living creatures as danger exists for us all. You can especially see it in the wild. For instance imagine a wooded setting; a small fawn hides beneath some bushes as mother deer returns from foraging. Suddenly the scent of a cougar wafts through their noses. Elsewhere a cub sees its mother stalking their prey.

This is classic suspense. On the one hand, if the mother cougar doesn't catch the deer the cub may starve. On the other hand if the mother deer cannot return to and care for the fawn it will starve. This shows that either of them could have a destructive outcome.

Now you may say I would be rooting for the deer, but you aren't the cub. We're lookign at it from the point of view of either side of the food chain. Both of these parties experience the same sense of what I call:

"Cognitive realization of a possible destructive outcome."

This is the essence of suspense and why we gravitate towards it.

Tommy Lee's VO tells the theme of the story "old-timers" vs. "new-generation."
We see Chigurh being loaded into a police car. Then we see him kill a police officer in the station. He simply slips the cuffs around, walks up behind and strangles him with the cuffs.Then we see him pull over a vehicle and brutally kill him with an air gun. Here the mystery of why he got arrested heightens the tension.

Moss' story begins with a barren landscape which immediately raises the hackles on your neck as you try to imagine the horrors that await. The next scene shows Josh Brolin peering through a rifle scope eyeing what may be his source of food. Now we jump to direct conflict that may prove to be destructive for him or the prey. If he misses they scatter, he may not get another chance. He hits it but not a killing shot so now he has to track it.

He begins his search across the barren plain. A blood trail. Things are looking up. He lines up the spots. Ahead he sees a limping dog. What? He heads towards it and at the top of a ridge he sees several vehicles and bodies around them. Tension is heightened. Suspense builds as he approaches cautiously. It builds even more as we see the bodies and bullet-riddled vehicles. More dead dogs. The mystery builds tension.

Suddenly he finds a live one. Checking the vehicle he spots drugs. A drug deal gone bad. Speaking Spanish, asking for water. He has none. Then realization. Where's the money? A guess and he's off, taking an Uzi with him. he walks, walks. Then next to a tree a body leaning. Bingo. But how long before the orchestrators send backup?

A large briefcase sits at the body. He opens it. A dream come true. Stacks of hundreds. Grab it and go. Take the chance. No one's around. Or are they? More tension. Thunder rolls as he make his way to his pickup.

Arriving home he stashes the Uzi, greets his wife. Later he awakes, thinking why not take him some water, see what I can see. Tension ratchets. We've seen the bodies. Arriving he sees the hombre is dead, but notices a truck has joined his on the ridge. Suspense as it comes toward him firing. No choice. Gotta run for it. What chance does he have? He runs and runs shots whizzing by. Finally, he's hit and tumbles to the ground. He gets up and dives into the river. Escape? No a dog is sent after him. He crawls from the water, desperately tries to dry the gun. Just in time the dog careens into him shot. He examines his buckshot wound and contemplates the events.

We jump to Chigur in a store. A friendly store keeper makes small talk. Bad idea. Tension rises when he asks how the weather is in Dallas. Chigur snaps back "what business where I'm from?" It goes downhill. Will he kill him? Demeaning questions follow. Then the fateful coin toss. Call it? Oh my god! Heartlessness awaits our hero. The heartlessness Bell spoke of minutes ago. Heads. You WIN!

We go back to Moss retrieving his weapon. Get out of town. They got my license number. His expectation raises the tension more. Nonchalant yet deadly serious.

Chigur meets mystery men. They go to deal site. He kills them quickly after getting the VIN off Moss' truck.

Bell gets horses, goes to site of Chigur's latest getaway car. His mellow nature, like the others', seems disarming, slightly scary. They locate the site, examine it. NO DRUGS!! Just some powder in the truck bed. They spotted Moss' truck.

Chigur arrives at Moss'. Grabs some milk to wait after searching a phone bill. He sits still almost mechanical. SCARY!

He appears at the office. The landlady is difficult yet stern. Will he kill her? She has no fear. Sorry. No information. He tries an intimidating look. She doesn't budge. Not worth it. He's gone.

Bell and deputy arrive at Moss'. Wait. I think we just missed out mystery man. Deputy raises tension with his realization of the threat to Moss.

Moss gets his wife off to Mom's and checks into a hotel. Out comes....a coin. COnnecting object of tension to object of help. STashes dough.

Chigur callign numbers on the phone bill. Cold. Direct. Tense.

Moss buying boots? Back in the cab. Nervous. Drive around the parking lot. Go to another motel.

Chigur driving towards Del Rio. Raises his gun over a small bridge. Oh my god! He fires at a crow. Misses. No reaction.

Bell told about autopsy. There's no bullet! We know why. DEA? Screw em. Go back out there? No way. I can't even eat.

Moss planning. Sawed off at the ready. Back to original motel. But a different room. Maybe next door. The walk to the room. Shoulders looked over. Get the money. Poles spilled.

Chigur in the car. A beep. A transmitter. In with the money. Oh my god! Narrowing down the rooms. He pulls into the clerk. I use maps too.

Moss making a grapple.

Chigur searching room.

Moss ready to retrieve money.

CHigur removes shoes. Readies large shotgun with silencer. Oh MY GOD!

Moss retrieving money.

Chigur walking in socks with gun and air cannister. REALLY OH MY GOD!! Balsts open the door, flicks lights. Kills one. Second from bathroom. TOO SLOW. Shots ring out.

Moss hears. HURRY!! HURRY!!

Chigur examines bathroom. One left. Unarmed. TALK! TOO LATE!! He removes is socks. Searches for money. Where? The vent. Out comes a coin. Scratches. Slide marks.

Moss in getaway car.

Large building. New player. Chigur's an animal. Find our money.

