Study Guide

Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men

By Cormac McCarthy

Anton Chigurh

Chigurh and Spice and Nothing Nice

In the first chapter, Sheriff Bell rambles on about how "somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I dont want to confront him. I know he's real. I have seen his work. I walked in front of those eyes once. I wont do it again"(1.1.2).

Bell isn't being dramatic: he's just described Anton Chigurh to a T. Chigurh is barely human. He's more like the Terminator, walking through the world, killing everything in his path, with one primarily target—Llewelyn Moss and the stolen drug money.

After Chigurh's first reign of terror, Bell says, "I just have this feelin we're looking at somethin we really aint never even seen before" (2.2.75). He's right. We're not even sure if Chigurh is human. Okay, we're 99% sure Chigurh is human, but only because this book isn't marketed as sci-fi. But sometimes it's hard to be sure.

Chigurh is cold and calculated, he doesn't seem to have any emotions like kindness or sympathy, and he barely feels pain. One of the drug lords even describes him as "[t]he invincible Mr Chigurh" (5.3.24). It's probable, he says: "Somewhere in the world is the most invincible man. Just as somewhere is the most vulnerable" (5.3.28).

Yeah, Chigurh might be the most invincible man in the world, more invincible even than Mario with a star. When Chigurh has an infected gunshot wound in his leg, for example, what does he do? He blows up a car, steals antibiotics from a drug store, and does minor surgery on himself. Nothing is stopping this guy.

Now, Chigurh may be superhuman, but he's not a superhero. He's a super villain.

Don't Pour Some Chigurh On Us

Wells, who is hired to recover the money after Llewelyn Moss swipes it, describes Chigurh in the following way: "You could even say he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that" (5.3.227). Wells is right: Chigurh has principles. But they're a set of rules that no sane human being would ever abide by. Chigurh's principles are all about what's good for number one.

For one thing, this guy is totally ruthless. Chigurh says, "I have no enemies. I dont permit such a thing" (9.2.46). Right—Chigurh has no enemies because he kills off everyone who might be one. He kills Wells. He kills Well's boss. He kills hundreds of unnamed Mexican drug runners. (Okay, it just feels like hundreds because we lost count, but you really never know.)

Chigurh is also a man of his word. But he only speaks scary, scary words. When he tells Llewelyn Moss he will kill his wife if he doesn't give him the money, he means just that. He is scary and literal. Even after Llewelyn has died and Chigurh has recovered the money, he still goes to kill Llewelyn's wife, Carla Jean. That's cold. Carla Jean calls him out on the pointlessness of his violence, but he says, "My word is not dead. Nothing can change that" (9.2.85).

Yeah, his word isn't dead, but Carla Jean sure is after he shoots her.

Chigurh-Free Gum

Chigurh=evil. Right?

Well, not so fast. Despite everything we've said, Chigurh puts us in a sticky analytical situation. Even a character who might just be the physical manifestation of evil is more complicated than that.

For one thing, he's oddly compassionate at times when he kills people. After killing the deputy in an insanely violent fashion, "Chigurh lay breathing quietly, holding him" (1.2.4). That's almost comforting, in a weird way, even though he just killed the man the way a pride of lions tears apart an elephant.

Also, there is that matter of his honor. Yes, it's twisted, but in a book where many people are lying and deceptive, you know exactly what you're going to get from Chigurh. You're going to get dead.

Finally, we have to wonder if Chigurh even knows who he is. Is he happy doing what he does? Why is he doing it, anyway? Money, for sure, but still, what keeps the guy really going? When he infiltrates Llewelyn's trailer, for example, Chigurh "looked at himself in the dead gray screen" (3.3.206) of the TV. Does he think of himself as dead and gray?

It's impossible to read Chigurh. The book abides by the trite philosophy that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But what if the man has no soul? Well, Chigurh's eyes are strangely beautiful. They are "blue as lapis. At once glistening and totally opaque. Like wet stones" (2.4.73). These eyes are pretty, but they're unreadable.

So Chigurh is just a big ol' scary mystery. And the scariest thing? "He looked like anybody" (10.2.98). You could pass him by any day and never even know it. Chigurh may be the embodiment of evil, but the point is—he could be any one of us. We've all got the capacity.

Yeah, we're never leaving the house again.