Blog Post One — Topic Three, Subtext

No Country for Old Men (Ethan and Joel Coen, 2007)

After stumbling upon the unfortunate aftermath of a drug-deal gone wrong, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) cannot resist taking a token from the scene — a briefcase full of cash. However, with this simple action, the hunter is quick to become the hunted, when the psychopathic Anton Chigurh picks up on his trail.

The eighth scene from this film centres around, on surface level, a coin toss. A decision-making tool that is typically used for everyday trivial situations, such as what to have for dinner, what tie to wear or, in the Coen Brother’s cinematic universe, whether an innocent store owner should live or die. What makes this scene’s circumstances different from any other regular coin toss is its subtext. When Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the films antagonist, enters the store, he does not announce himself as a homicidal maniac to the owner. He does not tell him of the 50/50 chance he has of dying within the next 5 minutes. He doesn’t give any clues to his true intentions in the slightest. The audience however, already know of Chigurh’s murderous tendencies, and this is where the tension is created.

At first glance, the coin that Chigurh holds means very little to the store owner and the audience, and the outcome of the flip should have very little impact on the remainder of this man’s day, let alone his life. However, the unspoken meaning behind said coin is what alerts the audience to the fact that this man’s life could very well be in danger, and that this seemingly insignificant coin actually has far greater power than what might appear on surface level. Chigurh takes his leave with a warning for the shop owner; “Don’t put it in your pocket, it’s your lucky quarter… it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin…” After a lengthy pause, he finishes by saying “…which it is.” However, the scenes underlying implications help us to understand that this is not the truth.

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