An unexpected kindness from my dear transcontinental friend @dmsnyc / Nomad Soul. You are a steady source of light in my life from 3,000 miles away. Thanks for making my week with your extraordinary generosity, comrade!
This is one of the essays (and films) that means the most to me. Confession: It’s a place I retreat to and find an odd comfort in when I am doubting everything and itchy with the particular pettiness of a city.
YOU CAN’T STOP WHAT’S COMING
by Erica Cantoni
This land is changing.
Anton Chigurh did not make it so, but he is a harbinger.
I rewatch No Country for Old Men and lapse in to quiet again. Think with reinforced conviction that it might be the saddest movie I know. Think that it feels like a documentary for life gone past, life erasing itself by the day.
I lie on the dusty wide wooden floor as if it were a flatbed and consider the plains frozen on my cumbersome 1996 television. Consider what it means to be a man on those plains that unroll straight south into Mexico in 1980.
No Country can make you mourn for not being born a man. For the fact that I can spend a lifetime admiring and loathing this fraternity and never be eligible for inclusion. Probably, it will make you sadder still for men and where they will go when they run out of land and years. Sad for good simple men when sense is sparse, when expectations flood and thin into something they no longer understand.
I watch again and still can’t precisely explain to you what it is about Chigurh that will not let me be.
Chigurh is just a man.
He is a pitiless, humorless man calmly slaughtering in a Reagan-elect era America. Slow like the strongest things are, buttoned up in dark stiff denim and boots he checks carefully. Expropriating cars made for eventual abandoning in Utah, or one day’s drive later, in Nevada. A heavy black man-bob worn long as a dare. Decide to make fun of it. Give him one reason to owe you a debt.
It is Javier Bardiem, and Tommy Lee Jones can’t stop talking about “the Mexicans”, so we suppose this Anton must be one. And yet he isn’t, that isn’t right at all. He must be Eastern Europe, Moscow, Siberia. Long cold bones and the pretty powdered, cruel face of the former Soviet Bloc. Thick and heavy-footed and determined as Stalin. Hitler. Milosevic.
I could watch you all day, Chigurh. I could listen to the way you speak to Llewelyn for the first time – hospital room to hotel room. Unidentified and intimate as old lovers at the end of a spell. It is all half sentences and anticipated thoughts. No formalities. No overt threats. All elegant cruelty. "Do you know where I’m going" "Yeah I know where you’re going. She won’t be there." "You know how this is going to turn out, don’t you?"
I would take field notes on your irritation at wasted words. Your existential impatience with extrinsic morality. Your righteous refusal to take responsibility for anyone – for their choices or their fate, a standard I think you might worship if you prayed to anything at all. Brutal as you are, I would find it hard to walk away from your proverbs. Would watch them over one shoulder, torn as Lot’s wife: “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”And, “You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.”
But Chigurh is a metaphor too and oddly it is that role that pushes me back from him. Repulsed.
He is a brave new world’s villain. That he is calmly pursuing Josh Brolin specifically to retrieve his $2 million in drug-trade-gone-bad money is fairly incidental. Sure, he will kill Llewelyn and Llewelyn ‘s wife and Woody Harrelson’s snappy Carson Wells and motorists and Hispanic drug peddlers and a handful of other human collateral, incidental as cold change. But none of those are his most tragic victims or proof of his greatest threat.
You should understand from the start that Chigurh is the meaningless marching of time and change – coming for us undaunted and unexplained. Change unjustified. And you cannot watch Sherriff Ed Tom Bell stand at the gate to the field and observe this tide approaching and how his old soft face works to sort it out and fails and not be broken by what it means to be a man. Now.
This old Texan county is Ed Tom’s to protect. To understand a step before anyone else, to control. There was a time when a man could do this, he tells us, without even carrying a gun. And now those days are gone and on deck are days of men who have outgrown guns. Who turn to weapons crafted for the efficient slaughter of animals. And I realize there is no coincidence in Chigurh’s tool; What are these men and what will they keep becoming but animals?
And that is what Ed Tom Bell can’t live with most of all.
