The Counselor: A Screenplay

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  • 19 Oct 2013 at 10:25 am #4171



    What is one to make of Westray’s comment to the Counselor on page 52 of The Counselor? Is McCarthy yanking our chain–again?

    “WESTRAY You shouldnt be surprised, Counselor. What’s the Miller quote that REINER likes? The smallest crumb can devour us? You learn to let nothing pass. You cant afford to.”

    Most of the readers here will recognize that “…the smallest crumb can devour us” is a direct quote from The Judge in Blood Meridian (p. 198). Could this be another test to see if we are on our toes?

    Back in 2005, Dwight Garner wrote, ”’I sent one boy to the gas chamber at Huntsville.’ That’s the plain-spoken first sentence of Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, No Country for Old Men. But if the postings on McCarthy-obsessed Web sites are any indication, not all his fans are happy with it. No Country for Old Men is set in Texas, and the bummer about McCarthy’s opening line is that, as Web critics have pointed out — and as the director of the Texas Prison Museum, Jim Willett, confirms — Texas has never executed anyone in a gas chamber. ‘That’s a hell of an error,’ one fan wrote. ‘I mean, the very first sentence of the book.’ (When asked about the line, McCarthy said through his publicist at Knopf, ‘I put it in there to see if readers were on their toes.’)” (p. 22).

    To complicate things a bit though, “the smallest crumb can devour us” does seem to be a paraphrase of Henry Miller. “Whatever we cling to, even if it be hope or faith, can be the disease which carries us off. Surrender is absolute: If you cling to even the tiniest crumb you nourish the germ which will devour you” (Miller, 1969, p. 57).

    So McCarthy, through The Judge’s mouth, paraphrased Henry Miller in Blood Meridian. In The Counselor Westray, quotes Reiner quoting Miller (in error). So who is responsible for the mis-attribution in The Counselor, the fictional Westray, the fictional Reiner or McCarthy?

    It might also be noted that in the infamous pirated internet script, it was the character Reiner who was talking with the Counselor and made the “quote” directly.

    REINER That’s been my experience. What’s the Miller quote? The smallest crumb can devour us? (Internet script, p. 24 of 116).

    McCarthy’s use of question marks in the dialog and the filtering of the “quote” through several characters makes it difficult attribute any “error” in the published screenplay.

    So what is going on here?


    Garner, Dwight. (2005, August 7). Inside the list. The New York Times Book Review, p. 22.

    McCarthy, Cormac. (1985). Blood Meridian, or, The evening redness in the west. New York: Random House.

    McCarthy, Cormac. (2005). No country for old men. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

    McCarthy, Cormac. (2013). The counselor: a screenplay. New York: Vintage International.

    Miller, Henry. (1969). The Henry Miller reader. L. Durrell (Ed). New York: New Directions.

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    19 Oct 2013 at 12:03 pm #4174


    Interesting. Would it complicate things even more to note that Ben may have said something similar in The Stonemason on p. 119? Sorry, I can’t check this out for certain as my copy of The Stonemason is out on loan, but I do have that penciled in as a marginal note in my threadbare copy of BM regarding the judge’s pronouncement, “Yet the smallest crumb can devour us.” Not to derail the thread, but it also seems to me McCarthy may have picked more bones off the Miller quote besides the small crumb/devour piece — “the disease that carries us off” — and used it on the first page of BM when we learn the kid’s mother died while giving birth to him — “The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in her own bosom the creature who would carry her off.” This line also seems imbued with the essence of the small crumbs being able to devour us quote (incubate in her own bosom/nourish the germ). Anyway, these are fascinating questions you’ve asked here, Wes.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by  Glass. Reason: Changed "too" to "to." Duh
    19 Oct 2013 at 12:53 pm #4175


    Thanks Peter. I had missed that line of Ben’s in The Stonemason.

    “MAVEN Do you think you have to tell me everything?

    BEN Yes.

    MAVEN Why?

    BEN Because. Because the smallest crumb can devour us” (p. 119).

    McCarthy must really like that line.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by  wesmorgan.
    19 Oct 2013 at 1:00 pm #4176


    Glass: Good catch. Here it is:
    The Stonemason:
    Act V, Scene IV: Ben visits Soldier in his hotel room.
    Act V, Scene VI: Ben discovers Soldier’s dead body.

    From the scene between: Act V, Scene V:

    The farmhouse dining room at night. Ben and Maven are sitting at the table.

    MAVEN Do you think you have to tell me everything?
    BEN Yes.
    MAVEN Why?
    BEN Because. Because the smallest crumb can devour us.
    MAVEN Is the world really such a hostile place?
    BEN I don’t know. I know that I see failure on every side and I’m determined not to fail.
    MAVEN Do you think it’s fair to Carlotta? You can’t think that.
    BEN I don’t. I think it’s merciful.

