Breathing like Cormac
Yesterday I continued with my western viewing with No Country For Old Men (2007). This is a favorite of mine, it's a bit of a perfect confluence of creative minds and it has a feeling of a movie that is fully evolved without missing parts and without handing the viewer everything.
I've read just two Cormac McCarthy books, Blood Meridian and The Road, and I found those books to be opposites in the choices of words. They're opposites in the settings, one is a western where savagery infects the "taming" of the west, and the other is post apocalyptic where a man and his son struggling for normalcy as they observe humanity collapsing (humanity that is hidden on the edges of the story).
These stories also read in drastically different ways. Blood Meridian is a dense read that is so thick with words that each chapter is headed with an outline of the plot of the chapter to read before and after the chapter to make sense of what is going on. The only other thing I have read that was on the same level of cranial strain necessary to get through a read was The Sound and the Fury that I read in college. Both give a sense that the wording is amazing but there is a lot of problem solving necessary to understand the story. The Road, however, is written in such a minimal way that there is no punctuation yet it's not hard to figure out who is talking in dialogue and it is easy to get through and understand the story. The commonality between these books and this movie based on his work is that there is a feeling that underlies the words. There is a signature of the author and breathing space and brutality.
The Coen Brothers
This isn't necessarily typical of Coen Brothers movies because there isn't as much of a sense of humor to the movie, but that humor is hidden in the movie in visual jokes and funny reactions of characters. The Josh Brolin character jokes with his wife and makes comments to the money.
The most stunning thing to me in this movie is the use of the landscape. I had a memory that the movie opened on the scene of Brolin hunting the deer on the plain. In fact it opens on a series of scenes of the villain and a Tommy Lee Jones voice over before we get to the hunting scene. I was stunned by the hunting scene when I first saw it, I had never seen a dialogue free sequence like that before. The character, through the shadows of passing clouds over the plain, follows a wounded deer from blood splatter to the aftermath of a cartel shootout, then finds a bag with money in it, takes it under a tree to ponder its fate before going home and playing out a series of creative problem solving.
There is a lot in this movie that doesn't usse dialogue and that is the brilliance of the directing. The main actors never share the frame and the characters aren't protected by traditional storytelling that keeps them alive and invested in the conflict until the end of the story. Instead, the hero is killed too soon, the villain is wounded but walks off into the sunset, and the adjudicator (the sheriff) never decides the winner of the money, but decides whether it matters in the grand sense of life if it matters as the movie ends in a sleepy monologue.
Deakins is the cinematographer of this movie and almost all of the Coen Brothers movies. He has also worked as cinematographer for Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Hurricane, Jarhead, Skyfall, Sicario, The Shawshank Redemption, Kundun, was a consultant on WALL-E and many many other films. It seems there are a few cinematographers out there that give a signature of beauty much like the signature McCarthy gives to his words that gives a weight to his writing.
Sunday I was watching some youtube videos about film and one of the videos was the Top 10 Most Beautiful Movies Ever. Jarhead and Skyfall were both references in the video (I don't think either were placed in the top 10) and I would argue that No Country and Sicario are two of my favorite films to look at.
What is fun is that it appears one of Deakins's next films will be a Blade Runner sequel. I am not one of the people who finds Blade Runner to be a favorite sci-fi film, but there are bits to it I like. I am mostly turned off by the 1980's haziness from the copy that I saw and the lack of light that was the trend at the time, but I loved reading Ubik, another Philip K. Dick story, and I like seeing his properties make it to screen.