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Some Ramblings - No Country For Old Men
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

The nature of evil is incomprehensible to the logical mind. How, in the name of greed, power, vengeance, or sometimes, even fun, can one human being perpetrate ghastly acts on others, has been confounding intellectuals, philosophers and common folk alike, since ages. The overtones of the Roman Emperor, Nero, as his city burned, the excesses of the Mongolian king Genghis Khan, the brutalities of the new age dictators - Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Plot, Idi Amin, drive home the fact that evil has been rearing its ugly head ever since the birth of the human race, and the same instincts that drove humans towards the discovery of tools that advance society, are the sames ones instrumental in the creation of ones, that work for its detriment. If one takes away the relativity aspect out of the issue ("one man's terrorist is another's patriot") and try to understand the true face of evil, it will be quite evident that that instinct of human nature lacks basic understanding. Evil is very primal in nature. While the rest of the human behavior progressed with evolution and was hammered into shape by the society around, evil stopped at the doorstep of evolution, which is why, it becomes impossible to explain the nature of it, other than compare it to bestiality. The amusing fact here is, even animals aren't that cold-hearted and vicious towards their own species, even though their primary instinct in pure survival, which is why it makes it interesting understanding the drive that instigates the perpetuating of senseless acts by sensible minds. At the end of the movie "Fargo", the protagonist, a police chief, wonders "...and you did all that for what? a little bit of money? and it is such a beautiful day outside.... I don't understand it", as she drives her captor to the police station. The last line ("I don't understand it") is particularly telling, as the Coens set off making an entire movie delving into the dark side of human nature in "No country for old men", in a bid to come up with an answer to that statement.

Thomas Harris' creation, Hannibal Lecter, is another character in contemporary literature, that is the complete distillation/absolute personification of evil. That, Hanniabal Lecter is created as a famed psychiatrist, is just the icing on the cake. In his brilliant mind, passion or compassion do not find any place. If there is room for anything, it is only for gratification. A clinical disembowelment of his victims, a dispassionate dismemberment of the same, to him, is akin to eating large amounts of chocolate, in terms of gratifying the impulses inside. There are no reasons to his actions. Just like the famous reply to the question "why climb mountains", ("because they are there"), so is the motivation for his actions - "why kill people?", "because they are there". Compare it to another character in recent history - Amon Goeth, the Nazi officer, in charge of the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos in Krakow, Poland, during the end of the Second World War. On his typical day, he wakes up, stretches his limbs, goes to the balcony of his villa overlooking the labor camp, lights his cigarette, looks around, picks up his life, aims at a distant target, a person pushing along a wheel barrow, squeezes the trigger, watches him fall down and die, snubs his cigarette, and goes inside and relieves himself. Just what inferences could be drawn from the sequence above is left to one's own understanding or imagination. To complicate matter further, what role does fate play in the face of evil? Was it just bad luck of the person pushing the wheel barrow to fall into the cross-hairs of Goeth's rifle? Would a moment here or there certainly saved his life?

"No country for old men" does just that. It tries to marry the concept of fate to the face of evil and the results are explosive. Fate remains the only plausible explanation to understand the vicitimization of evil. In the "kitne aadmee the" sequence in "Sholay", no right answer would have saved the lives of Kaalia and his gang, in just the same way, as no wrong answer would have guaranteed certain death at the hands of Gabbar Singh. The twist of fate at the turn of the coin is portrayed perfectly in "No country", when the killer allows his victims to call the face of coin, and hope for the right turn and escape death. There is an excellent sequence that could not better depict the mind of a psychotic killing machine - the killer pumps his gas at a gas station, walks inside to pay, looks at the old desk clerk, takes his coin out, and asks him to guess the face of the coin, that he was about to throw up in the air. When asked by the clerk, what was in it for him, the killer coolly replies, your life. The clerk had done nothing to rub the killer the wrong way, in fact the clerk never even crossed paths with the killer till that point of time, yet he finds himself confronting his own mortality hanging by a bare thread (in this case, by a simple turn of the coin). This kind of randomness or abruptness, at which death haunts life (be it in any form - evil, accident, or just degeneration) seems very hard for logic to wrap its hands around such a devastation. If the power to decide arbitrarily who stays and who goes, is what is attributed to God, and fate is the only 'reasonable' explanation offered in His defense too, it begs to be asked, if evil is inherent to the nature of God to maintain perpetuity.

Coens who are known for their visual style and quirky unsettling dialogue, this time take a straight forward approach tackling this grim subject. The stunning photography capturing the wide vistas of the desolate interiors of the Texan landscape, heightens the somber mood of impending doom, at every turn and corner. The movie, though starts off as a conventional thriller and slowly settles down (by the gravity of the subject) as it tries to uncover the underlying intent of why a man does what he does. The plot serves as a setup, baiting evil with avarice (which is what, more times than not, solicits the gracious presence of evil) and observes how values bend, and morality crumbles, under the growing burden of greed. The final minutes of the movie are truly astounding, when the local sheriff, trying to track down the killer, anguishes about how he does not understand the world anymore with all what's happening around, how a human can treat his fellow being with such disdain and subject him to such pain, and how the world is no longer right and just (and hence the title). What is interesting is how his observations reflect to that of Marge Gendurson, the protagonist of "Fargo". The Coens come back to the same spot they started (or left) a few years ago with "Fargo" and they still seem to be searching for a valid answer that would unravel the mystery of human mind. Or as the famous German philosopher, Goethe, once said "God is dead", it could just be, each man for himself, and the thin line that separates life and death, even in that scenario is still Fate.

More Ramblings on films
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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