Tommy Lee Jones, as Ed Tom Bell, begins a monologue over a black screen. "I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five years old." He discusses the past. A simpler era when 'old-timer' lawmen did not need to carry firearms. There is a yearning to return to such times or, at least, escape the current state of affairs when crimes and criminals are so repugnant that we 'Don't know what to make of it. We surely don't'.
At :23 seconds, after glimpsing impending sunrise behind a mountain range, we see a shot of power lines crossing the desert. They are nearest on our right and move away, across frame, to the left. The movement is right to left. This is opposite of the natural way -- left to right energy or direction -- and, as the past resides in the left half of a movie frame (the future being on the right) this is a visual restating of Bell's remembering times passed. This is reinforced by the fact that the lines not only point to the left the poles lean to the left. A double backward look, if you will. The poles, in fact, lean so much it's fair to say the power lines are just about in a state of collapse. This is thematic. Mankind may have achieved great technological advances, however, we are never far from degradation. Eventually, our monuments crumble into the earth.
The left carries a negative connotation, while the right side is positive. So the power lines start in the present, proud and tall, and move not only toward the past but into a negative value as well. They become smaller. The poles lean and are unsteady. All this visual emphasis on emotional darkness and slipping into a state of decay is exactly what the plot of 'No Country for Old Men' dwells on.
At :31, a shot of the distant mountains. What's important here is how much the desert dominates the frame. The sky is just a sliver at top. This is more remarkable as it is first light and no detail can be seen in the landscape -- so why include so much of it? In this context, the earth represents negativity and death. The sky represents hope, goodness, and the ethereal but is pushed almost out of frame. The message is clear: there isn't much room for light in this story.
:37 -- The sun, a pretty clear representation of wholesomeness, struggles to rise over the mountains. Hitting again on the theme. There would be direct sunlight if not for the mountains, which are made of earth (decay) which has been pushed up from beneath to block the sunrise.
:48 -- Another shot of mountains in the sunrise. Again the desert, practically void of life, dominates, taking up most of the frame, while the purity of the sky has very little importance.
:55 -- This is analogous to the shot of the power lines. The fence posts and barbed wire are very similar. But, the fence is sort of a mirror image and that plays into things. The power lines had a right/near left/far setup and the fence shot has a left/near right/far setup. The values are reversed. The fence starts in the negative (left) tall and straight and proceeds to the positive (right). However, unlike the power lines, the fence doesn't collapse. Its posts are straight all the way across. The fence is aligned with the dominant axis and pushes away the positive (or lawful), keeps it out, strengthening the negative (or criminal). Another thematic visual.
1:01 -- The windmill. Facing the right but placed in the right half of the frame. The natural placement for something facing the right is the left half of the frame so that it faces all that open space. As is, this shot is composed for max tension, even oddness.
This shot accompanies Bell's description of a murderer he helped bring to justice 'a while back'. On these words, we get a shot of ancient hills.
1:14 -- Bell says, "He killed a fourteen year old girl," over a shot of land fenced off so that we are kept out, don't go there, don't do that. (It's worth noting that the fence is aligned lower left to upper right as before. I don't think lesser directors would have been so careful).
1:19 -- Bell: "Paper said it was a crime of passion." At the word 'passion' we cut back to the windmill. What does a windmill do? It draws up water from the earth. This shot is about bringing up what is hidden, or secret, from deep within, where decay, death, and (possibly) criminal passion reside.
1:40 -- A deputy puts Chigurh (the antagonist played by Javier Bardem) into a police car, under arrest. The camera pans right to left (again moving into the negative) as the people move left to right, blocking almost the entire frame on their way. The most dynamic motion possible which suggests a story filled with unease.
1:48 -- We see (just a bit of) Chigurh's face for the first time. He moves from right to left (the direction the bad guy often moves across frame). Chigurh, in most cases, moves from right to left or is placed on the right side of the frame (usually facing left) throughout the movie.
2:14 -- The police car moves right to left.
2:20 -- The good guy on the left, Chigurh on the right. At 2:34 Chigurh moves from the right to the left. During the fight, Chigurh remains on the right side, facing the left.