Saturday, May 31, 2008

no country for old men redux (spoilers)

What's this movie/book mean? What is the point, as my high school teachers might ask. William Butler Yeats starts a poem, "Sailing to Byzantium" with the title of it:

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless...

The poem does seem to be similar in one sense to the book, the viewpoint of its chief narrator, the Sherrif: an old man feeling out of place in the world, unable to make sense of the changes going on in the country, even within his remote part of it: from bizarre killings, the remorselessness of some, and to people who have blue hair.

But then the other large theme in the story is that of chance. Chigurh offers to people the chance to live by the flip of the coin. The 2nd refuses, insisting it is his choice to kill her not the coins, but Chigurh replies, "but it's the same thing that brought me here" (or something very similar).

It was chance that let Moss miss his shot of the deer, chance that brought a bleeding dog across his path, chance that he came across the drug deal, chance that someone lived long enough to ask him for water, which brought Moss back to the scene. Chance that Moss's hunters came across him with the transponder. Chance is the only thing that near does in Chigurh.

I'm not sure quite what to make of either of these themes. The first, the lament of the old against present day evils is a shallow one, me thinks. It crops up a lot in the book, especially when the sheriff is conversing with other sheriffs, as well as in his narratives harking back to the old timers. Despite the fears and the real terrors, there are far darker places and have been far darker times to have lived than the here and now of the United States. Perhaps this lament is merely descriptive -- one story that might back that up is that of the Sheriff's crippled friend, describing how a relative was shot on his porch by Native-Americans.

The theme of chance on the other hand is a dark one to consider. I thought at first the final car crash was an ironic statement given the conversation with Moss's wife. But is it? In the book, Chigurh goes on to another appearance bringing the money back to one of the Players.

So is the view of the author's the view of Chirguh? Our lives are not pre-determined, we do not have freewill, there is only a continuous flipping of coins? If so then Chigurh is the only one fully prepared, the one who leaves nothing to chance, as methodical as the police in taking what information he can use, methodical in executing the whims of the world, ready to take on whatever comes his way.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

no country for old men (spoiler alert)

I just finished the book No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Even if I'm a little disappointed by the Coen Brothers doing a book adaptation, it is a perfect book for a movie, with stripped dialog and minimum stream of consciousness narrative -- showing what lies on the surface of the characters rather than their interior thoughts.

I'm in fact having a hard time deciding which is better. The casting seemed perfect although that is always hard to tell in hindsight. The movie's cinematography is more lush than the writing.

The differences between the book and movie are not great. Some things that happen are more clear from the book - in particular the point at which Moss gets killed and why. However, it is more clear in the book how the mexicans find Moss at that point, and it's clearer in the movie how Chigurh ends up wounded.

There are some edits with more significant impact on the finer points of the story arc... Probably the biggest difference is that the Sheriff's dilemma is spelled out when the Sheriff confesses a story of his WWII experience to his wheelchair-bound friend.

Chigurh also goes on at greater length with Wells at gunpoint.

Moss also picks up a hitch-hiking girl on fleeing Mexico. This is translated into the woman at the poolside in the movie. We miss perhaps a slightly wider view of Moss.

All in all, I have say they were decent edits. In some ways, they are both equally opaque. I'm still asking myself what it all means. Perhaps that is a topic for another post.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Cool cool San Francisco

It's been a cool San Francisco spring, wind heavy with warm days seemingly few and far between. My search for an explanation, even a mention came up with nothing, but then I came across the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).

Apparently, we are coming into a cool cycle of this oscillation (this is disputed) which was discovered not long ago by scientists (Steve Hare, Nathan Mantua, Yuan Zhang, Robert Francis and Mike Wallace) studying Salmon populations. Swings in Salmon populations are often tied to this oscillation.

If you are saying, "Wait, Salmon populations? Didn't the Salmon population just collapse?" That's what I said when I read more about it. The studies here and here need some serious help from someone whose read Tufte. I think the data shows that in the past some populations of salmon go down when the PDO is in the cool phase. Strangely, I cannot find any mention of it recently, not in connection to our weather. You would have thought someone would have brought it up at all those hearings.

The PDO apparently could lead to more drought in Southern California. It intensifies El Ninas and moderates El Ninos. The Jet stream is steered north by this though, so I'm not sure if it is actually tied to our cool wave. But perhaps it is too. Liz will not be pleased.

Weather sure is a complicated thing.

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