The following is a nervously humorous exchange from No Country for Old Men:
“Chigurh: What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?
Chigurh: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.
Proprietor: I don’t know. I couldn’t say.
Chigurh: Call it.
Proprietor: Call it?
Proprietor: Well – we need to know what it is we’re callin for here.
Chigurh: You need to call it. I can’t call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t even be right
Proprietor: I didn’t put nothin up.
Chigurh: Yes you did. You been putting it up your whole life. You just didn’t know it. You know what date is on this coin?
Chigurh: Nineteen fifty-eight. It’s been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it’s here. And it’s either heads or tails, and you have to say. Call it.
Proprietor: Look… I got to know what I stand to win.
Proprietor: How’s that?
Chigurh: You stand to win everything. Call it.
Proprietor: All right. Heads then.
Chigurh: Well done. Don’t put it in your pocket.
Chigurh: Don’t put it in your pocket. It’s your lucky quarter.
Proprietor: Where you want me to put it?
Chigurh: Anywhere not in your pocket. Or it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. Which it is.”
The sometimes remembered French Marxist Jean Joseph Goux remarked on the homology of money and the psychoanalytic phallus – that both are essentially nothing special in and of themselves, but simply point to a kind of presence as presence. In addition and in relation to this, the coin/phallus (and we could also add Levinas’ face of the Other here) circles around a certain conglomerated social (as discussed in my last post) which serves as access to and a bar from the social as such.
In a related way – No Country for Old Men is just as much about debt and payment as it relates to a kind of social momentum. There is essentially no fair trade in the film – there is always a loss, always to much to gain and too much to loose. Several critics of the film have pointed out that we are ripped off cinematically – we don’t receive the death scene of Llewelyn or his wife and we are given the continuing life of Chigurh. We feel ripped off because we don’t receive the payoff from our (emotional and temporal) investment – as is the case with the drug deal gone bad. Even Chigurh’s potential clean up goes beyond its bounds – he kills everyone who gets in his way or even annoys him. Chigurgh attempts to remain outside of the economic, out of the buisness of everything, and acts as a kind of angel of potentiality, going to the very end what he has set out to do, regardless of whether the terms have changed or not. This is summarized best by Chigurh himself when he asks: “if the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
In the final scene of action, however, Chigurgh is lowered to the same economic plane as everyone else – he escapes and survives through the use of money.
The endlessness of debt and the impossibility of paying it off, of owning up to the very cost of living (to take it in a literal sense). We might borrow from Adrian Johnston’s Zizek’s Ontology in regards to what he posits as the antimony of the psyche: that on the one hand I know I will die, I am finite in that my life had a definite beginning and it will have a end and yet, at the same time I am infinite because I neither experienced that birth nor will I experience any death, there is a gap in between where my subjectivity, my sensible existence slips through the fingers of god and reason and everything. The infinite in between the frame of reason and the failure of the sensible bears a plasticity which, for our purposes here, can be defined as monetary.
Sheriff Bell tells his wife about a dream at the end of the film:
“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 Sheriff’s dream tarries with the same plasticity of our leaky economy of being but instead of the movement towards death or life, the constant motion of flipping the coin a la Chigurgh, the Sheriff sits comfortably or uncomfortably in the middle. It’s important to remember that Sheriff Bell’s dream, which he didn’t remember, was about money. His father carrying the fire, carries civilization with him (and tending to the fire is a very Freudian image of civilization) and the Sheriff is not privy to where it came from (birth) or where the path will lead him (death), only that he has to follow.
Regardless of our knowledge we always have to, in no certain terms, discern our place between the two uncertainties – we must grip the fact that value is painfully elastic between these two poles. We are always forced, with or without a Chigurgh before us, to call it.
Filed under: film, Lacan, psychoanalysis | 7 Comments