In All That Dark, and All That Cold, by Craig Schroeder

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7 Responses

  1. bill r. says:

    McCarthy is the furthest thing from a minimalist. THE ROAD and to some degree NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN are minimal-ISH compared to, say, BLOOD MERIDIAN and OUTER DARK, but make no mistake, those novels, and other he’s written and one which his reputation his based, are stylistically BIG. Here’s a sample sentence from OUTER DARK:

    “t howled execration up the dim camarine world of its nativity wail on wail while he lay there gibbering with palsied jawhasps, his hands putting back the night like some witless paraclete beleagured with all limbo’s clamor.”

    And they’re also fairly bonkers in the events depicted — insane violence and madness and terror. I haven’t seen THE COUNSELOR (and I’ve read only about half of McCarthy’s novels), but if the basis for people’s understanding of his work is THE ROAD, which lately seems to be the case, you should know that in that case he was reining himself in considerably.

  2. bill r. says:

    Oops, that should be “*It* howled execration…” etc.

  3. Dayne Linford says:

    Hmm, he’s no Hemingway, but he’s no Faulkner, either, speaking of a guy who hated periods. I think it’s fair to consider McCarthy to be generally a minimalist, at least in this later period of his work. Regardless, he tends to employ minimalism in a manner that can be compared, across mediums, to Michael Haneke in filmmaking – largely minimalist in tone and style that suddenly breaks out into a moment of incredible lyricism and poetry. I think “All the Pretty Horses” is a really good example of this, as is “No Country”, “The Road”, and what I’ve been able to read of “Blood Meridian” (*sigh* for being a parent). In the first of those his style, especially his dialogue style, is highly minimalist, punctuated with moments of breathtaking beauty or highly descriptive, powerful language, like when he describes the lead character’s affinity with horses near the middle of the novel, or where Blevins is taken by the Mexican police. He employs minimalism extensively, enough that considering him a minimalist is defensible, but probably not completely accurate. Saying he’s the farthest thing from minimalist, however, is less accurate still. His novels do tend to be violent or “bonkers” as you said (lol) but his style often reins that in – you cite “The Road” as the reason he’s considered a minimalist, yet that one’s by far the craziest McCarthy I’ve read, complete with the cannibal consumption of infants.

    Part of what made the film adaptation of “No Country” so excellent was the Coen brothers ability to capture both McCarthy’s minimalism and his scope. The first five minutes show that so well – still shots of majestic, forbidding landscape as Tommy Lee Jones speaks that wonderful dialogue, edited carefully from what McCarthy originally wrote, contrasting against this stillness with ruminations on hell, heaven, good, evil. Then we cut to inside the police station and what follows is a prolonged, horrific, violently shot and edited murder of a policeman. That’s pure McCarthy, stylistically speaking. Minimalism is not lack of literary artfulness, but simply that artfulness conveyed more through what isn’t said than what is, often used most effectively to save your words for the big push, letting the language suddenly burst out and overwhelm the reader. That’s how I’ve best enjoyed it, anyway.

    Craig, I’m wondering just who you think fucked this up so bad. It’d seem that McCarthy is perfect for this subject, and Scott has done good work on similar themes before, even if not recently. Is it both, or mostly one that’s too blame? Of course, you can’t answer definitively, but I’d like to hear what you think based on what fingerprints you can identify in the film of either artists’?

    • Craig says:

      I adore Cormac McCarthy but, as much as it pains me to say, I think a lot of the blame lies with him. It is the perfect story for him but what made it to the screen feels really uninspired and lazy. It seems as if someone told him “Hey Cormac, could you write a Cormac McCarthy-ish movie” and he got caught up in writing a story that relies heavily on the themes and characters of his previous work without compounding them or exploring new ones.

      Though Ridley Scott is not blameless, his direction is equally uninspired. There’s definitely an atmosphere that’s being sought after in this film and he doesn’t quite capture it. And there are some poorly executed action sequences. But the screenplay for THE COUNSELOR just dug a whole that even a whole lot of talented people couldn’t get it out of.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. bill r. says:

    McCarthy has written two novels that are more minimalist than what came before, but he is simply not a minimalist writer. Melville, Faulkner, and the Bible are the most common comparisons made, and those are very fair.

  5. bill r. says:

    Sorry, it’s just that I think McCarthy’s prose is being badly misrepresented here — Raymond Carver isn’t even in the same zip code stylistically — and that misrepresentation is being used as evidence against THE COUNSELOR which I have now seen, thought was terrific, and thought was entirely in line with the McCarthy who wrote NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Those two films — and as much as I loved THE COUNSELOR, NO COUNTRY is clearly the better movie — are basically companion pieces laying down a harsh Old Testament morality. NO COUNTRY is harsher because Llewellyn’s transgression is less severe, but THE COUNSELOR is more horrifying because the counselor through his arrogance and corruption is bringing into his life a world of nightmarish violence unlike anything he can even imagine, but which actually does exist on this planet.

    And Dayne — THE ROAD is crazy, but not as crazy stylistically, which is what the “minimalism” question is all about. His style IS reined in in that one. I don’t know how much of BLOOD MERIDIAN you’ve made it through, but Hemingway, and Carter, it certainly ain’t. Plus, the grotesque death of children is a regular feature throughout his work, as a symbol of the ultimate moral corruption. THE ROAD is simply the most recent to use it.

    • Dayne Linford says:

      There’s no doubt his more recent work is less…showy (?) than earlier pieces, though I don’t care for using that particular word. Regardless, I still think he’s a curious mixture of minimalism and lyricism, striking a balance between Hemingway and Faulkner, if you will. Melville I find to be very similar, stylistically, and an excellent comparison. At no point ever is he like Carver lol, who is the definition of minimalism, but that’s also part of short story writing – in five pages, everything takes on greater significance. I haven’t seen “The Counselor” so I really can’t speak to that, but I think minimalism is definitely a tool in McCarthy’s repertoire, so to speak, whereas an author like Faulkner is never minimalist. I adore all of these authors, by the way, this is not a criticism of any of their work (though I found “The Road” to be rather disappointing when I read it several years ago), just simply a stylistic discussion. Though I haven’t seen “The Counselor”, I can absolutely see his talent suffering in screenwriting, mostly because those breaks into lyricism I mentioned in a previous post are precisely what makes his work so breathtaking, and those usually don’t work out so well in screenwriting, forcing a reliance on the director to deliver the artistry. I’d really love to see McCarthy work with a more clearly arty director, such as Steve McQueen, who only recently entered feature filmmaking after a fairly long and quite successful career in art photography. That’s just a bit of fantasy casting, though.

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