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The 50 Greatest Movie Endings of All Time

17. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Screenwriter: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Cormac McCarthy, the author of great novels like All the Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian, does not write the easiest dialogue to deliver. His sentences are either long, baroque constructions, like gilded suspension bridges, or they're clipped and terse, speech that you spit out. His phrasing is unusual. Ending a film on a large chunk of text from McCarthy, as is the case in the Coens' adaptation of No Country for Old Men—an improvement on the novel, it should be noted—is a bold and difficult thing. But, apparently, the soultion is simple: Point the camera at Tommy Lee Jones and let him do his thing.

Jones, as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, recounts two dreams to his wife. No music accompanies his monologue. The two dreams, both of which involve his father, inspire as much mystery as they do illuminate the broader themes of the work. His dead father, in a romanticised Western scene, carries on through "the mountains of the night," and Ed Tom follows. His dead father carries fire. In the dream, Ed Tom has nothing. Has he helped in his own time to make the world better, or has he only put his soul at hazard? Is he a coward? Has he had a premonition of his own death? The film ends—"And then I woke up"—with the quiet ticking of a clock, nothing more. RS

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