I spent my birthday in the big city of Temple, Texas. This is what you do when you have a small child--you go where the grandparents will watch the boy while you get a momentary break. It also allowed me to indulge in some of my favorite things. I trolled thrift stores including one that had a very tempting stack of laser discs that were for sale as a group with a player! I din't bite, but I may go back. I bought a J. Frank Dobie book about rattlesnakes and a Big Audio Dynamite II CD. Then we went into one of my favorite book stores, the Book Cellar, which is down a narrow staircase across from the city hall. I wrote an article about Bob the owner many years ago and loved chatting with him a bit again. Bob is the local comic book guru, so I got him to choose a stack for me to buy as a present to myself.
But the really surreal part of the night was going to the theater in the mall to watch "No Country for Old Men." It didn't start off well. Sound and framing problems had the audience antsy. The movie itelf didn't help matters. Here's what I think: the best contrast to NCFOM is "Sin City," a film that is equally bloody but--in my opinion--totally soulless. "Sin City" glorifies gore in a shameless fashion and left me yawning. NCFOM shoves it in the audience's face, smears the gore around, destroys its expectations.
The Temple audience hated the film. One woman was laughing nervously at the ending. She was confused. Funny thing is the Coen brothers spelled it out for her in the film, and they did it by name. The important scene has a storekeeper in West Texas trying to make small talk with Javier Bardem's evil, evil trickster. The storekeep admits he grew up in TEMPLE, TEXAS! Bardem asks him what brought this man to a coin flip that may or may not mark the end of the man's life. Listen up, Temple folks. They were talking to you.
That scene was the heart of the story and why this film resonated with me for days. Just like the terminally ill story in my novel EVACUATION PLAN, it was about forgetting the b.s. that dominates our days (How's the weather? Want to argue politics? Who won the football game?) and being instead real, truthful and alive.
The Coens (and Cormac McCarthy) are masters, and this is their best film. The trajectory from Austin-shot "Blood Simple" to here is amazing. Note the shades of classic noir, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and the film it most brought to mind for me--"The Getaway." The ending confused the Temple crowd (and apparently many viewers everywhere) but it works and is organic to the movie.
My wife Tiffany was in shock at the film's end, primarily from the relentless blood and brutality. But in the middle of the night we were still discussing the film and its implications. That for me is the mark of art.