    [Ben Telfair; Maven, his wife; Carlotta, his sister; Soldier, his nephew]

    Wes: We cross-posted! Thanks for starting a discussion on the text of the official published version. Now we all can get down to business, though I’m still waiting for my copy from the library, which has several copies still on order and so has yet to circulate them, but I’m first on the list. But to elaborate on what you wrote… The Henry Miller quote is from his The Colossos Of Maroussi (1941), excerpted in The Henry Miller Reader. The “colossos” refers to the Greek poet George Katsimbalis. Miller spent time in Greece with him and with writer Lawrence Durrell, as he noted in the excerpt’s introduction in the Reader (in which Miller wrote he had not seen Durrell since Arcadia, and “Katsimpalis” is a place in Arcadia, hmmm…). Anyway, the quote in the larger context:

    Our diseases are our attachments, be they habits, ideologies, ideals, principles, possessions, phobias, gods, cults, religions, what you please…. Whatever we cling to, even if it be hope or faith, can be the disease which carries us off. Surrender is absolute: if you cling to even the tiniest crumb, you nourish the germ which will devour you. As for clinging to God, God long ago abandoned us in order that we might realize the joy of attaining godhood through our own efforts.

    The last line here brings to mind The Road*(1). These are great lines by Miller, though my favorite might be later in the same paragraph:

    What rules the world is the heart, not the brain.

    which brings to mind The Crossing*(2). I’m not sure all this elevates The Counselor to a better read for me, though it has raised Miller’s profile as a source for McCarthy’s works, and has also whetted my appetite for reading The Colossos Of Maroussi.

    *(1)Echoed in “There is no God and we are his prophets.”

    *(2)Further thought, not just The Crossing, but the entire Border Trilogy, as acting on the heart rather than the brain gets Billy and John Grady into conflicts with the world. And, in a different sense, Blood Meridian too: Miller’s conjecture here was that acting out on anger rather than on reason was why the world was at war, in this case, WWII: mindless violence.

    19 Oct 2013 at 3:03 pm #4177


    This is not so much a response to the content of Wes’s post as an attempt at further discussion of the published script.

    I’m just catching up on the posts here on The Counselor. I read the pirated version some time ago and read the published version this week. I was pleased to find the published version much more like our McCarthy, and I think we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgment. That is, I think we might talk about what works in the screenplay before trashing the whole.

    I was very interested in what Penelope Cruz said about the script in a post that someone on the Forum linked to months ago. To paraphrase, she liked that the script was such a great vehicle for actors–that all the named characters were so fully fleshed out and dynamic. What’s more, she loved the length and movement of the scenes of dialogue (and I would add that counterpointing its violent action plot, this script is very largely structured around the several thoughtful conversations between different character pairings. I note that the film’s trailers, too, seem to cut back and forth between action scenes and the conversations, giving equal weight to both–which may be a clue to how Ridley Scott and McCarthy himself see the film.) Cruz found it very rare that scenes of dialogue had such a sense of direction and movement, a narrative arc in each one. How this will work in the film is yet to be seen, but I find these conversations interesting and dynamic to read in the ways that McCarthy’s novelistic conversations often are.

    I was especially moved by the Jefe’s comment that “the world is in fact oneself. It is a thing which you have created, no more, no less. And when you cease to be so will the world” (150)– lines that take us back to The Crossing.

    I liked, too, the small felicity that there is this pattern of characters’ telling the Counselor that they cannot advise him, have nothing to suggest, cannot counsel him. Yet they are as much “counselors” as the lawyer is.

    Like Blood Meridian, The Counselor is a painful read. The graphic violence is there again, but added to the violence is the assault of verbal obscenity. Surely this is not just pandering to a low-brow cinematic audience, but rather McCarthy’s insistence that we face up to our worst human tendencies. The scene in which the counselor’s resentful associate takes revenge on him through verbal sexual aggression against Laura prefigures her implied fate as the victim in a snuff film; and this verbal violence (which the counselor too participates in and urges Laura to participate in) is consonant with the violent world of the drug trade, a business which, McCarthy shows, strips its participants of any finer qualities of humanity such as those he valorizes in The Road.

    Just some first thoughts.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by  dianneluce.
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    19 Oct 2013 at 3:50 pm #4181


    dianneluce: I liked, too, the small felicity that there is this pattern of characters’ telling the Counselor that they cannot advise him, have nothing to suggest, cannot counsel him. Yet they are as much “counselors” as the lawyer is.

    Yes. Absolutely. That is what I noticed most of all. The protagonist’s name is surely ironic. A more appropriate name would be Ignorance.

    Well, Ignorance, wilt though yet foolish be,
    To slight good counsel, ten times given thee?
    And if thou yet refuse it, thou shalt know,
    Ere long, the evil of thy doing so.
    Remember, man, in time, stoop, do not fear;
    Good counsel taken well, saves: therefore hear.
    But if thou yet shalt slight it, thou wilt be
    The loser, (Ignorance), I’ll warrant thee.

    There is quite a bit in the script that reminds me of PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, especially the large amount of dialogue. I counted about three action scenes; the rest of the scenes are two characters talking to each other, mostly different characters counseling the counselor. There is also that first line, “Are you awake?”, that recalls PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. Hell, even two large cats make an appearance.

