Study Guide

No Country for Old Men Anton (Javier Bardem)

Anton (Javier Bardem)

An Agent of Chaos

Anton Chigurh is a serial killer with a heart of stone. Seriously, if there were a yearly award for Most Evil Dude, Chigurh would have it locked down for at least the next decade (probably because he would have killed the other candidates). He's so evil that, tbh, we're not even sure he qualifies as human. He certainly doesn't seem to have any recognizable human emotions or motivations—not even anger or hatred, or some weird sex thing. (Don't all serial killers have a weird sex thing?)

In fact, we were pretty tempted to demote Chigurh from Character and pawn him off on Symbols, where we'd at least have some chance of making sense of the guy. But what does the guy even mean?

The Man, the Myth, the Symbol

In some cases, Chigurh seems to symbolize the randomness of violence, as we see in the two cases where he flips a coin and asks the other person to "call it." If the vic guesses correctly, s/he lives; incorrectly, s/he dies like an animal, literally. (Chigurh's weapon of choice is a steer-killing machine, and if that's not a Symbol, then you should probably take away our Licensed Film Analyst card.)

The problem is, it would be more accurate to say that Chigurh wants to embody randomness. But as Carla Jean Moss tells him at the end of the film, "The coin don't have no say. It's just you." And … she's right. Okay, so Chigurh has decided that the coin toss determines the outcome. But who determined what the coin toss means in the first place? That would be Chigurh.

Her refusal to call the coin toss clearly irritates Chigurh, but in the end he simply says, "I got here the same way the coin did." In other words, Chigurh believes that he has no free will of his own. He is an agent of chaos, someone (or something) outside the whole human system of cause and effect—or at least, he'd like to be. And that right there is just the teeniest bit of motivation that we need to start cracking this tough nut.

A Man with a Code

If you ask us, there's something a little off about an agent of chaos who lives by a strict moral code, even if his moral code does involve killing Carla Jean because he gave his word to a dead man. The guy's nothing if not consistent, is what we're saying.

Remember, Chigurh promised Llewellyn Moss that he would kill Carla Jean if Moss didn't bring him the briefcase full of money. We might think of this as a threat used for leverage, but Chigurh plans on following through on his threat even after Moss is dead and there's no practical reason at all for hurting Carla Jean. Instead, he just confirms Carson Wells' earlier claim that "you might even say he has principles, principles that transcend money or drugs."

In the end, what makes Anton Chigurh more than just a stereotypical symbol of absolute evil is the tightrope he walks between total order and total chaos. Consider this: when the gas station clerk calls the coin correctly—i.e. escapes death—he tells the clerk, "Don't put it in your pocket [….] Or it'll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. Which it is."

Okay, so … which is it? Life-altering symbol, or legal tender? Moral center of the movie, or just a coin to be dropped in the nearest vending machine for some aspartame-free Pepsi?

Between Two Worlds

The constant tension between order and chaos gives Anton Chigurh a chilling darkness that makes him scarier than any horror movie slasher.

But the scariest thing might be that, ultimately, even Chigurh becomes a victim of pure randomness, caught in a horrible car accident just after he kills Carla Jean Moss. In the end, he's not a symbol: he's a guy. And even a guy who's as dangerous and controlling as Chigurh is just a mortal like any other person.

As Carson Wells aptly puts it: "Yeah, he's a psychopathic killer, but so what? There's plenty of them around."