Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Scariest Characters in Cinema #15 - Anton Chigurh

Way back in 2007, I described Anton Chigurh as "a villian of elemental violence who cuts a bloody path towards his prey with a dogged, businesslike precision." I'm hopefully a bit less prone to overwriting than I used to be, but otherwise I still agree with my assessment of the character. Revisiting No Country for Old Men recently, I admired how the Coens are unable, in a "serious" thriller, to go for the throat with a villain who would be equally at home in a slasher movie. Everything about Chigurh (Javier Bardem) - his pallid skin, his death rattle of a voice, his quiet determination, that damn haircut - is seemingly engineered to get under our skin, and Bardem gives us the impression that Chigurh is happy for the opportunity to do so.

That's the scariest thing about Chigurh - his complete disdain for humanity and any kind of code or order outside of the maddening, self-reflexive one he has created for himself (one arbitrary enough to hinge on a literal coin toss). Yes, it's scary that he's capable of pitiless violence and cruelty, especially since he has a device that can smash your brain before you know what's happened. That's upsetting. But it's scarier knowing that he's not a psychopath or a supernatural monster but a hired hand doing terrible things in the service of his own ghastly but logical-unto-itself way of life. He's nothingness personified (say what you will about the tenets of socialism, at least it's an ethos). And worse still, for everything Chigurh is capable of, he's not the worst we have to fear. As the film's pitch-black ending suggests, he's only the messenger.

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