    19 Oct 2013 at 4:23 pm #4183


    Travis, I think this parallel works, although it may be ironic to find parallels in a Puritan work. The script harkens back to the pre-Reformation morality plays as well. One of the interesting differences between The Counselor and No Country is that Moss loses his own life for his hubris as well as forfeiting his wife’s life, while the counselor lives on to experience the horrendous cost of his hubris. In the Ridley Scott interview someone linked us to, he says that Fassbinder does a wonderful job of accessing the full horror of that tragic denouement. I’m looking forward to seeing that in the film

    I agree that the “Are you awake?” line is highly significant. It has echoes in McCarthy’s work from the very beginning of his career, as I think someone else said in one of the threads here. I think of all those characters who are drunk or asleep, oblivious and spiritually unawake in the old gnostic sense. Like John Grady (not the worst of McCarthy’s oblivious characters), the counselor sleepwalks into the most corrupt aspects of Mexico (and America). And several of his mentors have tried more eloquently than Rawlins but without success to wake him up to the evils he wants to traffic with.

    Of course, the question is also directed to the reader/viewer.

    I noticed that in the published script, the scene directions are narrative in form and detailed in ways that are characteristic of McCarthy’s novels, but not, as far as I know, characteristic of the typical film script. This suggests to me that McCarthy may have drafted his script partly back in the direction of a novel, like his procedure with Cities and No Country, resulting in our having a hybrid here–a sort of novelized filmscript. It would be an interesting thing to explore further when the Counselor papers arrive in San Marcos.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by  dianneluce.
    20 Oct 2013 at 5:13 pm #4197


    On p. 10, there’s a reference to Las Vegas, New Mexico, a place I don’t think I’ve ever heard of, although the photos of the Plaza Hotel looked uncannily familiar. As it turns out, most of NCFOM was filmed there, according to Wikipedia:,_New_Mexico

    21 Oct 2013 at 10:54 am #4199

    Richard L.

    THE COUNSOLER seems to have a moral compass, a cautionary tale with its rifts on karma and responsibility and moral agency. I thought of the sleepwalkers in ALL THE KING’S MEN and also this quote from Warren’s novel:

    “The world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God’s eye, and the fangs dripping.”

    21 Oct 2013 at 2:21 pm #4201

    Candy Minx

    Before I get into this discussion a couple of quick notes.

    Diane, “our McCarthy” isn’t back he was never gone. It is never the artist who is the fickle lover…it is always the critic who is fickle and in the dark that we can see their motives.

    As much as we may enjoy criticism and secondary literature…the critic can be wrong very wrong. The critic is like in the audience of a broadway theatre and somehow gets invited back stage to the stars dressing room. The star is in their robes and taking off their make up. And… Layer the critic writes and contains because the star has live handles or verifies veins. The critic wouldn’t even know that if it hadn’t been for the generosity of the star sharing champagne back stage…yet some critics take that lucky moment and turn it as a weapon against the artist.

    Seeing the inner notes like the pirate screenplay is like going back stage. The pirate script is slap like going to the archives in Texas and reading the phases and notes and ” dressing robes” of McCarthy.

    McCarthy never left or changed… We were just lucky to see a version of the screenplay. It’s very barely different from the published version ( and I suspect someone is doing a concordance on the two right now)

    What changed is that some academics some fans… Some critics were left in the dust. Critics will never be able to move as fast or as brightly as an artist… But that’s okay.

    Here at the forum we saw back stage of some critics… We saw how out-of-touch some folks were about screenplays and the movie business and how out of touch some were about McCarthy.

    We saw it… And so what? A person can’t know everything. It’s okay to be out of touch and still be a critic or expert or academic. But it’s not cool to pretend the blame lies on “our McCarthy”.

    There’s no blame. It’s just some people couldn’t handle seeing a work in progress. And they were a tiny bit arrogant about mccarthys script. Maybe they were embarrassed that he was able to be do blatantly mainstream lol

    One of the biggest complaints that many made was about the dialogue that used the words “finger fuck”. Guess what they weren’t taken out of the published script. I remember a bunch of people posting how they thought so shady about “finger fuck”

    Hues what experts don’t know everything. And that’s okay. It’s okay… But it’s not okay to be arrogant about ones own ignorance.

    I just don’t agree with you Diane, and I do think some critics here at forum very brave to come and try to address what might be a very uncomfortable situation…but it’s okay. You just didn’t know mccarthys work as well as you thought… You’re not alone a dozen people at this form were also dismayed by this script.

    But please don’t promote a false idea that this published version some how is “better than” the pirated….all we’re taking about is editing and distilling. And when someone tries to make this published script “better” all they show us is they don’t understand the writing process and the editing process. This is what writing looks like!!! Seeing inside a writers process is a gift…is it really a license to mock the process?

    And it shows that they can’t let themselves be humble and admit they were wrong or put of touch.

    A lot of people made a mistake about this screenplay. We already saw it it’s out in the open…don’t worry about it… It’s okay

    I would think it could be rather liberating to find out that someone wasn’t in a box… That a beloved writer could still pull punches and surprise their fans.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by  Candy Minx.
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