Burn after Reading

Wed Dec 24, 2008

Clancy and I just watched this now, and I’ve had a chance to scan over a couple of the reviews. Ebert’s is surprisingly sloppy; several people do pronounce “Chigurh” in No Country for Old Men, and Woody Harrelson’s character is the only one who knows how to say it correctly. I mentioned to Clancy while we were watching it that the Coen brothers excelled in the poetics of everyday stupidity; “knucklehead” seems to be their favorite description of characters, for example. The John Malkovich character suggests that he’s been at war with morons his entire life, and it’s interesting to consider how the various characters end with respect to their various levels of accomplishment and intelligence: the Frances McDormand character, for instance, is by far the most venal and stupid and stupendously coerces the CIA into paying for elective surgeries. (And this comes from a CIA introduced to us with a mock spy-film satellite zoom to a faceless and dated office building, which routinely commits and covers up domestic murders, and makes us laugh about it. Because it’s clearly funny, expected, and deserved, in the film’s logic.)

George Clooney’s character wasn’t as much of a knucklehead as he might seem, more of a modern-day Odysseus, esp. if you buy the Adorno/Horkheimer reading. (His recreational engineering skills are a bit more impressive than any of the reviewers seemed willing to credit, for example.) I very much enjoyed that his wife wrote obnoxious-sounding children’s books and toured to support them, all the while having an affair of her own. One of the pitiable extras has an interview with the costume designer talking about how proud she was of the gauche jeans, tucked-in polo shirt, belt, and tennis shoes that Clooney wore to the hardware store, which made him look like a “suburban dork.” I started to remember what I was wearing the last time I went to Home Depot and then thought the better of it.