The best part of the "No Country For Old Men" script PDF is that it always sticks to basics. There's a man chasing. And a man being chased. Let the games begin.
There were two competing films shooting in Texas at the same time in the summer of 2006. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were shot less than 50 miles away from each other. And legend has it No Country had to shut down shooting for one day due to the smoke from the scene where the oil rig caught fire in There Will Be Blood. While we already covered the There Will Be Blood script, I want to spend today going over No Country For Old Men's screenplay.
We'll cover the opening, ending, themes, and some of the standout dialogue from No Country for Old Men.
Heads or tails...call it.
The No Country for Old Men Opening
We did a whole post on why opening scenes are crucial to screenplays, and No Country delivers on all aspects. First, it employs a bit of a mirror to the end of the script. Tommy Lee Jones's voiceover provides the framework for this cops and robbers chase. We also meet both characters in their element. But with a slight twist. Chigurh, the hunter in our story, is introduced in captivity. He's been captured by police, murders to set himself free. The hunted, Llewelyn, is hunting in the prairie and tracking.
What's amazing about this opening is that it shows what each person is best at. Tracking and hunting. And how they'll use these things in mortal combat with one another later.
We also get used to tone and the pacing of the story. These quick edits get us into the world and begin to show us how we will move through the lives of three men. You can read a full breakdown of these lessons is our long-form extraction of the story of No Country for Old Men.
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The No Country for Old Men Dialogue
No Country for Old Men was adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy. One time, while interning, I got to bring McCarthy a cup of coffee. He took one sip and asked for Green Tea. It was epic. Anyway, there's a beauty to the dialogue in No Country. It sings off the screenplay pages and onto the screen. When people have long monologues, then have them for a distinct reason. The rest of the dialogue is set to define characters and their code.
Take this early instance of Chigurh and this gas station owner.
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These phrases come in waves. They are direct, no fuss. We understand immediately what this coin flip means. This is life or death.
Later, the flip is echoed with a character who's not given a choice.
This is a one-way argument. There's no movement or momentum that can save this life. Just an unstoppable force that's coming. But we'll get into that when we delve into themes.
The No Country for Old Men Ending
The ending of the movie is one of the most hotly talked about and debated since it debuted. The Coen Brothers have always found a way to write epic final scenes. This one is no different. It's a reflection on the movie. Our sheriff realizes that death is coming for all of us. It came for his father, and even though he outlived him, it will come for him as well. So if we all have death coming, how do we handle life?
What works here in this summation is the way the story is told. Sure, everyone focuses on the hard cut, but what's happening here is a character, and the audience, coming to grips with what they've had to digest.
We talk a lot about the first and final frames of movies being mirrors of one another.
This movie begins on talking about landscapes and ends with talking about a dream crossing those landscapes.
There's power here. Sure, the Coens are following the outline the book laid out, but they chose to end it here. It feels fitting, mostly because every other plotline has been tied up. Life isn't satisfactory. People live and die at random. There's no fairness. So, end on one character realizing that, in his old age, the weight of the world has become a little too much to bear.
No Country for Old Men Themes
This is one of the deepest films in recent memory. It's an exploration of fate, life, death, and how everyone reacts. There are lots of theories about the movie. I've heard people saying it's all about 9/11 and how you can't stop terrorists. I've heard them call Chigurh the Grim Reaper. But for me, No Country's themes lie closer to the America dream. It's the story of a Veteran trying to give his wife a better life. But the American dream becomes a nightmare when he takes money from the wrong side of the law.
It's karma—these are characters who reap what they sow. But also, you can see the path to hell paved with good intentions. If Llewelyn didn't return with the water to help the drug trafficker, it's safe to say he never winds up in this mess. Then again, him not calling it into the police in the first place got him into this predicament.
There's a great lesson here about fate, too.
The coin flip aside, this is a confluence of characters brought together by accident. It would seem a higher power drew them in, but you can argue they are all a product of the choices they made along the way.
One thing we see the Sheriff dealing with is why he is still alive. Was it that he made cowardly choices that kept him that way? Or was it God's hand keeping him safe?
These are things that old men have to reconcile.
What's next? Read The There Will Be Blood Screenplay!
Paul Thomas Anderson has been one of the most talked about writer-directors since he came onto the scene with Hard Eight. Since then, his movies have been must-see theatrical experiences. But none more so than There Will Be Blood. Read along with the screenplay and learn important lessons about writing and storytelling.
Or just watch some No Country for Old Men Behind The Scenes footage and call it a day.