Tommy Lee Jones is an elderly police officer overmatched in the excellent ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2017). He is overmatched for a number of reasons including not being able to keep up with the actions of violent men who show no compassion or no remorse. Throughout the film, he is always just a step behind the sociopathic Anton Chigurh and fails to either apprehend him or to prevent him from killing innocent people. In his 30+ years as a police officer, he means well but he has noticed an increasingly brutal fact that is inescapable. The world has become more unforgiving, violent, and it is hard for him to make an impact whereas at the beginning of his career, he sought to make it a better place.
Ed Tom Bell is your average protagonist who means well, wants to do right in his work, and believes he can do good but finds himself overmatched and overwhelmed by what he is asked to do. When he thinks of his future, he wonders what is left for him and if retirement will bring him peace or have him think back on what could be.
The dream scene begins with Ed Tom, now retiring, looking out of his window at his farm’s seemingly barren landscape with a sole tree to his left through the window behind him. A man of seemingly few hobbies and fewer words, he thinks about his day ahead and thinks about the possibility of riding around on his horse. Not too enthused about it, he also asks his wife if he should help around the house. Seemingly because he is less than skilled at this work, his wife believes it’s better that “he not.” He asks if his wife will join him riding but she is still working and a member of society actively.
Resigned to his fate as a retiree instead of being an active police officer, he reflects to his wife that he’s had dreams and he wants to share them. She says that he has time for them now and that she’ll be polite while he remembers them. He goes ahead and states that there were ‘two dreams’, they were ‘peculiar’ and both of them involved his father who has long passed away. Ed Tom is an older man than his father ever was indicating his father passed away at a younger age that of which Ed Tom will live to be longer.
The first dream is almost like a flash as most of our dreams tend to be with the details muddled and hard to recall. Ed Tom only states that he meets up with his young father in town and he leaves him some money perhaps as a way of his father being there for him even if he wasn’t present physically in his life. Similar to losing his father early in life, Ed Tom believes he lost his money in the dream as well leaving him without help as his father’s early death may have inadvertently done.
The second dream is much more imaginative and involve Ed Tom and his father living in ‘older times’ perhaps when the West was not settled and was lawless. He is no longer a police officer maintaining law and order but rather a horse rider having adventures with his father as he wishes they perhaps would have had time for had he lived longer.
This second dream is much more vivid as Ed Tom recalls how it is cold, they are going through a mountain pass together. They ride together in the snow among the mountains of the night until his father rides past him with no explanation and his blanket wrapped tight against him. This is confusing to Ed Tom at first knowing how hard it is to be without his father who he loves and must face the cold world without him as if he has been abandoned again. Though he may have lost his father, Ed Tom recalls how his father was carrying ahead a fire and a horn of a golden moon color, which gave him comfort despite the fact that he was not with him riding together.
“He was going on ahead, fixing to make a fire.” Ed Tom believes his father in the dream is out there doing this noble act in the middle of all the dark and cold, which is brutal to handle. “I knew whenever I got there, he’d be there…then I woke up.” The hope that Ed Tom haves is that his father even though it seems like he abandoned him as the son is that he really is instead looking out for him and paving the road ahead with light so he would not abandon his hope.
He believes that his father even though he may not be there with him wants him to keep going ahead and to meet him eventually instead of becoming deterred. He paves the way for his son to chase the flame of his absence and to resolve to not let the dark encapsulate him fully. Ed Tom’s expression about the dream is one of resigned sadness that his father is no longer around but also one of lingering strength to believe his death was not in vain and that he will reunite with him one day. His father, like him later, use their lives to keep the flame and the light moving forward even when surrounded by the darkest aspects of human nature.
Like any dream scene in a movie, this one has a deeper meaning behind it related to one man’s grief involving the loss of not only his livelihood but of his hope for a brighter future for humanity. Having seen the horrors that people inflict on one another, he may be resigned to that fact but he also believes his father would have wanted him to keep the flame ‘alive’ and to keep carrying it forward throughout his life even if things looked bleak. His death did not stop Ed Tom from keeping the flame moving in his own life and to carrying it forward in the hopes that he would bring it to his father someday when they would eventually be reunited in another lifetime or in another dream that seemed real.