I need a break from the primary and Governor Loose Zippers. So I'm going to complain about No Country for Old Men -- not so much the film itself (which is perfectly crafted), but the story. Frankly, its themes seem logically incoherent to me. (Spoilers below).
Don't get me wrong, I'm lodging this complaint against Cormac McCarthy and not the Coens. I read the book before I knew it would be a movie, and the high-level incoherence bothered me even then. (And because the film stays so true to the book, the problems carry over).
One of No Country's big metathemes seems to be the cruelty and arbitrariness of Nature writ large. Chigurh is pretty clearly intended to be cruel Nature. The Coens capture this symbolism quite well in the beginning with the broad sweeping shots of the Western desert expanse. Chigurh's whole coin toss business therefore symbolizes how quickly and whimsically amoral Nature can -- Fiddy Cent style -- come and take your life away.
The problem though is that other parts of No Country read like a morality play. These parts are more structurally similar to older Greek tragedies, in which lead characters make choices that ultimately destroy them. In other words, Llewelyn's downfall doesn't result from arbitrary coin-flipping Nature, but from his choice to pick up a bag of drug money and run with it. That choice, in turn, triggers an irreversible and ultimately fatal chain of events. He acts, and the wheels of Justice eventually catch up to him. It's quite the opposite of amoral coin flips.
So that's my complaint -- is No Country a story about choice and consequences, or is it a reflection upon how Nietzschean amoral Nature collides with Man. It seems like it can't be both -- but Chigurh certainly has elements of both. Maybe I'm missing something basic, but these strike me as inconsistent metathemes.
UPDATE: In the comments, Adam writes:
So the choice isn't between right and wrong, I think, which is why the story isn't really about "how Nietzschean amoral Nature collides with Man" -- in fact, it seems to me that Moss' choice actually accords with the Nietzschean heroic ideal, and he gets punished for it. The message there is orthogonal to Nietzsche's -- you have to be a superman to play the game, but the real choice is whether or not to play the game at all. In McCarthy's world, heroism is a liability. [He adds that the safer choice is to take Bell's pointless and broke but safe existence.]
Interesting take. But that still takes on a moral edge - i.e., the consequences stem from the choice. And it doesn't address the coin-flipping emphasis, which is really what bothered me the most -- this idea of randomness and chance.