No Country For Old Men is an Anti-Sacramentarian Screed

Some Advent Musings

“Are you going to kill me?” the accountant asks, plaintively.

“Do you see me?” answers Anton.

People, we’re dealing with God here.

Spoilers Follow

No one can see God and live, as the saying goes, and so it goes throughout the movie, with Anton personifying God, stalking day and night, brazenly killing everyone who sees him, the guilty and innocent alike. His identity becomes quite clear toward the end of the movie when Sheriff Tom Bell despairs over his dispensability, saying, “Here in my old age, I thought God would have come into my life by now.” We the viewers know that he has, in fact, nearly had that encounter with God. He is hidden in the hotel room, and the directors make us confident that if Bill sees Anton, Anton will surely kill Bill. Bill is chastised by his uncle, and rightly so, echoing the words of the prophet that chastise those who long to see God, paraphrased:

The Day of the Lord is like meeting a lion, and escaping it, being chased by a bear, and, having escaped into your home to lean your one hand against the wall in order to place your other hand over your chest to still your beating heart, a snake biting you. God relentlessly pursues and kills everybody.

But you might say, “Ah, I can think of three exceptions: the convenience store owner, the trailer park manager, and the two boys.” Indeed, the exceptions are instructive. In the first case, we are privy to an existential conversation between a man, who answers all the questions honestly and openly, demonstrating fear, and his God, who flips a coin for his life. The man is well-aware that this is his life hanging beneath the hand of God, and he is relieved to find that God spares his life. It is there already revealed, though subtly, but later fully laid bare, that the coin flip has nothing to do with this man’s life, as Anton says, flippantly, “It’s not a lucky coin; it’s just an ordinary coin.” The man’s life was spared mostly because of the utter free-will of Anton.

Likewise the trailer park manager. Some sleight of hand by the directors initially leads us to believe that Anton fears discovery, weighing the cost of additional bloodshed in the exchange against the value of discovering the whereabouts of Llewelyn. No, this woman also demonstrates appropriate fear; moreover, she makes an appeal to the law, demonstrating a love for neighbor which transcended fear. The utterly free Anton spares her life on that basis.

The two boys: this is an Anabaptist apologetics after all; they are not yet of the age of assent, so they are spared as necessary plot devices.

This particular device is also revealing: God can be wounded, but not destroyed. He submits himself to the chances of this world, and to the cruelty of human beings, some of whom would hunt him down, to be hurt.

Nevertheless, all who die by the hand of Anton are justly killed, as far as Anton is concerned, so much cattle to be slaughtered in order to effect justice. You’ll notice, when viewing the film, that the money becomes less and less important, almost ceasing to exist, as Carla Jean pleads, “I don’t have the money.”

Anton responds, “I gave my word to your husband.” Thus he is bound by his own word to stalk the evildoers of the earth, all of whom participate in this evil, either very directly, or quite indirectly, even the passing motorist; all participate in evil and all must die, and gruesomely–OK, so here I will yield: not necessarily gruesomely, but even the righteous rightly fear death, as Bill’s concluding soliloquy imparts. Carla Jean, being a close participant with evil as a beneficiary of stolen drug money, reasons existentially with Anton, so he gives her the same game as he gave the convenience store owner: a flip of the coin for her life.

“It’s still your choice,” she reveals, which makes no sense unless you understand that Anton is the only utterly free being in the film, as God alone is the only utterly free being, unbound even by the rules of chance, which are otherwise all-binding. He is next seen wiping his feet, exiting her home.

“But,” you protest, “God is a God of love, and a loving God would never…” Christian scriptures, not least of all religions, depict a cold, calculating, capricious God, oppressing even the most righteous man upon the earth, Job, as a sacrificial game piece, repeatedly. He kills, as Moses says, and he makes alive. He holds the keys to death and Hades, as John the Revelator announces. Anachronistic shotgun with suppressor in hand, he justifies himself. Brilliantly, ambiguously, this anti-sacramentarian screed cuts to black, credits roll, music plays, and we wonder where our country is.

Everybody knows, of course, that God comes to us in the breaking of the bread and in the wine, making peace with us there. And, experience teaches, if not there, then nowhere.

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