The search for life’s meaning has perplexed many for centuries. It is hard to find a definitive answer because it’s a question that forces you to examine the bigger picture and venture beyond traditional norms on how life ought to be lived. To some, the meaning of life is to achieve goals you set in life, and to others, the meaning of life is simply to live your life to the fullest. In Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country For Old Men, life is absurd.
Prompted by the death of his mother, Meursault is a man of indifference and struggles to find a reason for living. When he’s given the death penalty for shooting the Arab, rather than showing signs of fear, he accepts the “gentle indifference of the world” (Camus 122) and that makes him content. In the film, Llewelyn Moss is chased by serial killer Anton Chigurh and deals with his circumstances in a similar fashion.
He shoves his wife, Carla Jean, and all other emotions aside as he focuses on fighting the inevitable. It’s no surprise when Meursault and Llewelyn ultimately die, but it’s how they dealt with survival that’s most important. In The Stranger and No Country For Old Men, Meursault and Llewelyn are aware that death surrounds them so they live according to their physical instincts rather than their emotional ones in order to repress the fear of their inescapable ends.
From the onset of the novel, Meursault is introduced to death with the passing of his mother.
As the reader, we expect mournfulness and grief on his part, but much to our surprise, he reveals that it “doesn’t mean anything” (Camus 3). In fact, Meursault is much more concerned with getting back into his daily routine after missing a few days of work for the funeral. He cuts off communication with people because he claims that he doesn’t want to talk about his mother, but in reality, it’s because he knows that death is surrounding him. The only person he speaks to is Marie, a former colleague, and even their relationship is strictly a physical one. For example, at the beach, he “helped her onto a float [and] brushed against her breasts,” (Camus 9) and when “she asked him if [he] loved her, [he] told her it didn’t mean anything but that [he] didn’t think so” (Camus 35). Even after the beach, Meursault goes to a comedy with Marie and continues to solely describe his physical attraction to her, not any sense of emotion he has for her. Living without any emotional attachment becomes Meursault’s way of dismissing his mother’s death and hiding from his own. Although his death isn’t approaching at this point in the novel, this foreshadows what will soon become of Meursault himself.
As the novel progresses, it is evident that two of Meursault’s primary outlets are sleep and complaining about others. Sleep allows him to run away from his inevitable death and detach from the world. For example, when he is thrown in jail for shooting the Arab, “all [he] wanted was to get it over with and get back to [his] cell and sleep” (Camus 105). In saying this, he downplays the fact that he is on a murder trial and acts as if he is not the culprit. Throughout his trial process, he continues to exclude himself from the situation emotionally by complaining about his annoyance regarding how people treated him. He wants to participate and share his opinions, almost as if the trial has “nothing to do with [him]” (Camus 98). It’s humorous because he is the main ‘event’ of this case, and this perspective shows how out of touch he is with his own situation. When put on the spot, he can’t even fake his care for the death of Maman and his answers to the questions are stoic and unforgiving. He creates the image of a true hardened criminal and can not even see himself for what he truly is.
Llewelyn has a similar perspective in No Country For Old Men. When he finds the briefcase full of money, he feels obligated to run and leave Carla Jean behind. He doesn’t even spend time contemplating because he knows his life is at stake. It turns out that Carla Jean needs an amount of emotional presence that Llewelyn is simply unable to give her. She begs him to explain to her what is happening, but he shoves her away physically so she can not convince him with her abundance of emotions. Her tears are the only ones we see throughout the film, symbolizing the last moment of humanity as she cries leaving her husband, like she knows this is forever goodbye. Llewelyn relies solely on his physical instincts to survive and often pays others to move him from place to place to continuously hide in dim lit motels and dark rooms. The constant flickering of lights, or little to no light, in a room parallels the lack of emotion that many of the characters have in this film.
Llewelyn finds it difficult to rely on his physical senses after he is injured, so he is taken to a hospital where he is immediately tracked down. By relying only on physical means and not relying on people who cared about him since the beginning, he risks his life and is put in immediate danger. Life is absurd and indifferent because he knows Anton is going to kill him since. In fact, on the phone, Anton blatantly states that he can not be saved. This simple dialogue is one of the few times we hear Anton speak. This decision by the Coen brothers supports the lack of emotion because dialogue is often associated with human connection and intimacy. Instead, the film is mainly centered around physical elements such as action and violence.
Both Meursault’s and Llewelyn’s deaths are ambiguous because neither are explained nor shown. Because of this, there was no emotional connection in their final moments, which stands in conclusion to who they were as people. When faced with death, both men show glimpses of understanding about the meaning of life, yet it is too late. In the case of Llewelyn, when Anton says that he will not survive, we see him turn pale and there’s a glimmer on his face. This suggests that he may be feeling something inside, and that the nature of death has finally hit him. Similarly, in the moments before Meursault’s death, he realizes why Maman chose to make new relationships in her last few months of life. He is ready to open himself to the world and understands that he must “live it all again too” (Camus 122). Unfortunately, Meursault and Llewelyn can’t start over because life is absurd; death is always at the end of the road. They were successful, however, in was creating their deaths through their lack of emotion.