Rated: 3 / 5
It’s alright. I laugh myself sometimes. Ain’t a lot else you can do.Ed Tom Bell
Nihilism is what many say about the themes of this film. That there is no rhyme or reason to many things. It’s just chaos. Things just happen. Concepts of fairness and justice are social constructs that don’t exist. They are constructed by society for the sake of having some form of structure. A structure that forms a family, a group, an organization, a tribe, a nation, a church, a government. But all it takes is a few individuals who don’t adhere to, or even acknowledge the existence of, such constructs; then everything comes tumbling down. Families, groups, organizations, tribes, nations, churches, governments, all ripped apart and destroyed by agents of chaos, who will always exist.
An example of the breaking down of moral concepts can be found near the ending when Anton gets in a car accident, and these two young boys on bicycles come to assist him. Keep in mind this film takes place in 1980 (possibly a little earlier with events leading up to the ending), a time period more simple than today, yet less simple than the 1950s. This is the only instance where individuals want to help a man unconditionally, without wanting any reward for their good deed (giving a way a shirt and using it as an arm sling for Anton’s broken arm). Anton insists on them taking money for their services, because he doesn’t believe in morals, or unconditional actions. Even the theory of chaos and nihilism is a belief that every action is the result of a previous action (ie everything is a reaction to something that happened previously, thus no free will, in a sense). Meaning something material must be wrought in order for there to be senselessness. The nihilism of the material, the cash and drugs, is what ends up breaking down the innocence of morality. By the end of the scene, the two kids are fighting over what their fair share of the money is, over something material that they initially were willing to live without. Throw something of material value at someone, and what morals they did have, that they were raised upon and/or taught, will crumble away. Next thing you know, they will become like the three young adults Llewyn Moss came across after his shootout with Anton, who straight up ask for money in exchange for their material favors.
It’s all the goddamn money. Money and drugs. It’s just goddamn beyond everything. What’s it mean? What’s it leading to? You know, if you’d have told me 20 years ago I’d see children walking the streets of our Texas towns with green hair, bones in their noses, I just flat-out wouldn’t have believed you.El Paso Sheriff
The film is a bit like Momento, in that you are going backwards in time to where things start to make sense. Except in this case, we’re going backwards thematically, to simpler times, to show how corruption starts. It’s not just money and drugs, but anything of material worth. Although that famous scene early on in the movie does give a good hint about this. “What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?” “Don’t put the coin in your pocket where it will get mixed up with the others, otherwise it will be just another quarter… which it is.” Applying special meaning to something material, or even considering something material something valuable, is what corrupts. Especially if the material is treated as more valuable than friendship, being a good Samaritan, a good neighbor, a respectable citizen, a lawman/politician/leader of integrity.
But let’s face it. Material (money) can help bring about good if used properly. Because the whole purpose of material is to make one feel good. Just hanging out with others, with friendly people, who are a good influence, human interaction, developing healthy relationships, comradery, etc. Those or basic necessities that make one fulfilled in a good way. So having materials to allow for that is usually a good thing. Having a bicycle, a car, the money to pay for gas and repairs and new tires, so you can go around and hang out with friends. That obviously requires material goods. Go a little more basic with it, food and water, and you’ll find some materials to be necessities. Without materials, you wouldn’t be much good to someone else, they need a shoulder to cry on. It’s ironic (yet stupid) that the main protagonist’s troubles really begin when he attempts to bring some water to a dying drug dealer. As ironic as those kids at the end of the film helping out the psychopath assassin. No good deed goes unpunished.
It’s how materials are used (and acquired) that can bring trouble. How much they’re desired. Bartered goods vs. money paying for goods. If one puts more value in materials than in other people. Such as people like Anton, who are incapable of having feelings for others. He has no purpose other than to be an agent of chaos and nihilism. Not just causing destruction, but sowing the seeds for further destruction among the populace. He does not die in the film because he is a force of nature still alive and well today, crushing the moral fiber of the country.
What you got ain’t nothin’ new. This country’s hard on people. You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.Ellis
Many can argue about why this has become inevitable. Why so many have forgotten common decency. There is no one single thing that causes it (anymore than Anton is the only villain in the film). The fact of the matter is, change has come. Changes for the worse. Changing the face of a country so much that it’s no longer recognizable on a variety of levels. It’s not just changes in fashion and film and technology, but in how people act. Changes so radical that those who remember better times (and make no mistake, there were better times) no longer fit into the world anymore. The only thing they look forward to is the time when they leave this world, because they don’t have the means or the strength to fix it.
But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”Ed Tom Bell
Because what would it take to fix it? What kind of monsters would we have to create to turn around and walk back the way we came until we hit that fork in the road where we can then turn onto the right path? How do we know the monsters we make won’t end up making things worse? If there is anything to look forward to, it’s that the good men from the good old days will be there in the afterlife ready and waiting for us, with their simple universal moral standards there to greet us.
So why wait? Why not just end the madness now and get on over to the other side? Because we need to understand the current times, and the people living in it. So that we know how to prepare the fire and greet the next generation when it’s their time. To have something in the past those in the present can learn from, take to heart, to become encouraged/inspired by. Things in the world may be bleak, but there is always a light at the end of that tunnel. A light of a comforting fire that will be reached sooner or later. And won’t it feel even better if you’re the one who built the fire?
And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.Ed Tom Bell