No country for old men semiology

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No country for old men semiology

  1. 1. No Country for Old Men – The Coin Toss -Semiology (The study of signs, what they represent and how they affect people, facial expression, body language, symbols, sound/tone) There are many points to pick out in this scene from No Country for Old Men, especially regarding semiology. Body language and facial expression profoundly helps create the atmosphere of the scene, and allows the audience to observe how the characters may be feeling. Signs and symbols also crop up fairly regularly, representing what may happen in the scene or the actions the characters may take- we may even call them foreboding. To begin with, there are many physical aspects and their representations we can choose to talk about from The Coin Toss scene. The opening frame for this scene is a vast and barren landscape- this as a symbol could represent isolation or lack of help/escape which we may assume to be the actual situation (as later on we discover the scene contains two men who are in fact alone with each other). Also, there are certain features to this landscape that could represent other things. For example (as a far-out point) the actual sign of the gas station contains the colour red which could signal danger, however the colour is faded which could in turn distort this traditional interpretation and represent danger that is faded or perhaps fake. In relation to the scene this perhaps foreshadows the quiet hostility between one man and the other which precedes an anti-climax of no bad event actually happening. Considering traditional thriller symbols, we can see a fence in the first frame which perhaps represents enclosure and constriction. Moving on from the opening shot there are other objects to consider as signs throughout the scene. Dark clothing for the character that walks into the gas station could represent mystery and perhaps that the character is malevolent. When this man walks into the store, a window is placed behind the cashier. This window causes light to be cast on the cashier, perhaps expressing innocence in his character. However, another object also casts a more negative image on the scene; a rope type object behind the cashier is in the shape of perhaps noose which easily represents death and hostility and perhaps even trial (as if this character is on trial, coin leaves it to chance). At roughly 2:40, the man wearing the dark clothing places a wrapper down on the counter. Slowly, the wrapper un-crinkles - I think this represents that soon the tension build up will unravel what will happen in the scene. Shortly after, the coin is placed next to the wrapper on the counter (2:57), consequently tying the two objects together, that the unravelling will be decided by the coin. The coin itself is the unknown element in the scene, as we do not know what it decides upon (all we know is that the cashier has the chance to win or lose ‘everything’, what this is we could not be sure but perhaps assume it would be life) or what the outcome will be. Another element we could add to this is the fact that both the characters’ faces have one side that is in the light and one side that is shadowed which could show that the outcome of the coin could easily be good or bad. Body language is fairly heavy in this particular scene, and greatly contributes to how we (the audience) interpret the character’s feelings and intentions. When the dark-clothed man enters the store, he looks out of the window perhaps showing that something may be following him (or that he has a reason to be followed). Also, almost immediately we can see that the cashier is threatened by the dark clothed man as he looks him up and down with suspicion; assessing whether he is a threat. On the
  2. 2. other hand, the dark-clothed man begins eating – perhaps a sign that he is relaxed and not the least bit worried about anything. Also, throughout the scene it is apparent that the cashier fiddles, keeps his arms in close proximity with his body as well as slightly turns and edges away from the other man as if to shy away. All this body language represents that the cashier as a very intimidated and perhaps weak character in comparison with the other, as all the while the cashier acts as this, the dark-clothed man appears casual and composed. At the end of the scene, the old cashier stands there still and upright when the other man leaves- almost as if he were in shock like a dreadful event had just occurred, when in reality there was an anti-climax of this. Facial expression is also helpful as signs of character’s moods. Almost all the way through the scene the cashier looks very confused as to what’s going on, or what the other man may want, confusion reflects him to appear more vulnerable to us. He also averts his gaze often, further empowering the dark-clothed character as his gaze and questioning seems to be intimidating. Also, almost all the way through the scene, the dark-clothed man appears to have his eyebrows furrowed as if he intended to deal with a matter in deadly seriousness (quite the opposite to what you would expect in a normal shop situation). In further contrast, this character also hardly ever averts his strong gaze on the cashier as if he were observing him as lower than him (perhaps even in a predator/prey type manner). The dark character also begins to smirk at certain points, this also shows us that he has enough confidence and knowledge of his control that he can find the situation amusing as it is like he is toying with the old man. We can assume near the end of the scene (4:18) when the almost-interrogation and quiet hostility is over as the dark man’s eyebrows are no longer furrowed and he no longer looks as serious. The whole use of language and tone of voice in this scene makes it very much like an interrogation; as if the dark-clothed man suddenly intrudes on the cashier’s life. The idea of an interrogation makes us think of police, and therefore authority which again shows the dark-clothed man’s control. The questions are quick and confusing; it’s almost like a chase to disorientate the old cashier. At one point the old man tries to escape his intimidation and make light of the questions (with a happier facial expression and shrug of the shoulders) at about 2:30. However, his attempts at lightening the serious tone in the air are failed as immediately after the dark character shoots down the man’s reply; (smiling)“If that’s the way you wanna put it..” “I don’t have some way to put it, that’s the way it is.” On a whole, the tone is very serious and quick which shows clear differentiation in the amount of power each character has. In summary, the semiology of this particular scene tends to point to hostility and generally helps emphasise the situation of one character almost psychologically bullying another. Power by intimidation is clearly distributed in the dark man’s favour, and the old cashier obviously comes across as a weak and helpless character in comparison. We can conclude this as we pick up and interpret mainly the facial expressions and body languages of said characters, while the signs in the form of objects help to foreshadow potential events in the scene. The tone and pace of voice helps us to feel the atmosphere of the situation which further increases intensity. In evaluation of effectiveness, it would be apparent to me that semiology has been well considered and successfully used in this particular scene. This is because we get such a powerful sense of mood and foreshadowing when properly analysing such as scene.

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