In an era that has outpaced Sheriff Bell, Chigurh is the nuclear outcome. The modern, mutated anthem of men who will engineer their own principles and adhere to those exclusively, wholly separate from the issue of collective morality. Wholly agreeing to disregard that expired simplicity and goodness because there is so much more to choose from. And I think that is the underlying theme of the whole movie and maybe most specifically of Chigurh.
If we can’t stop expecting more of men, how long can it be until they pick what matters to them most and abide by those principles alone?
For Anton, it is his oddly refined, entirely unique sense of justice. It is never a question of whether or why he wants to kill Llewelyn; It is that he must. That is his contractual obligation in an existence where Llewelyn’s actions have wronged and offended if not collectively, specifically. There is no option and no rest until this is accounted for.
If Chigurh is modern hell then Sheriff Bell is nostalgic heaven and I suppose that makes Llewelyn purgatory. Or perhaps he is the pawn and the stakes Chigurh and Bell play for.
So what will you choose - No Country asks each of you Llewelyns - and what will be set aside for it? Will it be freedom or fortune or mass affirmation or sexual adventuring or family or art or greed or leisure or faith? And where will you leave us along the way? Where will you leave you?
I will never grow tired of the subject of what it means to be a good man. I could debate it for hours and still fall quiet at night in gutted empathy because who do You get to ask about this issue? What can you do but collect our demands long as a flight prep list and merge them with your own and decide where you will disappoint?
Be smart and charming and funny and manly and progressive and know the right words that will ache us and then be strong enough to put it all back together. Figure out how to monetize that charm and cleverness. Figure out how to succeed. Be removed and bastardly enough that we do not grow tired of you. Honest and sensitive enough that you will not damage our own good hearts. Be hardened and invincible, but quote from the right books and make us laugh. Impress us all. There is an airstrip one county over and now the whole damn state is yours to conquer and serve and be clear: This is expected of you. It’s all within reach and all invading.
So learn to be the protector and the nurturer and the rogue and the reliable. Or choose yourself and freedom and fail us.
Mills asked once if these paradoxes are unique to men and I say yes. Betraying my gender I say yes, just as there are pressures and conflicts and weariness unique to being a woman, I will lead the march to the town square to confess: Being a man is nearly impossible to get right. And we need you so much to get it right.
This is not 1980 Texas and ours is not just the matter of warping crimes and fading human decency. But this is still our evolution and our question of what becomes of good men. What becomes of a country to which no men truly belong? Of us when we break apart and abandon the expanding collective good we never can be strong enough to carry for the manageable cult of self or selective principles.
I don’t know how you can be everything this evolving world asks you to. And I fear I might mourn the priorities you select instead. Fascinated as I am by him, I regret Anton Chigurh’s principles and the principles you might whittle out and how you’ll pursue them just as relentlessly.
But what else we can expect when no one holds your forehead when a migraine blows in. When a badge is irrelevant. And we don’t know how to hear your helplessness.
"I always figured when I got older, God would sort of come into my life somehow. And he didn’t. And I don’t blame him."
Erica Cantoni works in the non-profit world by day and writes by night. She believes in Radical Sincerity, aims to earn admission to the Travelers Century Club before she dies and reveres movies, books and things on the internet that make her cry in the best possible ways. She and her husband live in Los Angeles with their adorable cat.
Two years ago today, I was somehow lucky enough to get this girl to marry me. It is hard to express how lucky I feel to have her as my wife. Meeting her felt like taking off a blindfold. I have been very fortunate in my life, but she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me by far.
This picture is from the Mötley Crüe concert the other night because we rock hard like that.
Every day is an adventure. Every day brings new projects, new foods, new lands or new emotions. I’d move back into a trailer for this woman. She challenges me, makes me laugh, inspires me, outsmarts me, and teaches me to be a better person, every single day. She is my northern star.
My cup overflows. Happy anniversary!
Things Chris wrote that I love.
