Monday Musing: No Country For Old Men, Or, The Whiskey Was Warm the night was not

He walked into the bar just after sundown. Steven Levine. His friends call him The Adorable Rabbi. Some prefer The Divine Levine. Cold outside. The kind of night you pull your coat up around your head and make like a turtle. The bartender took an immediate dislike to the Divine One. She stared at him like he’d slapped her sister. It was making me nervous. But that’s the sort of night it was. Lonely no matter the number of people around. Edgy.

The Rabbi settled onto his stool and I looked up.

“I finally saw it.”

He got excited, in his way.

“you saw it?”

“I did.”

“what’d you think?”

“it’s good. real good”

Time passed. He was waiting for me to want to know but he already knew I wanted to know and I knew he knew it. More time passed.

“alright Stevie, what’s your theory?”

The Rabbi always has a theory but I can’t fault him for it. So do I. Trouble is, the Rabbi’s a Hegelian. If you know any, you know what I mean. No doubt it’s the side effect from all those dialectics. Metaphysicians the lot of them but they try to queer it. Made the whole system organic, fused it with history. The works. Hegelians.

“spill it, Rabbi.”

“the thing is,” he was warming up, “the thing is that after a few disastrous movies the Coens went back to their bread and butter.”

“keep talking.”

“they went back to The Big Lebowski.”

“you’re crazy.”

“no, listen.”

I ordered him another whisky to settle his upper lip. I hate it when Hegelians take to quivering. They never know how to start a point ‘cause it’s all one big fucking idea. Like Parmenides and his “well rounded truth.” No way to get in. A whole tribe of hedgehogs. Hegelians.

“take a sip, kid, and start from the start.”

“it’s like this, see. The Dude is the person for whom, in the end, nothing matters because everything is OK.”

“always loved The Dude.”

“but in No Country we get The Dude for whom everything matters and nothing is going to be OK.”

I kept quiet for a minute. Damn Rabbi was on to something.

“the Dude is the Coen Brothers’ theory of goodness, which is basically that the good is banal… The Banality of Goodness. and that’s a good thing. goodness is really about absolute flexibility, just flowing around.”

“spin it out, Rabbi.”

“well, they decided to take the goodness out of The Dude and remove all the limpness. what happens if you make The Dude hard? what happens if you make The Dude a man who actually turns his maxims into imperatives? you remove all the fluid goodness and you get badness, evil. Anton Chigurh.”

They always throw a dig at Kant in there. They can’t help it, it’s in the blood. The Rabbi was no different. Still, he had me up against the ropes. Nobody ever called that stinkin’ Hebrew stupid. I was stalling for time. Never let a Hegelian close the circle.

“sure, I see the angle. but what…” (I was grasping here) “what about the fate stuff? what about the Greek shit?”

I was swinging wilder than a blind kid at a pinata party but I figured I might square his circle a little with the flip. Plus you can always slow a philosopher down with the classics. Only thing that intimidates them. Throw out a few lines of ancient Greek and they’ll let you date a family member. I saw The Rabbi hesitate and I made my move.

“Chigurh is a Fury, man. plain and simple. we’re talking Oresteia territory here. never get messed up in affairs of the Gods. never get tangled up with Fate and never get in the way of the Olympian order… because the Furies do not stop.”

He downed his whisky in one gulp. I had snagged a line and I was yanking it until somebody yelled Uncle.

“you’re good Rabbi, but you’ve got the wrong movie.”

Then it came to me.

“the real remake here is Raising Arizona.”

He turned away, thinking. I could see the vein bulging on his neck from all the blood his brain was begging for. Time to give the screw one more turn and then let Wilhelm Friedrich the Second dangle.

“fate is the subject, my friend. always has been, always will be. moira is big and human beings are little and when the two get together you have got yourself a story. Aeschylus or the Coen Brothers. don’t matter. everybody gets their portion.”

“yeah, I can see that.”

“funny thing about the Coens in the 80s and 90s is they thought they could do the Fates in the register of comedy. human beings transgress. the Furies are sent to do Fate’s bidding. hilarity ensues. Raising Arizona.”


“now the cheeky bastards think they can do tragedy as tragedy. they’ve always liked to swing it far in whichever direction. either everybody’s talking all the time or no one ever says a damn thing. either everybody has something smart to say (Miller’s Crossing) or you can barely get a frickin peep out of nobody (Fargo). you get the picture. they picked up the Cormac McCarthy book and read their own damn script. ‘shit’, they said ‘we couldda wrote that’. Raising Arizona done minimalism and done mean. tragedy.”

Mostly I think he bought it. Started getting that faraway look in his eyes like he’s trying to peer into the night in which all cows are black. But the fact is I was just jumping on his argument and giving it a ride. That’s why we’re good together, me and the Rabbi. Cracked a few open in our day. Aim to crack a few more before the big boat comes. It was a cold night. Lonely. Me and the Adorable Rabbi and some harmless speculatin’ like it ought to be. That’s my story.