Moss in his new digs. Cautious. Still not realizing what others have. Perhaps too naturally brave. Settling in. Can't sleep. What if....? OH MY GOD!!!! Searching, searching. Dollar the bundle A TRANSMITTER. OH MY REALLY FUCKING GOD!!! Call the desk. No answer. UH OH!! Carefully check door. SHHHH! Get the gun. Turn out the light. Wait. Wait. UNBEARABLE. I'm brave. Shadow under the door. COCK the hammer. Shadow leaves hall lights go out. Suddenly the lock flies to his chest. He fires.
RUN!! Out the window. The chase is on. I caught one. Dark lonely street. What now?
A truck. Flag it down. Shots. bloods spray from driver's neck. OH MY GOD!!!! SLAM on gas. Get out of here. More shots. Duck down. Out of control. CRASH! RUN! HIDE! Chigur approaches slowly. A different LARGE GUN. Spotted in mirror. Brace yourself. NOW!! Chigur senses him and barely dives away. Hurry. Too late. Chigur is gone. His gun left.

Moss struggling to walk across border. Buys a jacket to cover his bloody clothes. Stashes the money over the fence. Strolls into Mexico. Wakes to serenade. I'm not dead but...

Chigur stakes out a PHARMACY? Cuts a shirt removes cotton balls. He's limping. Wasn't fast enough. Blood soaks through a pants hole. He rigs a gas tank. Wlaks into the pharmacy. Suddnely an explosion. PANIC!!! He calmly retrieves medicine. EVEN COLDER!!! He patches himself up. WHAT IS HE!

The Sheriff gets deeper. Dead men owned the cars. Still no excitement in his voice. Sheriff work. The bodies hanging off a flatbed. Everything's changed!!

Moss wakes to Wells and some flowers. He tells him his slight chances. STubborn. I'm no coward. Maybe you should be?

Bell meets with wife. He's strong. He takes on anybody. These guys are not from around here. He may be tough but shit happens.

Wells finds the money. HA! But Chigur awaits him at his hotel. He's going up the steps. Turns. There he is. Gun in hand. SHIT!!!! Begging. No response. Bargain. No way! A foregone conclusion. Defiance. Deafening moments. The phone rings. DEAD!! A slow meander to the phone. It's Moss. Discussion as blood runs. Your wife is next. OH MY GOD!! The agony. The cruel deal. More defiance. Now I hunt you!!!

Sheriff learns of more bodies. Lock cylinder knocked out. Who are these people? Horrors of the world.

Moss in his robe. Gotta cross sir. I'm legal. Need some clothes. Get the moeny. Wells won't be. Call the wife. ext phase. Take the money and run.

Chigur in the contact office. Gun rises. Guy takes one to the neck. An accountant remains. Should he die? We'll never know. EXCRUCIATING!!

Carla Jean and Mama on the run. Being followed. Carla Jean gives up. Help him Sheriff.

Chigur on the road. Car approaches. OH MY GOD!! That foregone conclusion. Questions. Need a jump. Can you get those chicken crates out? IT JUST NEVER STOPS!! Dry, terrifying.

Moss on patrol. Rifle slung. Small talk.

Bell aproachign motel. SHOTS RING OUT! OH MY GOD!! Too late. A truck speeds away. A trail of bodies. Moss lies inside the room.

Carla Jean. He's dead. I'm sorry.

Sad meeting of old-timers. This guy is unbelievable. No remorse. Deep thought. Winding down.

Let's investigate. Did they find the money? Door cylinder blown out. Our friend. Fear. Apprehension. The gun comes out. Door swings open. Empty. Moss' blood stepped over. All clear. Gotta sit.

Bell visits an old friend. Passes for small talk. The big news. I've seen too much. The tension needs to end. It drags on. Horrors of the world.

Carla Jean in grief. Returns home. Seated in grief. An open window. In the bedroom. Chigur. Cold stare, cold words. Immobile. "It's my code. I told him I would kill you." Bargaining. "Call it." "I ain't gonna call it." No shot. Outside he checks his boots. Pretty good sign. Bye Carla. THE HORRORS!!

Driving away. More tension. CRASH!! Plowed into. Other driver unconscious. Limps hurt to the sidewalk, bone protruding. Kids amazed. "Buy your shirt for a splint?" He just walks away.

Bell at home. Glad it's over. Strange dreams.

The end.

Wow, what a roller coaster. This took a little longer cause I wanted to do a scene by scene so I watched it while writing. I treied to narrow the wording to the points of interest. As you can see, throughout the movie the lack of excitement in the voices actually increased the tension. Chigur's cold demeanor was just chilling when thinking about the cougar. Fast, swift, deadly. No emotion.

Moss' bravado and wife's belief lent credence to the belief that maybe he can survive. Bell's calm yet rattled demeanor suggested otherwise as did the presence of Wells, who was in fearful awe of this "psychopath." Throughout, the antag was kept close. Near misses made the tension skyrocket every few minutes. Moss saw himself having to make change after change as things were obviously beyond him, but still we wouldn't want the drug dealer to win.

We will root for the mellow guy who just found some money. We want to see his wife take advantage of the money. We HOPE beyond hope, but the viciousness of Chigur raises the UNCERTAINTY. We are cognizant of the stakes and realize that there could very well be a destructive outcome. Destructive for Moss. Destructive for Bell. Destructive for Carla Jean. Destructive for Wells. Like the cougar we find it difficult to root for Chigur but we do admire and fear his ruthlessness and power.

Very few movies in recent memory did such a good job of ratcheting up the tension, but in a movie where death is the original stakes, you can only maintain tension and build suspense. It was an excellent film. Classic tension. Classic suspense. Classic dread.

No comments: