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‘No Country for Old Men’: The status of Moss

[NOTE: This post is about the film "No Country for Old Men" and is brimming with SPOILERS. Do not read this if you have not seen the movie.]

By far the most thoughtful discussion I’ve ever seen on this website has been the one about “No Country for Old Men” (the best film of 2007, in my opinion). If you read the comments people have posted, you’ll see a variety of interpretations of the film’s themes and messages, and even some alternate theories about the plot.

Many of these interpretations are perfectly valid insofar as they are not contradicted by anything within the film itself. But there is one theory — a persistent one, surprisingly — that is flat-out wrong. It is the theory that Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), the man who steals the bag of money and tries to outrun the evil Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), is not killed when the movie says he is killed and in fact is still alive, hiding out, perhaps in preparation for a sequel.

Miramax has been kind enough to send screener DVDs of the film (along with other “prestige” pictures) to members of various critics groups. Now that I have the film in hand and am not relying solely on memory, I hope I can end this speculation once and for all.

First, the movie says Moss is killed. We have to accept that as the truth unless the movie also gives us a compelling reason to suspect otherwise. Some viewers find such a reason in the fact that we don’t actually see his murder. It does seem odd, I grant you. We’ve been following his every move for so long, and then his death occurs offstage. Why?

I think that’s easy to answer. Because so much of the action has focused on him, we’ve been tricked into thinking he’s the protagonist of the story and forgetting who the real protagonist is: Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). After Moss’ death, the focus shifts back to Bell again, and it’s through his eyes that we learn Moss has been killed. Bell comes upon the scene at the motel, sees the body, informs Moss’ wife, and so forth.

One of the overarching themes of the movie is the unfairness and capriciousness of fate. You don’t get to choose what happens to you, at least not in the film’s worldview. “You can’t stop what’s comin’,” Bell’s uncle tells him. “it ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” By not giving us the satisfaction and closure of seeing Moss’ last stand, the film is emphasizing this theme of frustration and helplessness. We’re deprived of our expectations, just like the characters are.

Still, some viewers cling to the false hope that Moss is yet alive. Some say that Moss’ wife never actually sees his body, that it’s only Sheriff Bell who does, and that Bell had never met Moss and doesn’t know what he looks like. This is incorrect.

Here is a transcription of Bell’s dialogue with his deputy when they first investigate the scene of the drug deal that went awry:

BELL: “I know this truck. Belongs to a feller named Moss.”

DEPUTY: “Llewelyn Moss?”

“That’s the boy.”

“You figure him for a dope runner?”

“I don’t know. I kindly doubt it.”

Bell says the last line with a bit of a gentle laugh. He obviously knows Moss, at the very least by reputation. Later scenes make it clear he knows Moss’ wife. Why would he know her but not her husband? And how would he know Moss’ truck without knowing Moss?

But if, defying all logic, Bell still somehow had never met Moss face-to-face — well, in that case, he’d have Moss’ wife identify his body, wouldn’t he? If he doesn’t even know what Moss looks like, why would he jump to the conclusion that the dead body in the motel room is Moss? Remember that there’s another guy lying there, too, still alive but struggling, a Mexican that Moss was apparently able to fire a shot into before being hit himself. Why would Bell assume either of these guys is Moss? They could just as easily be innocent bystanders.

Some other viewers have said we never get a clear look at the body. But in fact we do, in two different shots: Bell runs up to the hotel room and we see Moss’ body just inside the door; Bell tells the people next door to call the police; then Bell looks back at Moss and we see his body again.

Here’s Moss the last time we see him alive, talking to the woman at the swimming pool:

And here’s the body Sheriff Bell sees on the motel room floor:

Sorry, folks. That’s Moss. Same shirt, same hat, same face (albeit from an obscured angle). It’s sad, I know, but we must accept the truth.

And viewers who say that the body in the morgue can’t be Moss because it has no facial hair are imagining things. The closest we get to the morgue body is this long shot:

If you can detect the presence or non-presence of facial hair from that angle, you have better eyes than I do.

I hope this puts the “Moss is alive” theories to rest. The hard facts of the movie indicate he is dead. There won’t be any sequel. Sorry.

In a later post we’ll deal with a question that truly does have several possible answers: Were Sheriff Bell and Anton Chigurh in the hotel room at the same time?

[NOTE: Before posting comments with additional questions or observations, please read these other posts -- "Bell and Chigurh and the motel room"; "More 'No Country for Old Men' questions and answers" -- to see if the issues have already been addressed.]

23 Responses to “‘No Country for Old Men’: The status of Moss”

  1. will d Says:

    thanks, finally the theory that Moss was still alive is put to rest. ya its tough since most films usually will bring back/re expose characters with a mysterious death who a lot of the film has been apart of, but that’s just the point mccarthy and the coens are making isn’t it? he’s the real life guy, not the superman hero we might of thought, in a sense moss may be the most flawed character: he’s a vietnam vet who now lives in a trailer and won’t let the money out of his hands that he knows is dirty money. like a man who loves his wife he is reassuring to carla jean since she is worried and is masculine in the midst of chigurh by replying to chigurh’s offer over the phone that he’s got somethin for him and he wont have to come lookin for him. but it’s like what TLJ said about the cattle, nowadays they just shoot a rod into their brain and they never know what hit em,’ the cattle no longer can stand up to the power of man like moss can’t prevail from the mexicans or bardem despite the fact that he is in an open planed west texas with nothin really surrounding him but desolate land and arid grass, it goes to show he can run but he can’t hide

  2. whome Says:

    Ah, but filmmakers and authors both have been known to change their minds, and change the backstory for purposes of the sequel. I don’t doubt that Moss was dead, but in a possible sequel, the filmmakers (or at least the studio execs) can change things a bit. When Lucas wrote his 9 star wars stories, was Vader Luke’s father? Probably not. But a bit of fudging here and there and — presto — the backstory is now a bit different.

  3. JKC Says:

    It’s McCarthy. Of course he’s dead.

  4. kourtney Says:

    Before this blog I thought, “Eric can blab all he wants! I swear it was a bearded Mexican gangster wearing a red shirt dead on the floor, not whitey-white James Brolin wearing his fancy new poolside outfit!” But now I can finally sleep at night knowing that I was wrong. Thank you for the pictures (I never learned to read).

    Just for the record, I encourage you to keep blabbing. We all like it.

  5. Bob T Says:

    Its funny, but I thought the dead guy on the floor was one of the Mexicans that was asking for information from Moss’s mother in law.. Anyway, can someone tell me what happened to the money???

  6. Chris Says:

    Theory that the sheriff is in on everything. Just a thought but there are a lot of scenes that make me suspicious. I’ll try to remember all of them….
    1/ The sheriff and his dip**** sidekick ride up on the shootout scene. We know his sidekick is dumb which would be perfect as he would’nt suspect anything. While there, they spoke about whether or not the transaction was for money and it was pretty obvious the sheriff knew there was money involved.
    2/ The bodies in the bed of the truck that the sheriff pulled the driver over for. Probably means nothing as the guys was just cleaning up but made me suspicious. Why include that scene?
    3/ The sheriff goes back to the scene of the crime where Louellen was shot. He goes back and looks nowhere but the empty air conditioning space. Did he know that’s where the loot was and did he go back to collect?
    4/ Why is the sheriff so interested in finding Louellen? He keeps saying its to protect him but he knows Louellen has the money. He even goes into other counties trying to find him.
    5/ In the diner when he brings up the device used to kill cattle to Louellen’s wife. We never see how he comes to know of this, in fact he acts puzzled when his partner describes a mysterious death involving a hole in the head with no bullet.
    6/ The final scene where the sheriff (suddenly retired), was describing his dreams. I think they both involved his dad, the first one was his dad owed or had a lot of money for him which he got screwed on and never received. The second was something that involved his dad and he meeting up at a later time. I don’t remember the second one too well as I was trying to piece all this together but I took Anton to be his dad in his dream.
    I don’t think these are all of them but it just seems like there are too many questions involving the sheriff. Not sure why Anton didn’t kill the sheriff in the hotel. Maybe since he already had the money why risk it by killing a sheriff, just let him go away. One interesting thing also was the similarity between the 2 coin flip scenes. The store owner who “married into” ownership of the house, store, land and Louellen’s wife who would have inherited the money, both by chance. Anton asks them both to pick heads or tails, no one else. Any thoughts?

  7. Stinger Says:

    I don’t think we can write off a sequel just yet. Anton Chigurh is still on the loose and isn’t done yet. Anyone up for bringing Sheriff Bell out of retirement? Espicially since this film did well (I assume) in the box office and is likely to win some awards (if it already hasn’t.

  8. Eric D. Snider Says:

    From what I’ve read, the only way there would ever be a sequel to this movie would be over the dead bodies of Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brothers, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin. So don’t hold your breath.

  9. ALANNA Says:

    I seem to recall – the sheriff going to the roped off scene of the crime and looking at a shiny barrel.he knew that Chigurgh was either in there (he revisited another crime scene) or had been there because a hole was blasted out the lock (the air gun). Were they in the room at the same time and why didnt Cighurgh kill the sheriff?

  10. Joey Hancock Says:

    I just hope there is a sequel to clear up all this stuff!! And just look at that bone!!

  11. uzair Says:

    the movie was very good, and you can tell how good, it was as many people still talking about the film, even after watching, classy film,

  12. Mot59 Says:

    Several things come to mind Chigurh walking away without any money. The sheriff not fully telling his story. The ending certainly left open the possibility, if they decide to and enough money is made , to finish this story.
    Chigurh was in the adjacent room and the money was missing. But , maybe it wasn’t remember he paid the kid with a 100.00 dollar bill. Maybe he left town without it?
    Such a thought provoking ending to get people talking it worked to splendor. I had two older ladies behind me in the theatre both said the worst ending ever. I told them it was meant to promote thought and conversation …it was obviously working.
    She said you must have one helluva mind. I said not me the Coen brothers.

    Llewelyn dead? Maybe not , maybe that was the sheriffs dream. They can’t end this Chigurh’s part so easy he is like dirty harry albeit the other side of the law.

    Sequel, time will tell money made will tell. But it’s certainly conceivable and actually that was my first thought as it ended.

    One things for sure I’m buying the DVD to watch it a few more times. :D

  13. Sarah Says:

    Okay, I think the movie is simple. The dream at the end about his dad was him just thinking about his dad dying and moving on to heaven and then waiting for him to come later. I think he was all good. I don’t think he was in on anything, although that thought did cross my mind once while I was watching it, but then I changed my mind. Why was Bell so sure there was money involved?? Come on!! Did you see the amount of drugs in the back of the truck?? Of course money was involved! It was definitely Llewelyn dead on the floor. This talk of a sequel is, no offense, ridiculous! No movie this good could possibly have a sequel. It is a heart wrenching film about our godless society and fate, and nothing else. Bardem limping away at the end was just to confirm that he was still alive at the end. I think everyone is reading way too much into it. The real mystery is why Tommy Lee and Brolin weren’t both also nominated for oscars! Also, who was the actor at the end who plays Bell’s dad and why is he not listed in the credits? That’s driving me crazy.

  14. Dutch Says:

    The old feller at the end of the movie is Barry Corbin. You might remember him from “Lonesome Dove” or “Southern Exposure”.

  15. Doug Says:

    No. I can’t believe people can’t see what is going on here.

    Moss is injured, again, but not killed. The Sheriff never tells Moss’ wife that Moss is dead. Watch it again and see.

    We see him lying on the floor, sure enough. We see the Sherif in the morgue, but no close up of the body.

    So the Sheriff helps Moss fake his death to protect him.

    Moss’ wife tells the Chigurh that she buried her mother. And that she has lost everything. But she does not mention losing her husband. Odd. So why not bury Moss also? That whole scene was a dead give away for a sequel.

    Moss’ wife is not dead either. In fact, she is the one who slammed into him with the station wagon.

    See, Chigurh has figured out that Moss is not really dead and so that was his real motivation for visiting her.

    Have you guys never seen Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2? The way that movie back tracked and filled in detail. That’s all that is going on here in this movie.

    There are way too many unanswered questions in this movie for it to be over. It is only half over.

  16. Mot59 Says:

    Sarah,

    I have a 100million$ reasons why it “MIGHT” not be ridiculous to speculate about a sequel.
    It’s always about money and if a new director decides it and gets backing (if the Coens say -no-) they will have an easy script to write.

    Way too many loose ends.

    I need to watch it once more to decide, first time, I could not hit pause and collect my thoughts (get a drink) now I can. :-)

    Like Doug mentions plenty of ammo to do another. That’s absurd to think because a movie that grossed 74.1 mil it can’t be sequeled. This movie is a thought provoker way more than a GREAT movie. GREAT movies do 200mil.

    This movie is a GREAT provker of thought, for sure!

  17. Samuel Says:

    i’m going to be both gruff and blunt when it comes to a lot of facts surrounding No Country For Old Men. i own both the film and the book, and have enjoyed both, many times since their release.

    some facts:

    Llewelyn Moss is dead. He was killed by the Mexican drug dealers Posse. this is fact, so please listen to this. A mexican in a suit approached Carla Jean and her sick Mother at the airport; remember. They were heading to Llewelyn. The mexican simply asked where they were going, offered to help them, AND GOT THERE FIRST!!!!!!!!!!. can anyone not remember the mexican truck speeding away from the scene. not to mention some of the dead mexicans Llewelyn had killed in the unseen fire fight. DUUUUH.

    what gets confusing is that, even I, enitially thought Chigurh killed Llewelyn, even after reading the book. i had to give everything a second review.
    Chigurh was not there during the fire-fight. he caught up, long after Llewelyn was killed. heres another point where you have to be attentive. remember in the first motel scene where Chigurh kills the mexicans. he notices drag marks in the vent.
    SO, after stumbling accross the place where Llewelyn was killed, he checked the place that the money would most likely have been stashed. THE FREAKING VENT.
    thats why there was a coin in the room when sheriff bell revisited the scene. REMEMBER, Chigurh used a coin to open the vent in the first motel too.
    Chigurh got the cash. NOTICE WHEN HE GAVE THE KID A $100 BILL AT THE END!!!!!.

    Carla Jean was also killed, AND NOOOOOO, she was not in the car. just pause the freaking DVD to see that its some random freaking middle aged man that in NOOOOO way resembles any of the characters otherwise seen or explored during the film or book!!!.
    okay. sigh. So yes, Carla Jean’s death. Anton killed her. he is very particular about blood. he pushed the curtain across a man to avoid spray; lifts his feet on a bed in another scene. places a plastic sheet down on the floor when he operates on himself; he disposes of potentially contaminated socks in another scene.
    after he exits Carla’s home. did you notice that HE CHECKS HIS BOOTS. he was looking for blood. he freaking killed her. so thats that.

    the car was a random event. pure McCarthy madness. it insists that not even the most invincible, evil human being. someone who is a symbolic decider of fate, is free from fate itself. hence a random, horrible crash for poor old anton.

    i hope that enlightens some people.

  18. Mot59 Says:

    We are enlightened…..lol

    I’m still not so sure even after watching it twice they won’t sequel that character. Maybe another completely different script , but using the same murderous character.

    WHY NOT?

    Car crash could represent more than mc carthyism. It could be a scene to keep the character in limbo , which might or might not include a sequel.

    My guess is no, the movie didn’t gross 200-300mil or you would bet the ranch on it.

  19. Simon Says:

    i realise my comment is about 4 months too late, but i just had to contribute.

    there is no way there is going to be a sequel (certainly not one involving the coen brothers or cormac mccarthy). These are a couple of the most enigmatic filmmakers/writers ever, so they would never approve.

    secondly, and this may be frank, and even a bit aggressive, anyone who thinks this film is incomplete, or only half-finished, clearly does not understand the film.

    they have grossly misinterpreted the themes of the film (the randomness of fate; the inevitability of death to name just a couple), which are common in most of the Coen Brothers work.

    all you people complaining about an unfinished movie are undeserving of this genius film.

  20. Deborah Says:

    I just loved to read all these comments and I THANK GOD that still there are people who truly love and understand movies. I hate sequels, and the only reason ppl would want one, its cause they feel like the story didnt end. I loved every part of it and everytime I watch, I understand something new. Actually I never thought about Anton’s particularity with blood, like Samuel said. So there’s still a lot to learn in the movie, the details and everything. Those who wants a sequel should watch it over and over, believe me, it will feel like a sequel.One of the best parts is the first coin toss, where he tells the oldman not to put the coin on his pocket cause it would become a simple coin…please notice the freaking crazy scary face he makes….makes me laugh cause he have no idea how deranged he is…and what he is saying is scaring the hell out of our little old fella….

    Thanks for everyone who posted.

  21. HOPE!! Says:

    I really love this movie. It keeps you at the edge of your edge the whole way through. When you think Moss is safe and will live and get away with the money. . . guess again, he dies. The element of surprise and entertainment is this movie. I hope there will be a sequel just cuz the movie was so well put together. The killer is still alive and in my opinion he was the story of the movie. . . not Tommy Lee Jone’s character, His character was simply an old confuse sherriff waiting to retire.
    What happen to the money? wasnt that the cause of the killings.. Im pretty sure I saw the killer leave empty handed at his closing scene. And too, it seems alot of the criminals in the film knew who he was. That can be something the writers can add to.

  22. Angel Says:

    i have read through all of your blogs. I have read the book and seen the movie. I agree with all of your analysis. I just wanted to add my two cents. i haven’t read most of the responses so sorry if there is repitition. The book deals with Moss’s death much less awkwardly. That girl he meets at the pool and him spend much more time together than the movie indicates (they appear to spend days together). It is in this time together that we get incite into the themes of the story. Moss and the girl drink beer together and get a little tipsy. They almost have an affair but Moss stops her because he doesn’t want to cheat on his wife. He then tells her sort of sternly (she is like a drugged out runaway in the book that he is kind of like an older brother), I am paraphrasing: life is what it is… There is nothing else other than what you experience and wishful thinking is a poor way to confront lifes problems. To me this indicates the author feels we are ignoring our real situation. I think this whole scene that is not in the movie is important for a few reasons. One is that it show Moss’s mistake in taking the money. He thought he found an easy way out and it has cost him everything. He should have left the money and kept working hard in his life. Moss seems to know this and we garner a deeper sympathy for him. I believe this also explains the dreams Sherrif Bell has at the end. One dream is about money but he readily forgets about it and seems unoccupied with the idea of money. The other dream is about real experiences (being cold) and dealing with them. Second, I think the fact that he spends considerable time with the girl leaves open many more possibilities for how Chigur came into the room. For instance, what if Chigur came in one of the many nights that Moss was at that hotel waiting for his wife and hanging out with the girl? Maybe Moss and Chigur had a similar scenario where they could both see each other in the key hole and this occurred on some other night than when the Sherriff was there. Moss would have known to run and the Sherriff, being so smart and aware, also figured out what had occurred and was thus imagining it as if it were real. So mainly, although I totally agree that Chigur was not there (it would be a really bad scene if he were and the Sherriff was acting so cavalier), I think it was less the Sherriff imagining something that did not happen and more him playing in his mind what occurred in the past while Moss was still alive. I read the ending chapters of the book a few times, and this was a while ago, but I still don’t think it is all meant to be 100% clear. I really love this story.

  23. Beestingz Says:

    Ok, I don’t know whether these posts from people claiming that Moss is still alive and a sequel is both required and imminent are from trolls having a laugh or not, but I have a theory forming and I am sad to think I am posting much too late to get a response from any of the Moss Lives crew: Just an informal poll, from those who think that Moss is alive, are you a Christian? Just think it would be interesting to know.

    Thanks everyone!

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