Сinema is riddled with great villains who served their purpose as the foe of an antagonist. However, every now and then a film presents a villain who’s characterization is so precise, intentional, and unique that they become iconic. Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men was exactly that. Let’s dive into the characterization and choices that made one of the most iconic villains in cinema — Anton Chigurh.
Watch: Anton Chigurh — Character Breakdown
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NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN VILLAIN ORIGIN
The origin of Anton Chigurh
In 2007, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men brought Anton Chigurh to life. The performance was a revelation that was singular among cinema’s best villains. In addition to Javier’s performance, decisions were made by both the Coen Brothers and author Cormac McCarthy in creating the character.
Who wrote No Country for Old Men?
Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Joel and Ethan Coen grew up in Minnesota. Joel was an assistant editor on The Evil Dead and wrote scripts with the director Sam Raimi. The pair have gone on to write No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou, and Burn After Reading, as well as writing the scripts for Bridge of Spies and Unbroken.
Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist whose work includes All the Pretty Horses, The Road, Child of God, Blood Meridian, and, of course, No Country for Old Men.
Anton Chigurh is a character created by Cormac McCorthay, performed by Javier Bardem with the direction of Joel and Ethan Coen. That said, there were plenty of choices and factors that culminated into the iconic villain that is Chigurh. To break down this character, we must analyze the characterization of Chigurh, specifically the actions, physical appearance, and dialogue of the iconic character.
Anton Chigurh quotes
Introducing Anton Chigurh
One of the trademarks of a great villain is an iconic introduction. Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the Joker in The Dark Knight, and Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs all conjure up a very specific scene in which we first meet these iconic villains.
No Country for Old Men doesn’t take long at all before we are introduced to Chigurh in perhaps the most violent villain introduction in cinema.
The violence of the scene and performance of Javier Bardem undoubtedly made this scene memorable and iconic. But why is it so important for the character of Anton for the rest of the film? The scene sets the tone for what Anton is capable of. And what he is capable of is incredible violence in a powerfully, controlled fashion even at the expense of his own pain.
This opening scene plays a large role in the uneasiness we feel as the audience every time Anton steps into frame for the rest of the film.
What will he do next and at whose expense?
Anton Chigurh No Country for Old Men analysis
An odd physical appearance
The uneasiness we feel from Anton’s presence is also created from his physical appearance. How he looks and the physical objects and weapons he chooses to use. Let’s start externally with Anton’s iconic look.
The Anton Chigurh haircut, wardrobe and weapons have all become cinematic icons since the release of the film. And while these details might seem secondary to the content of Chigurh’s character, they are all an important part of character design.
Chigurh’s silhouette and aesthetic immediately strikes us as odd. When compared to other characters in the film, Chigurh’s seemingly out-of-date haircut, ambiguous accent, and mechanical movements are all unsettling. They create a feeling that perhaps he does not fit this simple Texan world. And if he does not fit, what chaos will ensue?
Anton is almost alien like in both behavior and physical appearance. It is this combination that makes him a stand out villain — a force in a world where he seemingly does not belong.
- No Country for Old Men Script Analysis→
- Essential Principles for Creating the Ultimate Antagonist →
- What is Characterization — Guide to Character Building →
Anton chigurh weapon
In addition to hair and wardrobe, Chigurh’s choice of weapons have also become cinematic icons. Chigurh’s silenced shotgun is undoubtedly one of the best guns in cinema. It was created specially for the film by motion picture armorer Larry Zanoff. The weapon clearly reflects Anton’s own method of killing — incredibly violent yet calculated.
Anton’s precise, clean, surgeon-like actions tell us he isn't just violent, but incredibly intelligent and resourceful. Details like this are what give us more information about Anton through his actions rather than simple descriptions.
Anton Chigurh quotes
Chigurh is not a man of many words, but when he does speak, it is often rooted in the film’s major theme. Anton recognizes himself as an inevitable, violent force traveling through space and time dealing with what he encounters as both chance and fate. The most famous dialogue example of this is the gas station coin toss scene.
While this deserves to be one of the most iconic scenes from the film we dive deeper into it in our full No Country for Old Men script breakdown.
Instead, let’s take a look at a less famous scene but arguably more informative of who Anton is — when he confronts Carla Jean Moss. We brought the scene into the StudioBinder screenwriting app to analyze it further.
The dialogue between Carla Jean and Chigurh clearly shows Anton’s completely different perspective of reality versus those around him. What brings this home even more is the dark cinematography as we see Chigurh (thank you, Roger Deakins) and Javier Bardem’s brilliant performance.
While Lewelyn died in an attempt to secure the money for him and his wife, Anton sees this as a failure to sacrifice himself for his wife. As Anton tosses the coin, he sees this as the best he can do for Carla Jean.
Carla Jean lays out the reality of the situation which is there is the coin has no say, it is simply Anton. Anton’s response to this is perhaps the most reflective of the film’s theme and Anton’s unwiltering reasoning for his actions. Anton responds, “I got here the same way the coin did.”
Anton sees his presence there as an inevitable fate that was not in his control. To Chigurh, he is merely a violent force being bounced through space and time based on the decisions of others.
Chigurh’s iconic aesthetic and violent, idiosyncratic behavior are a huge part of what makes him a great villain. But what has made him a cinematic force over time is that he is directly rooted in the film’s theme — a lesson for all aspiring screenwriters.
No Country for Old Men Script Analysis
No Country for Old Men is arguably one of the best adapted screenplays of all time for its ability to retain and stay true to the best parts of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. In our next article, we dive deeper into the film’s complete script including the characters, themes, and memorable ending.