No Country for Old Men

Movie: Directed by the Coen brothers.

Inciting Event: Llewelyn encounters the shootout area—strewn with dead bodies—in the Texas desert where a drug deal went bad. He tracks the “last man standing,” only to find him dead beside a briefcase of $2 million.

This is where Llewelyn first brushes the main conflict. There are no obstacles yet in his way, but as soon as he takes the money, he is involved inextricably in what is happening.

First Plot Point: After going back to the shootout area to give water to a dying man, Llewelyn is chased and shot at by returning drug runners. He is forced to leave his pickup behind. Knowing his VIN will be traced, he packs up, sends his wife to her mother, and goes on the run. He exits his Normal World and enters the “adventure world” of the conflict, where he is pursued by the psychotic hitman Anton Chigurh.

First Pinch Point: Chigurh uses the homing beacon in the money briefcase to track Llewelyn to his hotel. Llewelyn has hidden the briefcase in the air ducts and moved to another room. Chigurh kills several Mexicans, thinking they were the ones who took the money. Llewellyn is able to take the money and escape. This is both an emphasis of the antagonist’s presence and a presentation of new clues about the conflict, since this is the first time Llewelyn has personally encountered those in pursuit of him.

Midpoint: At another hotel, Llewelyn discovers the homing beacon and realizes Chigurh has once again tracked him. They have a shootout through the closed door and then out on the street—where both are wounded before Llewelyn again escapes.

This isn’t so much a shift from reaction to action as it is an intensification of the stakes and the action for both characters.

Second Pinch Point: At a Mexican hospital, Llewelyn is confronted by a much more cordial hired hitman named Carson. Carson invites Llewelyn to give him the money and warns him that Chigurh will kill Llewelyn and his wife. Chigurh kills Carson, then warns Llewelyn of his intentions, prompting Llewelyn to escape the hospital and return to the States for his wife.

Third Plot Point: Llewelyn is killed by Mexican drug runners before his wife, Chigurh, or Sherriff Bell, from his hometown, can reach him.

The story has followed a classic narrative arc up to this point. Here, it departs by abruptly killing off its protagonist. Stories such as this one that deviate from classic structure often do it for the purpose of shaking up the audience. Sometimes it can be used to purposeful effect (as it is here to illustrate senseless violence), but the author always has to be aware of the general uneasiness and lack of resonance it inevitably creates in the audience.

Climax: After Llewelyn’s death, the only remaining question within the conflict is: “What will happen to Chigurh?” The Climax itself is relatively low-key, with the final confrontation being between Chirgurh and “fate.” After killing Llewelyn’s wife (because he “gave his word”), he breaks his arm in a random car accident.

Climactic Moment: The whole purpose of the Climactic Moment in a story of this sort is really the very fact that it’s anticlimactic. Here, the story ends as the wounded Chigurh walks away, punished for his atrocities only by a random accident.

Resolution: This story is a fable. It presents a simplistic conflict of primal desires (greed and survival) that ends abruptly (and with a purposeful refusal to create satisfaction within the viewers) at the Third Plot Point. The final quarter of the story—the entire Third Act—is then an exploration of what it all meant (or didn’t mean). Essentially, it’s sort of a “moral of the story” sequence, although couched in obscure symbolism. It finally resolves with the final scene, in which the forlorn sheriff tells his wife his melancholy dream of his father going on ahead of him to light the way in the darkness.

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