No Country For Old Men (Coen Brothers, 2007)

In No Country For Old Men (2007), a film adaptation of a novel by Cormac McCarthy, Joel and Ethan Coen stylistically utilize minimalist sound and cinematography in service of their storytelling. As a film depicting moral emptiness and a cold, unforgiving world, the somber and contemplative tone allows the viewer to ostensibly feel the world it’s depicting.

There is no musical soundtrack complementing the film’s visual images, but this minimalist nature befits the theme of moral emptiness born in the story. The soundtrack is entirely of diegetic material; because of this, rather than being distracted by music, the viewer’s attention is fixed on what is occurring on screen. Because of this stylistic choice, details such as the sound of footsteps, gusts of wind, unraveling of wrappers, and creaking of doors are clearly noticeable; the viewer is able to take in every aspect of the environment. Moreover, the lack of sound exaggerates the impressions left by the visual images; camera movements, angles, and cuts become markedly more noticeable.

In some ways, these stylistic choices may be disadvantageous. Musical scores generally enhance a viewer’s engagement of a film and aids the viewer in recognizing changes in mood; since there is no musical score, apart from diegetic musical sources, the film maintains a consistent mood. Moreover, becoming too aware of the technical aspects of filmmaking, such as camera movements, angles, and cuts, may disengage the viewer. In spite of this, the atmosphere produced through the stylistic utilization of minimalist sound and cinematography suits the thematic plot constructions – particularly that of moral emptiness and a cold, unforgiving world.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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