Why Isn't This A Film? - Blood Meridian

What have we got here then?

Blood Meridian carries the ambiguous subtitle or the Evening Redness in the West and was Cormac McCarthy's fifth novel, first going in to print in 1985. Although it failed to generate much of a critical reaction at the time it has since been hailed as a classic of contemporary fiction, taking its place on several 'best of' lists and being hailed by many as McCarthy's masterpiece.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Blood Meridian is ostensibly a Western following your typical 'man with no name', known only as The Kid, on a journey around the US/Mexico borders during a time period defined specifically by the book as 1849-1850.

Interesting. Is there something more?

Although the book carries the nameless protagonist of a Western, the rest of the narrative seems almost to undermine (or perhaps accentuate) what that genre has come to mean in fiction and film. The violence is extreme, savage and shocking; never is it suggested that any of the characters deserve redemption or that the American protagonists are any better or more civilised than the Indians and Mexicans they come in to contact with. The Kid spends the majority of the novel in the company of a gang of murderous scalp hunters, whose actions are never anything but brutally violent.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

Although slow to start, Blood Meridian becomes compelling once The Kid joins up with The Glanton Gang, the historically accurate group of hunters mentioned above. Within this group, the protagonist begins a complicated relationship with both Glanton himself and the character who, arguably, at times, supersedes him as the group's leader, Judge Holden. Holden and Glanton are brutal - even in the context of this narrative - wholly without remorse, unreliable storytellers and unpredictable plot components, and they lend the narrative a much-needed air of innovation.

McCarthy's writing is, as ever, superb, although you'll need a dictionary and a lot of patience, his lack of speech marks and other grammatical conventions making Blood Meridian a difficult read, particularly at the start. Stick with it though and it becomes a bit of a monster: threatening, lurching and disturbingly unwholesome.


Despite the wonderfully composed prose, McCarthy never gives you the impression that you are reading awards-bait, perhaps due to the brutality his words depict... apart from the final chapter or so. At this point Blood Meridian becomes a book which screams out for an award. Dialogue becomes infinitely flowery, scenes become ambiguous; its filmic equivalent would be the lazy use of a hazy montage. The last twenty pages or so are rather disappointing.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

At the start of 2010 a piece appeared on The Guardian website claiming that the arrival of further McCarthy adaptations (after The Road and No Country For Old Men) would not be too far down the line. It's easy to see why. On the whole, McCarthy adaptations have been received fairly well by both critics and public and his work does have a visceral vision that seems to translate well to film.

As far back as 2008 Ridley Scott was talking positively about his chances to bring the project to the screen. After that apparently floundered, the project passed to Todd Field, who struggled earnestly but was, again, unable to bring his vision into realisation. The latest indication, emerging very recently, is that James Franco will direct the project, having impressed producer Scott Rudin with a test shoot. Franco marks an interesting, and slightly left-field, choice for a brutal contemporary classic but the film perhaps needs something very original bringing to it, an element Franco could undoubtedly provide. The film has a tentative 2015 release date on IMDb.

But who'd star in it?

In his test shoot, Franco reportedly had Mark Pellegrino as The Judge, which seems like odd casting, given that The Judge is described as physically large and possessing the power to instill fear into one and all. Pellegrino just doesn't have that presence, although he may be able to fit the role of Glanton, something which he'll have to take up with Scott Glen who probably initially filled the role for Franco. Better choices for The Judge could include a beefed up Ralph Fiennes, a hairless Ray Winstone (The Judge is bald) or someone playing effectively against-type; think a Patrick Dempsey, assuming he was willing to lose the locks. The dream casting would have almost certainly have been an Apocalypse Now-era Marlon Brando.

The Kid provides a casting nightmare. The character needs to be young, confident, as brutal as the rest of the gang but slightly likable with it. He has common sense but is not clever and, at least on face value, appears one of the only characters not terrified by The Judge. Perhaps Daniel Radcliffe would like to continue his bid to escape from Harry Potter, assuming he can shed a touch of his nervous air. We Need To Talk About Kevin's Ezra Miller has already shown he can do quiet threat and menace, whilst Franco used his brother, Dave, for his shoot.

Will it be any good?

Recent McCarthy adaptations have only been good-to-excellent so far. There shouldn't be any sort of way this material breaks the cycle.

Anything else I should know about it?

The expertly read speech below gives a good flavour of what you can expect from Blood Meridian.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. Awesome post. I am actually reading Blood Meridian for the first time right now, and I was wondering if there were any plans for a film. James Franco is an intriguing choice as director; it will be interesting to see what he does with the source material. I am only a few chapters into the book, but I am enjoying McCarthy's writing style and the general madcap behavior exhibited by the characters so far. Just from this sample size, it seems like it would be a good fit for the silver screen.

    1. McCarthy's style is pretty spectacular really, it's very effective in THE ROAD, which I'd definitely recommend if you enjoy BLOOD MERIDIAN - the prose is even sparser and the events perhaps even more dramatic. Would be interested to hear how you get on with it.

  2. I read Blood Meridian for a class in college last year, and I absolutely loved it! The debauchery and violent instances the Kid gets into is incredible, fantastically written, and horrible, all at the same time. I wonder, though, if a Hollywood movie would spoil the story. Maybe it'd be too littered with the Hollywood touch, and would lose focus.

    1. It's always a risk, especially with a novel that's this violent and a narrative this slow-building. You just have to hope that whoever does do it in the end remains reasonably true to the book - you can't repeat McCarthy's prose on screen but you can do your best to emulate it visually.

  3. How about Philip Seymour Hoffman as the judge?

    1. Yeah, good shout. Bald, ranting and naked. He'd be brilliant.

  4. I've read the book four times. It evokes Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch." But after each reading I can see why some say "Blood Meridian" is unfilmable. But damn, I'd sure like to see someone try.

    1. The Wild Bunch is a big gap for me in my film knowledge but that comparison makes me more eager to get round to it. I increasingly want anyone but Franco to bring this to life. I don't think he's suited to it at all. Need to read another McCarthy soon. Been a while.

  5. I can think of some intriguing choices for the Judge.

    Anon above is spot on about PSH. A terrific actor, who'd be an excellent choice. Perhaps better yet would be Michael Shannon. He's enormous, terribly frightening, and brilliant at appearing unhinged and dangerous.

    Benicio Del Toro is super creepy when he wants to be, and plenty intimidating.

    My dark horse pick would be Vincent D'Onofrio, an underrated actor with the necessary physical menace and potential for chaos.

    I have no doubt that Christian Bale or Daniel Day Lewis would put on the weight tomorrow if they thought they could get this role, but no thank you. Both great actors and I respect their work, but not this time, please. Also, please for the love of god, no Russell Crowe.

    1. Love the idea of Del Toro, Shannon or D'Onofrio as the judge. Better yet - cast them all in the film in general. We'd end up with the most intense film ever!

  6. the only one for judge holden would be marlon brando

  7. I have always admired the northamerican indians ....but the settlers that feared them must have had a point ......portraying the commanche attack is something that hollywood can never do