No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel No Country for Old Men is a unique reworking of the Western genre of American literature. McCarthy sets the story in the 1980s, long after the heyday of the Wild West. Instead of the typical Western "lawman" character, McCarthy introduces a sheriff who has become disillusioned about his job due to the complications of a modernizing world. McCarthy's protagonist, Llewelyn Moss, discovers a large sum of money left over after a drug deal goes wrong and spends the majority of the novel evading the consequences of claiming it for himself.

The consequences come in the form of McCarthy's chief antagonist, Anton Chigurh, a merciless and remorseless killer tasked with hunting down Moss and reclaiming the money. Chigurh is an extremely memorable character, notable for his apathetic attitude toward killing, as well as his terrifying gift for violence. No Country for Old Men is both a gripping tale in the style of old Westerns as well as a profound meditation on the ways in which modernity has overshadowed the tone of such classic stories.

1. The title No Country for Old Men comes from a famous poem by W.B. Yeats.

"No Country for Old Men" is the first line from W.B. Yeats's 1928 poem "Sailing to Byzantium," which laments the inevitabilities of aging and discusses the need to remain, both mentally and spiritually, a person independent of the mortal body. McCarthy's use of the line as his title foreshadows his vision of the "dying" American West, as McCarthy sets his story during the 1980s, long after the decline of the untamed, lawless West of the 19th century. Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium" reads:

That is no country for old men. The young/In one another's arms, birds in the trees/hose dying generations—at their song/The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas

2. The 2007 film version of No Country for Old Men used expensive fake blood—to avoid ants.

Much like the novel, the 2007 film adaptation features a great deal of violence, and therefore a large amount of fake blood was needed for the production. The makeup department used an expensive concoction costing $800 per gallon—which the producers soon realized was a notable unforeseen expense. Typical fake blood for movie sets is made with sugar, which attracts ants and other insects, but the more expensive brand is not. Since so many scenes of violence in No Country for Old Men had to be filmed outdoors, the pricey fake blood was a necessity.

3. McCarthy avoids book signings, tours, and promotional blurbs.

While McCarthy has given several interviews, the author tends to avoid public discussions whenever possible. Before granting Vanity Fair an interview following the publication of No Country for Old Men in 2005, he hadn't accepted a request for one since 1992. McCarthy also doesn't go on book tours or hold signings for new releases, and he refuses to write endorsements or promotional blurbs for other authors.

4. No Country for Old Men has been described as a "post-Western."

Novels and films set in the American Wild West have been so popular that they're classified as their own genre: the Western. No Country for Old Men includes many staples of traditional Westerns, such as shootouts, barren landscapes, and a hardened sheriff figure. However, critics consider the novel to be a "post-Western," because it satirizes the effect modernity has had on both the region and the genre.

Instead of focusing on "Cowboys and Indians," the novel's source of conflict is the illegal drug trade. Sheriff Bell, in particular, is shown as being perplexed by the nuances of keeping the peace in the modern era, reflecting on how his job was easier and made more sense in decades past. Even the title No Country for Old Men hints at the fact that the era of Westerns has come to an end.

5. Sheriff Bell's role is notably different in the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men.

Although the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men wasn't criticized for deviation from its source material to a great extent, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell's role in the film is much less prominent than in the novel. While the film features him primarily as the stereotypical lawman figure, the novel provides a full backstory for the sheriff that never made it onscreen. In addition McCarthy begins each chapter of the novel with narration by the sheriff. While the film does begin with a monologue from Bell, much of the information he narrates in the novel is presented in other forms.

6. No Country for Old Men features ruminations about free will.

McCarthy included a philosophical meditation on the nature of free will, or lack thereof, in No Country for Old Men. He uses the villainous and terrifying Anton Chigurh to illustrate this concept, as the character often flips a coin to determine whether to kill someone. At one point, when he asks a clerk to call his coin flip and is asked why, he responds by saying, "How would that change anything?" Chigurh's ambivalence toward murder allows him to leave such decisions up to fate, essentially undermining his own free will. This is a notable contrast to the theme of individualism and control over one's own destiny that is inherent to many classic Westerns.

7. A wrestler modeled his persona on a character in No Country for Old Men.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler Chris Jericho explained in an interview that he modeled his wrestling persona on Chigurh, the murderous antagonist of No Country for Old Men. Although wrestlers aren't usually known for their composed, poised façades, Jericho noted that this was exactly what he admired about the character. He explained:

I liked how he was so calm, cool and collected even though he was a complete psycho. I thought: these are the perfect elements and traits for a great wrestling character!

8. McCarthy regularly quotes writer Flannery O'Connor when asked about his career choice.

Although rarely interviewed, McCarthy is often asked by publications and fans alike why he chose to become an author. He provides the same response to this question each time, using a simple and direct quotation from famous author Flannery O'Connor: "Because I am good at it."

9. The 2007 film adaptation of No Country for Old Men won four Academy Awards.

The 2007 film version of No Country for Old Men received high praise at the Academy Awards. The film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Achievement in Directing, and Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay. Javier Bardem also won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his chilling portrayal of the murderous Anton Chigurh.

10. Chigurh's captive bolt pistol was mainly used to break locks rather than commit murders.

Anton Chigurh is recognizable for his seemingly impractical "cattle gun," which he uses as one of many weapons throughout the novel. However, while the weapon has become an icon of No Country for Old Men, Chigurh only kills one person with the gun that, according to The Atlantic, has a range of "about five inches." The true purpose of the cattle gun throughout the novel and film adaptation is to break locks—a function that Chigurh takes advantage of several times.

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