It Happened. I Read the Book After the Movie by Melissa Darcey
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t done it before, but this was the first time in a long time that I could recall. Inevitable for most, but an embarrassment for lit lovers, book snobs, and English majors, I had done it: I read the novel after watching the film version.
I realize this makes me a criminal to some, but I am here to plead not guilty. Why? Because reading the book after watching the movie wasn’t so awful after all.
No Country For Old Men is the novel and film in question, the former written by Cormac McCarthy in 2005 and the latter directed, produced, and written for the screen by the Coen Brothers in 2007. Set in 1980 in Texas, the story follows Llewelyn Moss, a welder on the run from Anton Chigurh, a sociopath and hitman, after he finds a satchel containing over $2 million. Chigurh leaves several bystanders dead in his pursuit of Llewelyn. Overseeing the case is Sheriff Bell, whose backstory and narration is sprinkled throughout the novel (but abridged in the film).
I saw the film a few years after it was released. Javier Bardem’s performance as the pokerfaced and ruthless Chigurh immediately sent shivers up my spine and the Coen brothers’ minimalism in sound and setting left me in a meditative state that continued long after the ending credits.
I knew it was based on a Cormac McCarthy novel but for some reason it never found its way onto my bookshelf or my Kindle. It remained steadfast at number two on my “to read” list, somehow never making it to my lap until a month ago.
I had just finished The Night Circus and, while it was delightfully fantastic, I wanted to change pace. Somehow, No Country For Old Men felt like the right next step.
Cormac McCarthy is, without a doubt, a genius. While I have not read many of his novels, I have loved the ones I have read, particularly No Country For Old Men.
I consumed the book in less than two days, reading half one afternoon after work and the second half the next afternoon. Like his other novels, McCarthy’s language is smooth and the words drip off your tongue like poetry. Even the broken English grammar of the characters can’t break the lucidity. If anything, it serves as beautiful juxtaposition to McCarthy’s grandiosity.
Having seen the film beforehand didn’t detract at all from my reading experience. Yes, I did see Javier Bardem in Chigurh and I saw the Coen brothers’ landscape in McCarthy’s description of the barren land; but that only made my reading even more visually appetizing. Throughout my reading I never once thought, “I wish I had read this before the movie!”
This is likely due to the genius of the Coen brothers who kept the screenplay remarkably faithful to the novel. Very few elements of the novel were left out; and those that were made sense for the film. Yes, excluding the sheriff’s narration and backstory changed the film’s direction and overall “moral of the story.” But, I would argue this was a genius move by the Coen brothers. Rather than recreate an exact replica of the novel or completely strip it down to its bare bones, the Coen brothers found a happy medium.
I lost myself in McCarthy’s language and setting of No Country for Old Men as quickly and easily as I had in The Road, a novel of his with a film I have not seen.
And so I’m here to say it: reading the novel after the film version is not always so bad. Maybe I got lucky because the film was a success; or maybe it’s because McCarthy is that much of a genius. Whatever the reason, I’m not so afraid of watching a film before reading its literary equivalent. Will it become a habit? Let’s not get crazy.
Melissa Darcey is a writer living in Los Angeles. She likes film, books, and the Bronte sisters. She is a strong supporter of the Oxford comma. You can chat with her on Twitter @MelissaDarcey.
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