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Thursday, March 13, 2008

3 things No Country For Old Men can tell us about storytelling

A thread on the Agony Booth got me thinking of this movie again (see, they don't just talk about crappy film there) and like Lost, it is unconventionally structured which in some ways highlights some of the storytelling mechanics. So I thought I'd come up with another list (which may be spoilery.)

1) Any time you set out to illustrate a theme, it should be both simple and readily illustrated by the majority, if not all the scenes in the work. No Country does this in spades. The theme is pretty much, "The world is random, violent place, and men cannot control it." Every scene in the film feeds back to this idea, from Tommy Lee Jones' monologues, to the penultimate scene where the ruthless assassin who's driven most (but nowhere near all) of the violence is the victim of a completely random, and very nasty, accident.

2) Follow the action. Find a way to show the interesting things that happen in the story even if the nominal "protagonist" is not present for them. In No Country, by most academic definitions, Tommy Lee Jones is probably the main character, since he is the one who has a character arc. However, like The Great Gatsby, our protagonist has an internal low key struggle while most of the "action" happens without him.

3) Clichés can be great tools for misdirection. While it is generally good practice to, as they say, avoid clichés like the plague, they can be a tool like any other narrative element. If you introduce half a clichéd situation, there's a built-in expectation that, as they say, the other shoe will drop. If you instead drop a brick, you surprise the audience. The whole plotline of No Country can be thought of as being built on this premise. The whole film is constructed of cliché genre set-ups that resolve in ways other than expected. From the large, having the climatic gunfight happen off-screen with the "wrong" guy losing, to the small, the whole business with the coin flip. I bet the second flip didn't end how dozens of action films led you to expect.

1 comments:

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