As fans of Cormac McCarthy’s style, the Coens wanted to remain as faithful to the original novel as possible while crafting their adaptation of “No Country for Old Men.” That meant adhering to the same level of stark violence in order to communicate the same nihilistic themes. As Joel Coen explained in a video about the making of the film, the violence is crucial to connecting with the story’s characters, who are themselves trying to rationalize an irrationally cruel, unjust environment:
“There’s a lot of violence in the book, and it’s very important to the story, and we couldn’t conceive of sort of soft-pedaling that in the movie… And we wanted to make sure that [producer] Scott [Rudin] was on the same page with that. Of course he was, I mean he wanted to make the book, he didn’t want to make some sort of studio Hollywood version of ‘No Country for Old Men.’ It’s about a character confronting a very arbitrary, violent, brutal world, and you have to see that, you see it in the story as it’s written and you have to see it in the movie in order to understand anything, I think, about what they’re about, and what they’re confronting, and what they’re trying to make sense of.”
“No Country for Old Men” is perhaps one of the best examples of how to depict extreme violence without resorting to cheap shock tactics. There’s a suffocating dread that escalates throughout the film as the audience realizes how easy it is for an ordinary person to drift that close to futile suffering in a chaotic world with no set rules or divine justice. An adaptation of “No Country for Old Men” with toned down violence would have ironically been pointless in arguing how pointless violence truly is.