An intense noirish western that deals with substantial moral questions, the Coen brothers’ 2007 No Country for Old Men, with its cynical view of modern America, subverts hero-worshiping in the form of a hideously atypical villain who is indestructible as a superhero.
It seems odd to call No Country for Old Men a western. It certainly looks like one. The story takes place in Texas and several elements of the film – the orange-tinted landscape, the cowboy-type hero, the brutal violence – all point to, arguably, the most American of all genres. However, westerns usually are moral tales with archetypes dealing in honour and personal justice. The Coens’ film is rather more ambiguous.
Essentially a road movie that goes well into the past, Bob Rafelson’s 1970 Five Easy Pieces examines class relations in America through the eyes of a spoilt rebel, who is unsure whether to gurgle down beer in bowling alleys or sip wine with sophisticated and yet cold intellectuals.
Who is Robert Eroica Dupea? Is he an egocentric cynic – the unwanted consequence of a counterculture focused on self-improvement? Or a principled idealist, who likes to fight the conformist status quo? Is Dupea’s arrogance a sign of despair or the trait of a truly Übermensch? What is at the core of his dissatisfaction? What is behind his resentment?
One of the most poignant films ever made, Yasujirô Ozu’s 1953 Tokyo Story, a melancholy meditation on parent-child relations, showcases an understated indictment of conflicting intergenerational perspectives in post-war Japanese society through a deceptively simple narrative.
The many layers and contrasting perspectives – parents versus children, old against young, town or city – make this masterpiece one of the greatest films ever made. At its most superficial level, Tokyo Story [Tôkyô monogatari] is about the self-importance middle class families attach to their lives. But the film is far more thought-provoking than that.