Call It: Analyzing the Coin Toss Scenes in ‘No Country For Old Men’

No one really wins, except the audience.
By  · Published on June 23rd, 2017

No one really wins, except the audience.

One of the most chilling facets of the character of Anton Chigurh, antagonist of the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men as portrayed by Javier Barden, who won an Oscar for his effort, is that killing is such a rote, regular, and thus meaningless act to him that on occasion he’s willing to leave it to chance, if only to make it interesting. Twice in the film he allows his potential victims a way out of their death sentences via the toss of a coin: once with the proprietor of a gas station early in the film, and again at the end once he’s finally found Carla Jean. The two scenes have [SPOILER] two different outcomes. In the former, the proprietor, unaware what hangs in the balance, calls the coin toss, it lands in his favor, and Chigurh leaves him alive. In the latter scene, Carla Jean knows exactly what hangs in the balance, like she knows the coin Chigurh asks her to call doesn’t matter. She doesn’t call it. Chigurh kills her anyway.

How the Coens visually balance these two scenes via camera angles and movement, other cinematography techniques, and character blocking is the subject of the latest erudite video essay from Sareesh Sudhakaran over at wolfcrow. The film, like most others by the Coens, was shot by revered cinematographer Roger Deakins, a man who believes that the best camera work doesn’t distract from the narrative, it interweaves with it, telling a complementary story of its own alongside that of the dialogue. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pair of scenes than these which do just that, as you’d be hard-pressed to find a better authority to guide you through them than Sudhakaran. Class is in session, film fans.

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