Not a country for old men: the coin scene at the gas station

Capable of winning four Oscars, including Best Film and Direction, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men has had the great merit of redesigning the very imaginary of the metropolitan western, re-adapting stylistic features, concepts and characters belonging to a genre coded absolutely flawlessly.
The same film earned Javier Bardem the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor: an emotional performance, able to make the scenes with him protagonist among the most iconic of the entire film.
And it is on one of the particular sequences in which the ruthless killer Anton Chigurh appears that we want to focus on this special, trying to analyze in detail the moment in which the villain talks about this and that with a salesman inside a service station.

An atypical serial killer

Before going into the heart of the scene it is good to be clear who Anton Chigurh really is and what are the ideals which push him to make certain choices, such as to make him a real relentless hound with whom both the protagonists and the spectators themselves will inevitably have to confront themselves throughout the film.
Ideals that actually don't even exist when we talk about the main villain, able to embody a form of atavistic evil, ancestral, unable to feel any kind of compassion but still damn demanding about some infinitesimal aspects of everyday life.
Anton Chigurh is indeed a truly unpredictable killer, a sociopath, with a vision of the world as personal as it is aseptic, unable to feel remorse, empathy or pity towards anyone who stands in front of him, self-establishing himself as judge and jury of the people with whom he finds himself interacting and confronting.

A villain who in some ways embodies a society without any fixed points, based only on violence (physical and conceptual) capable of overwhelming everything and everyone, including Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who during the film will understand that it is no longer able to understand the changes in the world he was a part of.
In a remote gas station in the middle of nowhere, the dialogue between Chigurh and the elderly owner of the structure does nothing but emphasize the deeply disturbed personality of the killer, attentive to every infinitesimal word that is addressed to him.

An apparently normal dialogue is thus transformed, within a few seconds, in a heart-pounding situation, where it is not the explosions or the screams that play a fundamental role in creating tension but rather the management of silence.
The atmosphere in which the two characters find themselves immersed is placid, almost as if both were in an indefinite space-time, where everything is repeated the same day after day without any variation.
A simple question from the salesman, able to get out of the buyer / consumer logic, triggers something in the killer's mind, who from that moment decides to evaluate with even more attention what his interlocutor will say.

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After further moments of silence and misunderstandings, the shopkeeper begins to understand that he is in front of a person who could potentially create numerous problems, thus opting for a sudden closure of the place so as to put an end to the unpleasant situation created out of nowhere.

The killer, continuing to eat his snack as if nothing had happened, begins to learn more and more about the life of the shopkeeper who, not knowing how to handle it, can not help but continue to answer.
The expressiveness of the characters on stage accentuates the feeling of imminent danger that the spectator himself began to feel right from the start, with the shopkeeper simply displaced by the situation and from Anton's unnatural calm and mono-expressiveness, who continues to pursue him by demanding the utmost precision regarding what he asks (even the most trivial things, including closing time).

The game of life

In the second part of the scene, the tension built up to that moment reaches a further step showing us the killer who decides to make a bet. The shopkeeper does not really know what is at stake, although he too gradually realizes that he is experiencing the most important moment of his own existence.
"What's the biggest thing you've lost heads or tails?" Anton Chigurh's question thus begins to boom both in the head of the shopkeeper and in that of the spectator, building a very tense situation that basically arose out of nowhere.

Once the coin toss takes place, the killer forces his interlocutor to make a choice. Anton Chigurh, without reason and without sense, is ready to kill an innocent in cold blood by delegating everything to chance, effectively making his character totally devoid of any moral scruple, capable of considering human life as something of null value.

The killer brings up destiny, almost as if he had the material power to give voice to fate, leaving the right of veto between life and death to a simple coin, a detail that will distinguish him for the entire film (and that comic lovers will surely link to another iconic villain, Two Faces).
Finally, revealing the outcome thus assumes the value of an epiphany both for the killer and for the shopkeeper himself, the latter really relieved that he made the correct choice.

Despite everything, Chigurh still feels compelled to take back the old man by suggesting him not to mix that particular coin with the others, thus underlining his obsessive-compulsive tendency to total control of everything that happens around him.
The old gentleman, simply petrified by the situation just experienced, can not help but observe the villain leave the shop with the awareness, perhaps, of having survived a situation as surreal as it is dangerous.


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