Today marks two years of being married. It’s been a tricky past year….elations and heartbreaks we didn’t see coming and a long slog of faith and resilience and some days, breaks of weary doubt. Somehow, it’s also been a year of joy and intimacy that cracks and spreads into spaces I never thought the light could get into. By which I mean I have now peed in front of him a time or two but also, deeper, we know each other and our shared life in the sort of way a parachute squadron knows its equipment. Tenderly, having thumbed across stitches and spreads of canvas to understand its strengths and frays.
In our first year of marriage, in those awful weeks we lived in the Airstream, we invented a song called Best Selves and sang impromptu verses to will and mould ourselves back into the sort of humans who could stand being married to each other.
In year two, that song floated through the days and became a sort of pulse. An unseen rhythm that we marched and swayed and collapsed and rose to and I know it is not just me. I see it in him, in the choices he makes everyday to serve me and forgive me and be more selfless and more tender and more thoughtful. And so many times we still flail and flop and stubbornly retreat (you should have heard us hollering at each other on a hike Saturday morning; half of Culver City did) but there is something precious just in the striving and learning. In knowing that you are not alone in the commitment or taken for granted. That all the days you wrangle down your selfish impulses and try to do the better thing because you believe that marriage is not static, is not the goal but is the adventure and the job, is something that if not rebuilt every day, begins to erode and crumble — all the days you remind yourself this, he is doing the same good, hard, Best Self work too. For you.
Honestly, I think he is better at it than I am. I will always be more mercurial. I will always drift and rage and break and lash in ways he is rarely prone to. And it seems he will always know, better than anyone else ever has, how to be beside me through these storms (not too close and not too far which is an impossible dance few have had the patience to learn).
He is the most fun I’ve ever had, no matter our conditions. He is the only tree my tree can stand to be planted close to. Happy Anniversary, love.
Chris made red curry and broccoli tonight and I contributed tempura shrimp and then we ate and were immodestly in love with our own handiwork and watched this week’s Halt and Catch Fire and cried because dammit DAMMIT it was unbelievably beautiful.
"There are a handful of shows I ask everyone I talk to about television if they have seen: The Wire, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights. But when I ask them if they’ve watched and loved Friday Night Lights, what I mean is are you my kind of person? Are you all heart? Are you bothered by this 21st-century lack of earnestness, our abundance of irony? Do you wonder how we forgive and coach ourselves to do better? How we can strive again for valor and loyalty and daring and redemption?
I fear we are defaulting to needless negativity as some kind of social currency. But Friday Night Lights is the most earnest show I’ve ever watched. Not sentimental, however: these characters aren’t perfect. In fact, this show is incredibly astute at allowing humans to have stratums of complexity: to have character and occasionally act without it, and then to live in the mire of their own dumb choices. Do I adore Coach? Yes. Do I think, as Tammy says, he is a molder of men and a husband of fierce devotion? Absolutely. Do I also think he can also be a self-involved, sexist prick who values his career over his wife’s? No question.
Regardless of the scale of the battle, the stakes in Friday Night Lights are rarely phony or contrived. It’s about winning games, sure, but its scope far exceeds that. This is a show that tests and reflects commitment not just on the football field, but back in the locker room. And in Street’s rehab room, and Saracen’s grandmother’s living room, and Julie’s bedroom, and eventually out to Luke’s farm and Tim’s prison and Tammy’s dream in Philadelphia. This commitment is not about obligation, but something more sacred. Duty. The hidden gale that blusters and grows within us and makes us yearn to give someone else exactly what they need.”
—Erica Cantoni on Friday Night Lights (Bright Wall/Dark Room, Issue #14, July 2014)
Friday Night Lights is the sort of creative endeavor that means so much to me, I fear it was impossible to do it justice. (Though incidentally, Brianna’s amazing portrait of Riggins in the rain comes gloriously close). In any case, it’s always a pleasure to write for Bright Wall / Dark Room. If you haven’t subscribed to the magazine (on line here for $2 a month), today is the time!
Guys, last night we saw Mötley Crüe play at the Hollywood Bowl and I’m not even ashamed to tell you how earnestly I sang along to the perfect encore or how sincerely I enjoyed Nikki Sixx’s storytelling. It was a surreal, communing with your 14 year old self kind of night.