Some recent musings on the unpronouncable horror that is Cthulhu got me thinking about a similarly implacable killing machine with a similarly aitch-bedecked name: No Country For Old Men‘s Anton Chigurh.
These guys have more in common than just their names and their hairstyle. Each is a destructive force of the act-of-god variety. The protagonists in No Country For Old Men and The Call of Cthulhu never really manage to accomplish anything: your best chance of survival, should you be a character in one of these stories, is to hope that the monster doesn’t notice you. In this sense, Cthulhu and Chigurh can be seen as symbols for man’s essential helplessness in the face of a random and uncaring world. But although they’re pretty much above human agency, they are each vulnerable to the random tragedy they embody. At the end of NCFOM, Chigurh gets hit by a car out of nowhere, while Cthulhu’s island home is dragged back into the ocean by an earthquake.
You get the feeling that Lovecraft and McCarthy are both essentially nihilists, but not of the self-congratulatory, clove-smoking, toe-cutting-off variety that we generally see out in our popular culture. These are men who wish that they could go back and take the blue pill. Near the beginning of The Call of Cthulhu, the narrator muses that “we live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” Compare this imagery to Sherriff Bell’s dream at the end of No Country for Old Men:
The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night, goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and snowin, hard ridin. Hard country. He rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothin goin by. He just rode on past and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down, and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that 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. Out there up ahead. Then I woke up.”
The imagery in the speech from NCFOM is also quite similar to that in The Road (coming this winter starring Viggo Mortensen!!11!). Actually, though everyone thinks The Road is McCarthy’s darkest and most nihilistic work, I think it shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that, as you say, he’s really a big old softie who sincerely wants to believe in man’s goodness.
Not as sure about Lovecraft…
Has anyone ever made a movie about Lovecraft battling actual demons? Can someone get on that, please?
Or how about an online role playing game set in the Lovecraft universe. They could call it “World of Lovecraft.” Okay, I’ll stop.
Okay, more overthinking. Is Chigurh being hit by a car an example of his being victim to randomness, or is it the exact opposite. When I saw the movie, I thought it was the author/God imposing his own will on this seemingly unstoppable character; in other words, flipping the coin on Chigurh, so to speak. As if McCarthy/the Coen brothers/God/the world is saying, “You think you’re such a killer? Well, even you can’t beat Me, bitch.”
In that case, NCFOM isn’t set in a nihilistic universe but rather a Gloucester in King Lear “the gods kill us for their sport”-type universe.
I didn’t detect much demonstrative agency behind the “hit” on Chigurh.
I mean, I definitely think the point is “we live in a hostile world full of killing machines and even badass Chigurh can be a victim of violence,” but I don’t think that Chigurh is the intended recipient of that message.
I also think it’s an “Indy in the fridge” moment where you see the old country and the new country collide — literally. Because obviously most of us aren’t going to meet that many hitmen in our lives, but that sort of life isn’t totally alien from the brutality of our own — it’s the bridge; we just kill with station wagons instead of shotguns.
The irony, of course, being that station wagons are far more fearsome and kill far more people than shotguns too.
I also don’t think the world of NCfOM is nihilistic. Pessimistic, sure, but not nihilistic.
And I don’t think Lovecraft is nihilistic, either.
It’s one of the old philosophical discussions Jordan and I had once:
If a demon who wanted to kill you showed up, what’s the proper reaction? Be scared and sad, because you’re going to be killed by a demon, or be excited and intrigued, because it means there’s something more to the world than you might have otherwise considered?
I was always a bit more on the latter side.
I definitely agree that NCfOM shows global brutaility failing to inspire much of courage. Same with Lovecraft. They think that sort of reaction would be delusional.
But I also don’t think the world, at least in NCfOM is entirely blank, either — entirely dark and level.
Because, after all, Chigurh does survive being hit by a car, and presumably goes on to kill again. So, something manages to endure. It’s just not what we might like.
But Pete, that’s just the thing: the demons in Lovecraft don’t want to kill you. They’re as impersonal and implacable as gravity. And his protagonists do generally learn that there’s something more to the world than they might have considered, that something generally makes them suicidal or insane.
There’s some of that in NCFOM as well. Sheriff Bell never actually comes into direct contact with Chigurh (at least in the movie): he basically just learns that the monster exists. And that alone is almost enough to destroy him.
Typo. Should be, “And while his protagonists…” etc.
Well, sure, but at least going insane or suicidal is an affirmative response. There’s something nonrandom to their reactions, which is the point.
I do hope I wasn’t just deprived of a movie ending on the magnitude of “I am your father” or Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense finding out that he’s actually… oh never mind.
Sorry about the spoiler! But I don’t think we’ve really ruined anything for you. The car crash is SO random, and SO disconnected from the narrative, that knowing that it’s coming in advance isn’t really going to change your viewing experience much.
I guess finding out about the dark unknown does drive men insane . . .