If you'll permit me a bit of a diversion from the usual rambling about shit journalists and racist wingnuts who post things on messageboards, I just want to talk about films for a minute.
In a previous life, I used to review films. Not especially well, but I did. I know what it's like to sit through hour after hour of unadulterated turd; I know the sudden and exciting joy of actually finding you've been invited to a screening of a film that doesn't treat you like an absolute moron and doesn't dumb every single frame down so that some baccy-chewing midwestern hick will be able to whoop and holler at the explosions and tits.
No Country For Old Men is a film like that. Impressive, expansive, tantalising, shocking, it even dares to be unsatisfying, denying you the ending you secretly want in order to leave you with the same lack of fulfilment and emptiness as the narrator. Yes, this is a multi-layered film, so much going on, with some excellent performances and wonderful cinematography.
So it leaves me scratching my head and wondering why I couldn't actually enjoy it.
You have to jump through a couple of hoops if you're going to tell people you didn't like No Country For Old Men. The first one is to show that you 'got' it. OK, so I can do that: Tommy Lee Jones's character represents old America, the pioneer-settlers' values; he sees the idealised, good-hearted America of his father drifting away from him, turning into a completely different animal, personified by the Anton Chigurgh character, who can be whatever you want him to be - violence, brutalism, youth, modernism, war, Vietnam, capitalism - and when TLJ finds himself incapable of confronting or capturing Chigurgh, it makes him ponder his own existence. Is it really a country for old men? Or do his ideals belong in a different age? 'You've got to want to be part of it' he says in the opening monologue (I'm paraphrasing here), which ties in with the dreams he tells his wife about in the final sequence. His father gave him something which he lost - he lost the chance to be a good policeman, by failing to capture Chigurgh; he lost the chance to promote his values to a wider society (and he doesn't have children); he lost the money that was the MacGuffin in the story. In the second dream, his father is waiting for him, which is TLJ explaining he is accepting his failure and looking ahead to his own death; you can compare this to the scene where the beardy guy leaves Kelly McDonald and says of his dead mother "I'll tell her myself", knowing that by taking such a massive risk, he too is close to death.
So, I think I 'got it'.
The second hoop you have to jump through is to explain that, no, you wouldn't prefer to Watch Nutty Professor II: The Klumps instead. It is disappointing that people who get so angry about defending an intelligent film can show such a lack of intelligence and nuance when they talk about it. You are allowed to appreciate something while at the same time saying, well, you know what, it just didn't really do it for me. That's allowed.
Do I like the Coens? I love them. I've enjoyed almost all of the Coen films, including Intolerable Cruelty, often seen as a stinker - despite Catherine Zeta Jones drifting around on casters the whole time. It has a fantastically comic courtroom scene which I could watch over and over.
So why don't I like No Country for Old Men? There are a few things that I didn't enjoy. First, the off-screen deaths of two main characters. Yes, I know Gloucester dies off stage in King Lear; yes I know that scene marks the transition between us seeing the action through the beardy guy and focussing on TLJ - but still. I still wanted to see it for the emotional resonance. Also with the death of Kelly McDonald - I felt it was a cop-out of sorts. We know she's dead; we see Chigurgh checking for blood on his shoes - but it creates a kind of anti-hero, a spotless villain, a comic character of a kind. I felt that seeing him shoot her in the head, something utterly cruel and cold and barbaric, would have brought some meaning to his character, rather than me just imagining it and letting him off the hook. We're left with Chigurgh coolly dispatching Woody Harrelson and stumbling away from the car wreck; we don't see the real horror of his actions on others, hardly touch upon the grief suffered by the beardy guy's wife. For me, it just lacked the emotional touch I needed to feel a real connection to the events and to the film; it just felt cold.
I just left the cinema thinking, so what? So all that happened, so what? I just felt numb and detached from the whole thing, not able to feel sorrow for TLJ, or disappointment, or frustration, or anger. Just numb. I didn't want a Hollywood ending, I didn't want TLJ to shoot Chigurgh and save the day; I just wanted some depth, something to connect with. I didn't feel anything like that. It was such a shame, as I had been expecting a really great film.
All right then, so what did I like at the cinema this year? Well, I only treat myself to a few films a year, and I really wanted to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the movie version of Jean-Dominique Bauby's incredible book. I'd happened on a hardback copy of the book by chance in a bargain bin a few years ago, and I fell in love with it instantly. It was an amazing narrative, a wonderful journey through the mind, an incredible examination of what it is to be alive. I was hooked by this beautiful and tragic story of a man who was locked in by a stroke and couldn't get out, yet communicated his story, his life, his every thought, by blinking one eye.
The film didn't disappoint me either. Jean-Do's character comes across as cynical, unbowed, sarcastic - the last thing you have for him is sympathy, which is some achievement. But there are some master strokes, including some superb scenes in the bleak hospital where Jean-Do is incarcarated inside his own body, and other scenes composed entirely in his imagination. And there are two sparkling scenes with Max Von Sydow as Jean-Do's locked-in father, approaching his own death and his son's condition with a warmth, love and frankness. Magical.
So although No Country for Old Men won all the Oscars, there's only one film that I'll want to see again: a shame it won't be coming to a multiplex near anyone very soon, but the DVD will be well worth it.