No Country For Old Men is commonly regarded as a classic, yet the ending proved to be divisive – let's explore what the final scene really means. No Country For Old Men is an extremely faithful adaptation of author Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which follows a man named Llewelyn Moss who steals a bag of drug money from and finds himself pursued by demonic hitman Anton Chigurh. The story also involves the jaded Sheriff Bell, who hopes to save Moss and stop the trail of destruction Chirgurh leaves in his bloodthirsty wake.
No Country For Old Men is the closest the Coen brothers have come to making a pure action movie and it features a number of superbly crafted set pieces. While the movie has the look and feeling of a classic Western, the morality of the story is much more complex. There are no clear-cut heroes and villains; Moss has heroic moments, but he could have saved himself a lot of trouble by not taking the money in the first place. No Country For Old Men’s seemingly anticlimactic ending also upset many viewers upon release, who were expecting a more traditional showdown between hero and villain.
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With that ambiguity still hotly debated over a decade later, let's revisit the ending of No Country For Old Men, exploring what it really means and why it proved so divisive.
- This Page: What No Country For Old Men's Ending Means
- Page 2: Why No Country For Old Men's Ending Is Perfect
How No Country For Old Men Ends
After spending much of No Country For Old Men following Moss (Josh Brolin) as he tries to stay one step ahead of Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the character is shockingly killed offscreen by assassins. Chigurh later recovers the money Moss stole and, true to his earlier threat, comes to kill Moss’ wife Carla Jean. Throughout the movie, Chigurh occasionally leaves the fate of potential victims up to a coin toss, believing faith will decide their survival. Carla Jean refuses to bet on Chigurh’s offer, placing the responsibility for the decision back on him.
The hitman is involved in a traffic accident soon after he leaves Carla Jean’s, but despite his injuries, he still ends up waking away from the carnage he’s left behind. The movie then cuts to Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who retired following his failure to save Moss or recover the money. He sits at the breakfast table with his wife and recounts 2 dreams he had the night before. The first one involved meeting his father, who entrusted him with some money, but Bell thinks he lost it. The second dream featured father and son riding together through a snowy mountain pass on horseback, with Bell’s father riding ahead to light a fire in the darkness in front of them. Bell reveals he woke from the dream, and No Country For Old Men cuts to black.
What Sheriff Bell's Dreams Symbolize
Bell’s dreams really encapsulate the meaning of No Country For Old Men. The retired sheriff doesn’t attach much meaning to his first dream, but it appears to symbolize his lingering guilt over Moss’ death. Just like in his dream, he was entrusted with a task but he failed, despite promising Carla Jean he would. He likely feels this on a subconscious level, but he can’t put the feeling into words, hence the dream. This failure is what led to his retirement, due to feeling overmatched for the job.
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The second dream is one where audiences are split over the meaning. Like Bell notes before recalling his dreams, he’s 20 years older than his father ever was, meaning he’s now the old man. In the dream, he and his father are back in simpler times, riding through the snow and cold together. From the opening narration, its clear Bell yearns for the past, where good and evil were clearly defined and the world made some kind of sense to him. The fire his father is carrying could symbolize his hope that the flame of those values will be carried forward into the darkness of the unknown future. That said, Bell suddenly waking up could signify that not only do those traditions not exist, they never really did, and he’s coming to realize this.