Today’s post at the KBBC on Barth in dialogue with the Coen Brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men has been a real treat. It seems to me that this dialogue which has been helpfully rendered by Coutts serves, among other purposes, to show us the utter radicality of Barth’s understanding of salvation. The film mercilessly and starkly portrays the utter ferocity and ubiquity of evil in the world. There is, ultimately no country for old men, or for anyone. Barth, I think, would agree with this. The “no country” is indeed all that there is for the old man, for humanity as it is. The sheer banality and ferocity of evil in this world is, quite simply, something with which we cannot deal. There is no way to deal with it, to, as it were, “have dealings” with it in such a way is to make life come out even marginally ok. There simply is no country there that can be had, only a wasteland.
Thus hope, if there is to be hope can only be hope for a new world that in no way could have been inferred, unfolded, or derived from the old. If there is to be redemption it can only the redemption that is new creation in the most fundamental sense. As such it makes perfect sense that the Coen brothers would refrain from including anything “redemptive” in their account. For any such redemption would be but a falsifying of the radicality of the problem which is that we all inhabit the “no country” of death. Any redemption that might come to us, that might bring us into a new country, or as Psalm 66 has it “into a wide open place” can only come from beyond, from a resurrection beyond death, a resumption beyond rupture.
In a sense, as has been discussed in the comments of the original post, one might argue that Carla Jean could be construed as a Christ-figure, but I think we can only say this in the strict sense that her death, refuses to “deal” with the evil that is Chigurh but rather manifests a sort of independence over against the determination his power seeks to impose on her. In that she does somewhat image Christ’s death, or perhaps better, a martyr’s death.
What the Coen brothers so rightly withhold from us is any image of resurrection. If there is to be a resurrection, an irruption of new creation beyond the “no country” we have, it can only come from beyond the story that the movie (and the world) is. This seems to get at the profound truth that the resurrection cannot be inferred from anything immanent within the course of the story that is the world.
Another angle on the matter would be to suggest that the story told in No Country for Old Men articulates, in the most profound way possible, the reality of Holy Saturday. As Alan Lewis puts it, Holy Saturday, is not the day before the resurrection in the disciples’ original experience of the event, rather it is nothing, a void, “the day after the end.” That is precisely the reality of the world which No Country for Old Men so starkly presents. There is no assurance that a resurrection is coming, and no reason to think there should be. If there is to be a resurrection it can only be an absolute and utter miracle that explodes and dissolves the whole reality that is the “no country”.
Precisely by eliminating redemption from the film, the Coen brothers have demanded that we think redemption in the most radical and truthful way possible—if we can bear to do so, wagering on a word of hope that hangs in the air and defies us the moral and religious certainty we so deeply crave.