I finally got around to watching the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007) and I found it to be pretty much B.S. — and by that I mean both beautifully shot and a load of nonsense. (I’ll throw in E.A. — excellent acting.) I understand that I am in the minority, given the film’s Best Picture Academy Award and many other honors, and it’s certainly possible that its merits are simply escaping me. But, to me, the Coens’ use of a pulp movie/pulp fiction/comic book trope — the purely evil murderous villain — in a work that clearly wants to be considered as an artistic meditation on the problem of evil is sleight-of-hand and fraudulent. And beyond that, they are perversely committed to depriving their audience of most of the pleasures of pulp. In these I count not only a happy or even an cathartic body-strewn ending, as in Hamlet or King Lear, but other melodramatic elements, like chase scenes and shootouts and scenic denouements that occur onscreen instead of off.
I would include in the b.s. the movie-in-movie scene. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who is described by an IMDB synopsis as a “hunter and welder,” comes home to the trailer he shares with his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Mcdonald), carrying a pistol and an attache case, neither of which she has seen before. (And can I just say that if I wanted to know what it would be like to be named Llewelyn or Carla Jean and live in a Texas trailer park, the Coen brothers would definitely not be the sources I’d turn to. Their depictions of these sorts of lives, while they play well — the bros are very accomplished filmmakers — come off to me as voyeuristic and fake.)
Carla is watching on TV the 1953 melodrama Flight from Tangier. The Coens always have a reason for their choices, and in this case I can think of two. The older movie starred Jack Palance (seen onscreen), who died in 2006, and to whom the brothers may have been paying tribute. And Flight from Tangier is about a hunt for a missing $3 million. In No Country, that attache case, soon to become the MacGuffin of intense interest, has $2 million in it.
But it’s still b.s., 1, that a Texas TV station in 1980 would be airing this obscure movie, and 2, even if that did happen, that Carla Jean would choose to watch it.
(By the way, the Movies in Movies blog notes that it’s a Technicolor movie being watched on a black and white TV. I judge that detail to be accurate: 1980 was the year when I acquired my own first color television, and Texas trailer parks may not have yet made the transition.)