It was just under two years ago that people started to complain about No Country For Old Men's lack of an ending. It was also around that time that I started to pull my hair out in frustration for people's stubborn-ness when they're wrong. Of course No Country For Old Men has an ending! It's right here!
I'm not saying there's no reason to complain. There is. Three quarters of the way through the film, a major development takes place off-screen (heard but not seen), and I understand why so many people found it so unsatisfying. I feel the same way about the off-screen kidnappings of Dent and Dawes, which I may compare in more detail in the future. In any case, I don't want to open that particular Pandora's Box.
The discussions on No Country's ending (or lack thereof) has already been had, and I don't want to open old wounds. I bring it up because I wonder if it might have marked the last time the Coens ever bothered to end one of their films.
I just returned from the latest Coen brothers film, A Serious Man, a film which might've offered me some retribution toward those critics, had I not also fallen victim to it. This is the film that proves you wrong by demonstrating how a film looks when it truly has no ending.
What's worse: I think that may have been their intention. I think back now to Burn After Reading, which cut its action off to matter-of-factly state how everything resolved. It was an interesting way to end an uninteresting film, almost a parody of No Country's climax. All the important developments take place off-screen, but it's still plainly understood what happened. A Serious Man, on the other hand, cuts itself off to roll the credits. It gets to the point where something big seems about to happen, and then stops.
Think back to No Country For Old Men, to the sequence in which Ed Tom comes upon the hotel. He hears gunshots, sees a car skid its way out of the parking lot. Ed Tom looks on in horror, fearing he might be too late.
If No Country For Old Men had ended this way, the effect would've been comparable to A Serious Man.
By providing the audience no resolution to the conclusion of the film, the Coens seem to be comparing themselves to the god who continues to punish Larry, the film's protagonist, but refuses to offer any answers. Like the film's rabbi Rabbi Nachtman, who tells elaborate and engaging stories. He, too, doesn't end them, and Larry is frustrated by his lack of help.
"Why does Hashem give us these questions when he holds the answers out of our reach?" he asks.
The rabbi responds, "He hasn't told me."
I suppose there is a connection, and I'm a huge fan of ambiguous endings. While I do have to give the film credit for ending on an astonishing image, it doesn't work. Our questions at the end of the film aren't about the nature of existence or god's plan. They're practical questions with answers that the characters are about to learn. Some of the questions are fine left open. Others are not.