No Country for Old Men (2007) Ending Explained – A nihilistic look at the evil of man

No Country For Old Men Plot Summary

No Country for Old Men, on its surface, is about a man who comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong in the middle of the Texas plains. Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, a man who discovers the crime scene and the money that is left behind. But what comes next is a stone-cold killer who is out to look for the bag of cash, Anton Chigurh. The two have a cat and mouse game across the run-time, with Sheriff Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, bringing up the rear as he trails the path of violence left in the wake of Chigurh. 

Underneath the surface, there is a deeper meaning to the film. It’s a dark tale of the changing of generations, mainly through soon-to-be retired lawman Ed Tom Bell (Lee Jones). He’s not understanding the new generation that takes his place, with its new codes and atrocious acts of violence.

This is a theme that never comes off like a grouchy old man and his disagreement with the world he will soon be leaving behind. Instead, it plays out like more of a morality tale that loads itself up with dread. As one of the most significant lines of the film states, “You can’t stop what’s coming?”

What are the metaphors of No Country For Old Men?

The metaphors for No Country for Old Men can be found in its three lead characters. Let’s start with Josh Brolin’s performance as Llewelyn Moss. A blue-collar, working man who lives in a mobile home park. A Vietnam vet who, through his stubbornness, always wants to help. When he finds the bag of cash and thinks he can get a clean getaway with blood money, we see what he truly represents come to life. Moss is swayed by money, and he symbolizes what fortune does to men’s souls to the point that they are willing to go through physical pain and near-death experiences to achieve it.

Chigurh meanwhile, symbolizes the moral code of death and the dark side of humanity. His emotionless prescience feels like the grim reaper, but what he actually is as a man is the embodiment of ‘kill or be killed’. And then there is Bell, who is a good man and an aging sheriff, but he never fully catches up to Moss and Chigurh’s trail of violence. He is always a step behind them. Bell is a symbol of the good man who is still dissatisfied, a man who has felt in his heart that he has done what is right, and yet things continue to get worse and worse.

What happens between Moss and Chigurh?

There are sections of No Country for Old Men that are devoted to the shootouts between Chigurh and Moss that are moments of tense, spine chilling-cinema that make you see why this Best Picture winner deserved all the critical praise it got.

Moss eventually meets his maker after being killed by assailants off-screen. We never actually see him die, but we do see Chigurh still accomplishing his mission to grab the money he is after. Yet again, Bell is late to save the day, as he just misses the shootout that kills Moss. 

How Does No Country For Old Men end?

As in life, there isn’t always going to be a resolution to a strange existential question poised by someone. Thus the ending for No Country for Old Men. The final scene of the movie takes some rewatching to fully grasp.

The film wraps up with Chigurh being able to get away despite a near-death experience in a car accident that leaves him limping. He pays two little boys to keep quiet about what they have just seen. It also needs to be mentioned that he confronts Moss’ wife after she puts her husband in his final resting place. Her fate is left open to ambiguity, as we never see him kill her or let her go.

But it is the film’s final scene with Tommy Lee Jones that leaves the biggest lasting impression. It’s a simple scene of the now-retired Bell sitting in his kitchen, talking to his wife, who is off screen.

What does Bell’s monologue mean? And how does that tie into the title of the film?

Bell’s monologue is the voice of a past generation that is no longer in charge of the world and how it works. His monologue circles around some dreams he has been having about his father; it’s a call back to his narration as the film opens.

One dream is about losing some money his father gave him. The other is about him and his father riding horses through a snowy mountain pass, and his dad went ahead to make a fire and wait for him. 

These visions reinforce Bell’s reality and his shortcomings. He lost his father’s money, and the whole film shows Bell having been at a loss and too little too late at making the world a better place. He feels as if he’s failed the world, and especially his father. The second dream symbolizes a kind of reconciliation with him and his dad, as it’s him leaving a light on for him to return home from the darkness. 

There’s a lot to dissect about the message of the film. But the most clear thing about this story is in the title. No Country for Old Men is about the escalation of man’s selfishness and violence in the world around them. And even though those who want to do good still don’t achieve what they set out to do. It’s a nihilistic look at the nature of men. There is a lot that happens between the movie’s opening shots and its final moments. And yet, we’re not better off than when we started. No bad guys died, no heroes rode off into the sunset, and there is no guarantee of a better tomorrow. 

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