Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A quick read for Advent

The new Coen brothers movie, No Country for Old Men (first line of W. B. Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium") is said to be very fine, and I am looking forward to seeing it (in all its violent and bloody glory), but as always in such cases the book by Cormac McCarthy is the thing.

McCarthy is now best known (thanks to Oprah) for his novel about a father and son at the end of the world, The Road, but I think Blood Meridian is still his masterpiece (thus far). Clearly these books are not for everyone, but for those with an Advent mentality (see June 21 post, "What, Advent already?"), the darker-than-dark outlook on the reign of Sin and Death found in Blood Meridian has a strangely exhilarating effect.

In any case, no movie, however skilled the direction, can convey the theological undercurrents present on the printed page. No Country for Old Men, like Graham Greene's "entertainments," is clearly a minor work among McCarthy's greater ones, yet the ruminative voice of Sheriff Bell provides a running theological commentary of sorts, in the face of implacable evil. McCarthy has a pitch-perfect ear for the Sheriff's south Texas speech. For instance:

I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics. Maybe he [Satan] did. I told that to somebody at breakfast the other mornin and they asked me if I believed in Satan. I said Well that ain't the point. And they said I know but do you? I had to think about that. I guess as a boy I did. Come the middle years my belief I reckon had waned somewhat. Now I'm startin to lean back the other way. He explains a lot of things that otherwise don't have no explanation. Or not to me they don't.

And this:

Loretta [his wife] told me that she had heard on the radio about some percentage of the children in this country bein raised by their grandparents...Parents wouldn't raise em. We talked about that. What we thought was that when the next generation come along and they don't want to raise their children neither then who is going to do it? Their own parents will be the only grandparents around and they wouldn't even raise them. We didn't have an answer about that...I wake up sometimes way in the night and I know as certain as death that there aint nothin short of the second comin of Christ that can slow this train.

Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
Once for our salvation slain...

--Charles Wesley

PS. Saw the movie last night. Very disappointing. The layers of subtle meaning are just not there. In the book, the sense that the narcotics trade plumbs new depths of evil is far more pronounced and penetrating. The important lines from the sheriff's running commentary are missing, or mumbled so that you can't hear them. Nor is the film as hair-raising as the book, not by a long shot.

All this is by way of saying that for those with a taste for descending into hell, and for thinking about its reality and power, Cormac McCarthy is the best that I know since Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."