Existential film is shaped by the central themes and overall narrative that draw strongly from existential beliefs and questions. Directed by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men is an existential film as it reveals the idea of the existential concept of absurdity — anything may happen to anyone at anytime without any rational explanation. The three protagonists in the film, Llewellyn Moss, Anton Chigurh, and Ed Tom Bell, all experiences certain existential absurdity and amorality from the rest of the world. As a character, Llewellyn Moss is searching for the meaning of life.
Though, he is ultimately faced with the futility of such a quest in a world without rationale. First, Moss’s actions, his greed at having taken the cash and later returns to the scene of the drug deal to deliver water to a dying man, reveal the existential fact that although there are no values in the world itself, individual imposed these values. Also, Moss’s motive for taking the money is understandable — he wants he and his wife to be able to resign from their ordinary lives. He is searching for an existence of worth — to situate himself in this absurd world which provides little meaning.
Moss may try to escape from his choice of stealing the money, but he has to accept responsibility for his actions. Only the individual is accountable for the decisions that they make and where it may lead them. Moss tries to seek to forge his own place there by attempting to forge his own luck. Through out the film, Moss spends the majority of the film running away from Chigurh and to escape the peril in which he found himself: the consequence of his choice. However, Moss is not killed by Chigurh, but by Mexican drugrunners.
As existentialism posits, with his death, Moss’s choice of stealing the money becomes pointless. Anton Chigurh is an unique character in No Country For Old Men. His existence in the film becomes a threatening force — the inevitability of death. He has come to hold the characters accountable for their choices and to urge them to ask themselves: what is the point and why have they lived? He is the embodiment of the existentialist importance of personal responsibility; he is the constant reminder that only the individual is liable for their decisions and where those decisions have led them.
Because of Chigurh, Bell is forced to question his reality and Moss’s struggle is made trivial, truncated by death. As a ruthless villain, Chigurh operates clearly according to a set of his own uncompromising principles — not for greed, as Moss acted; not to absolve himself, as Bell attempted to act. Chigurh is the amoral — incarnation of a meaningless world. He attempts to use the flip of coin as the basis of his amoral justice, so that he is not the one who makes the decision to kill, but the victim who must call the toss. Yet, Chigurh’s choice to base his murders on chance is a decision not to make a choice.
He denies his own free will by attempting to escape the choice of whether or not to kill. Chigurh is the element of the unexplainable and the absurdity that pervades the film. Ed Tom Bell, as a character, is also searching for the meaning of life. Bell cannot live in absurdity. He encounters an extreme absurd in Chigurh. As he is forced to accept the truth that Chigurh brings him to a place where he must question the world and the life he thought he knew. There is a breakdown in his pillar of identity as Bell is forced by Chigurh to confront the unreality of who he’d taken himself to be.
He feels like there is no place for him in the modern wold. He resigns both literally from his job and mentally from life. Bell accepts death as a relief from a world he can not understand rather than committing suicide. A man of the past, he is defeated by forces of the present, leading him to question his identity as a sheriff. At the end of the film, Bell decides to retire as a fact that he was unable to save Moss and Carla Jean and many others from Chigurh. He refuses to go out as he is faced with a world he is sure is confronted by “the true and living prophet of destruction. Bell withdraws from the world — unable to find just where he fits.
Directed by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men is an existential film with characters who faced the absurdity of the world. Former Sheriff Bell, a surviving “witness” to the senseless killings that saturate the film, is able to synthesize all of this in order to come to his own conclusions. Bell, as a character, is the laconic representation of the Coen’s desolate theme — when faced with the absurdity and amorality of the world, the individual is forced to question their identities.
Therefore, individual must define their own meaning through their choices. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen did not reveal any clear ethical message: instead, they seek to portray a world of moral ambiguity in which characters vacillate between conceptions of”good” and “evil”, and where viewers must try and determine where such characters fit into the empty tract of the bleak desert landscape. More importantly, viewers are disoriented and left to wonder at the absurdity of the world these characters inhabit.