The Best Coen Brothers Movie Can Never Be Made

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Updated

Often hailed as Cormac McCarthy’s magnum opus, his novel Blood Meridian relays a visceral, nightmarish journey through the blood-drenched expanses of the American West. Peerlessly, the work testifies to human brutality and the unforgiving mercilessness of nature. While the Coen Brothers ably navigated these very themes in their adaptation of McCarthy’s other work, No Country for Old Men–and while their own translation of Meridian to screen would outdo any other director’s–the prospect of their producing it remains a pipe dream.

The Kid

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In other words, it ain’t gonna happen. Because the novel is just too ferocious to film–if filmed faithfully. 

Indeed, the novel surpasses being just that—a novel; rather, it constitutes a harrowing experience, one conveying a kind of mild PSTD to readers yet commanding their attention. All the while, McCarthy’s prose paints potent, unrelenting tapestries of truly unimaginable violence and desolation. 

Blood Meridian’s story, based on shockingly true events the author mined from a rare 1800s memoir only existing in a few copies, charts the Danteesque journey of “The Kid,” a nameless, teenage protagonist. Drifting from Tennessee to Texas, then Texas to Northern Mexico, The Kid finds himself helplessly in the ranks of the infamous, historically-real Glanton gang.

The Glanton Gang

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A rag-tag crew of murderers, the Glanton gang stalks the southwest, literally hunting Native Americans at the behest of the US government–the Comanche hunt them in turn. The savagery is boundles, especially concerning the dark, irresistibly fascinating antagonist in the eye of Blood Meridian’s storm, Judge Holden, a figure of mythical evil.

McCarthy’s novel deftly combines horror elements with those of the Western, yet completely reinvents the latter by steeping it in utter realism—this Bad Guy is unforgettable. 

His philosophical musings on war and violence underpin the novel’s thematic heft, while his penchant for child murder supplies more relentless horror.

The Coens

Even though the Coens are deservedly famed for their ability to mix dark humor, philosophical introspection, and stark violence, and thus would appear the perfect auteurs to animate Blood Meridian on screen—no one is up to the task.

Sure, their filmography–from Fargo and Barton Fink to Miller’s Crossing and the aforementioned No Country for Old Men–evidences a deft and impressive talent for depicting the darker aspects of human nature.

But those very qualifications especially bar them all the more—because they would convey the novel all more accurately and unflinchingly. 

Too Brutal A Story

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At its very essence, because of its extreme violence, the work is unfilmable because of its extreme violence. While this may sound like a simple, even one dimensional problem, Cormac McCarthy’s best book, as critics the world over consider it, is a veritable catalog of atrocities, all of which the author relates in pitiless detail.

Scalping, massacres, the terrifying slaughter of innocents—Blood Meridian spares no one, from start to finish. 

Simply put, translating this degree of brutality would comprise a herculean task unheard of in the film. Doubtlessly—especially in our climate of trigger warnings—the end result would alienate audiences and provoke a heated backlash, even if it excludes some of the novel’s most unforgiving instances. 

Other Directors Have Shown Interest

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After all, in today’s cultural climate of increasingly scrutinized content—of work poured over for its potential to (gasp) offend—a faithful adaptation of Blood Meridian would double as a lightning rod.

While the ensuing controversy would probably heighten hype, selling tickets and inducing streaming, it would also never eventuate in the first place–no producers would greenlight the project, and the endeavor would never begin production.

Many will know that other filmmakers, such as heavyweights like Ridley Scott, Todd Field, and James Franco, have all voiced interest in adapting the novel. In fact, Franco even went so far as to film test scenes. None of these attempts got off the ground due to one consistent obstacle: the novel’s ceaseless violence. 

Which is too bad. Because Blood Meridian is Cormac McCarthy’s best book and would very well be the Coens’ best film.