No Country For Old Men (2007) – Lighting Adds Meaning

About the Filmmakers: No County for Old Men is a film from Ethan and Joel Cohen who have become widely known in recent years for movies that are very well made and different from other popular films.  In Fargo (1996), the protagonist eventually becomes the antagonist as the viewers’ sympathy for the main character turns into hatred and the ending doesn’t have a silver lining that you would hope for.  The Big Lebowski (1998) sets a new standard in comedies as this iconic film leaves the viewer with guilty thoughts of laughing as the main character and his counterparts are really not good role models.  The brothers have a very unique style and they find success with it through their masterful film making abilities.

The Film: This movie has one of the best (or worst, depending on taste) bad guys ever created in film.  Javier Bardem plays the role of Anton Chigurh, a psychopath that chases down a bag full of money from Llewelyn Moss, an average guy who comes across a large death scene from a drug deal gone bad where he mistakenly takes the money from.  The chase is absolutely epic as Llewelyn has no idea what he is in for (because if he did, he would never have even looked at the money).

The Lighting: This movie is filled with character development, action scenes, suspense scenes and death scenes.  The lighting that the Cohen brothers use in these different scenes adds to the viewer experience of being captivated by how evil Anton really is:

In this scene, the tone of the dialogue and the lighting makes the viewer realize what the stakes of the game really are – his life.  The natural light used in this scene is coming in from one side and highlights the facial expressions of both our favorite bad guy and the cashier.  This type of lighting is called low-key lighting, and as defined by Goodykoontz (2014), low-key lighting “is marked by extreme use of deep shadows, with very high contrast between the brightest parts of the scene and the darkest parts, which are obscured in shadows. Often there may be only a single source of light, coming from the back or the side of the main characters”.  The majority of the movie uses natural lighting, flat lighting and night scenes that add greatly to the dark nature of Anton and the suspense in the movie. 

The effect of proper lighting as we sit on the edge of our seats waiting for Anton to come in:

The low-key lighting gets even more intense in this scene as an already dark hotel room turns almost pitch black.  The only light left is the thin band under the door waiting for the shadow of feet to appear in front of the door.  Should this scene have been shot with all of the lights turned on, the suspense would have been almost entirely removed and when Anton makes his move the viewer would have barely twitched from the action.  In almost complete darkness, however, the viewing pleasure is marvelous.

This type of lighting is consistent with other films in the crime and thriller genres.  The dark character of the bad guy, the gritty action and dialogue sequences, and the grim chance of making it out alive tend to utilize the low-key lighting effect to draw out the right emotions in the viewers.

Summary: Proper lighting is critical in getting the most out of a theme in a movie.  As viewers, we go to a comedy to have our spirits lifted and to laugh – dark settings and seeing the different characteristics of one’s facial expression doesn’t bode well for laughing.  We go to movies like No Country for Old Men to be entertained by intrigue, action and a seriously increased heartbeat as we sit at the edge of our seat wondering what Anton will do next.  The low-key lighting is perfect.


Miramax Films, (2007, Nov 21). No Country for Old Men, Official Trailer [Video File]. Retrieved from:

Miramax Films, (2007, Nov 21). Call It, Friend-O – No Country for Old Men, Movie CLIP [Video File].  Retrieved from:

Miramax Films, (2007, Nov 21). Waiting in a Dark Hotel Room – No Country for Old Men, Movie CLIP [Video File].  Retrieved from:

Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2014). Film: From watching to seeing (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. This text is a Constellation™ course digital materials (CDM) title.



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