What are some thematic differences between the book and film versions of No Country for Old Men?
No Country For Old Men is a book-to-film adaptation that stays remarkably close to the original material. There are no large plot or character changes. The dialogue is often taken straight from the novel, and the overall tone of the film accurately captures many of the book’s thematic elements. It is a stark, mysterious, and violent film made from a book that is equally stark, mysterious, and violent.
Thematically, the book and the film are very similar. The novel emphasizes the thoughts and feelings of the characters more than the film does, while the film emphasizes the actions that the characters take, letting the motivations for those actions be determined by the viewer.
The biggest difference between the book and the film is the use of the interior monologue. In McCarthy’s book, Sheriff Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones in the film) delivers numerous italicized monologues. The film, like the book, opens with narration from the Sheriff. Many of the themes are present in this initial monologue. The sheriff recalls the one time during his career that he arrested and sent a criminal to the gas chamber. A nineteen-year-old boy had murdered a fourteen-year-old girl. The boy was callous and had no remorse. The sheriff had never encountered someone like this and wonders if he is “some new kind.” The changing nature of violence is one of the major themes in the film and the novel.
The Coen brothers, the directors and screenwriters for the film, do not use as many interior monologues in the film as there are in the novel. These monologues are almost always delivered as voice-over narration in a film. This type of narration isn’t as essential in a film as it is in a novel, and over-reliance on voice-over is often considered a weak point in a film. Film is a visual medium, and much of the content of a monologue can be shown, or delivered in conversation. The Coen brothers use some of the content of these monologues at different times in the film, but not in monologue form.
There are other, more minor differences between the book and film. The dog chase scene where Moss (Josh Brolin’s character in the film) flees and shoots the dog as it is leaping on top of him is not in the novel. The first time the Chigurh character (Javier Bardem in the film) and Moss confront one another in the hotel plays differently in the book than in the film. In the book Moss actually takes Chigurh captive and then flees, rather than Chigurh sneaking in and wounding Moss. In the book, Moss’s wife doesn’t refuse to call the coin toss just before her demise; she calls it incorrectly.
The film deals with the ingenuity and cleverness of the characters in a more detailed way than the book. It lingers over the moments of improvising a hiding place, setting a trap, or bandaging oneself much longer than does the book.
Overall, the book makes a more pointed critique of American society. In the novel the sheriff’s monologues clearly detail his feelings that America is falling apart. He suggests that the violence and morals of the society have changed so significantly during his tenure as a police officer that the sheriff feels that he doesn’t belong to, or recognize, American society any longer.
Some interesting points: the film uses no musical soundtrack. The only music heard onscreen comes from the mariachi band playing when Moss awakens across the border in Mexico. The title of the novel is a quotation from the opening of the poem “Sailing to Byzantium” by W. B. Yeats.