Stanley Fish offers his take on this excellent film. Here.
The Stanley Fish paragraph below, from the above link, could apply to A Serious Man:
What this means is that there are two registers of existence: the worldly one in which rewards and punishment are meted out on the basis of what people visibly do; and another one, inaccessible to mortal vision, in which damnation and/or salvation are distributed, as far as we can see, randomly and even capriciously.
And this would apply to the antics of Anton Chigurh and the world of “No Country For Old Men”. There has always been the presence of the random and capricious in the Coen’s work. Lately, though, with “No Country”, “A Serious Man” and “True Grit”, it’s sitting differently. There’s a gravity behind it. It’s good to see.
-damnation and/or salvation are distributed, as far as we can see, randomly and even capriciously-
Chigurh I see as connected to Charlie in Barton Fink
Have the Coen’s been watching Bresson?
If they can add to his study of grace then they have something.
That’s an interesting article, I’ve never been totally sure of the Coens’ take on salvation & damnation.
I’ve always kind of seen some link between Charlie, Chigurh, the Biker from Raising Arizona, and maybe the PI from Blood Simple (less possibly the Cyclops in O Brother, although he fits the odyssey motif on his own.) They seem less men than forces.
The impression I get from reading the article is that the author interprets the film’s religious themes and undertones without being a Christian (or believer) himself. That doesn’t automatically invalidate his interpretation, but his way of interpreting certain religious themes (e.g. grace vs. works) don’t really resonate with me.
In the novel and in the Coens’ film it is always like that: things happen, usually bad things (people are hanged, robbed, cheated, shot, knifed, bashed over the head and bitten by snakes), but they don’t have any meaning, except the meaning that you had better not expect much in this life because the brute irrationality of it all is always waiting to smack you in the face.
As Robert and Matt alluded to above, these quality is in films like A Serious Man and No Country for Old Men, but in the Coens’ True Grit (and the book), I find the meaning of these occurences to be dramatic devices; they’re there to make the story more exciting—not necessarily to make a larger statement about grace and why bad things happen to people.
I disagree with the author that True Grit is a religious movie. It may be about resolve and a dogged sense of righteousness and judgment, but that…well, let me stop right there….(Could Mattie be seen as a representation of God’s judgment, in a similar way that Chigurr represents the mystery of pain/suffering/misfortune? Somehow that doesn’t resonate with me based on the film, but I’ll have to think about this more.)