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No Country for Old Men

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  • 1. Analysis of how Joel and Ethan Coen successfully created suspense and anticipation through the use of Cinematography, Performance and Sound in the “coin toss” scene in the film “No Country for Old Men”In one of the first scenes of the movie, the audience is immediately jolted as Chigurh’s character isrevealed simply by the manner in which the deputy was killed and the disposition of Chigurh isshocking as you immediately know that he is capable of any brutal act. It sets the tone for the rest ofthe film and is one of the most important reasons why the “Coin Toss” scene is so successful atcreating suspense, because the dramatic irony is that the audience know that Chigurh is apsychopath and what he is capable of.The Coen brothers create this scene in reference and great attention to the dialogue in the book.However its Javier Bardem who portrays “Chigurh” that brings the scene to life, his unique name isthe first thing to be noticed about the character as his name is untraceable to any race or originwhich instantly creates mystery and horror to his character as there is a sense of uncertainty to him.His appearance also establishes his character as he is wearing black which is clearly the sign of thevillain and his facial expressions are very dominant and significant yet very subtle. Throughout thefilm Chigurh is established to be a cold hearted man, eager to kill anyone who tries to cross hispath. However Chigurh himself is dismissive and tries to cover up his violence with "principles" toavoid any responsibility. His hair style and black clothing shout Death. Furthermore Chigurh is seento be an intelligent person rather than a crazy one because of his logical planning and survivalinstinct yet his cruel actions clearly show he is the villain.The establishing shot starts with a Crane-high angle shot of the petrol station with a house behind it;therefore this implies that they are isolated surrounded by acres of field. This setting is the iconicAmerican location which symbolised westerns with the pure silence and the creaking of the petrolstation sign, creating the best location for a showdown. This already creates a sense of danger as theaudience already have connotations of the location and suspect it’s not going to stay silent for longand the shop owner is clearly in trouble if Chigurh decided to act. Then it cuts to a medium shot ofthe shop owner which Chigurh then dominates as he walks in the shot creating a two shot allowingthe audience to absorb the contrast between the two characters. The shop owner’s character isinstantly established as the shot is on him for a couple of seconds before our focus is on Chigurhagain. He is an older man who’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time unaware of events thatare about to happen. This character is particularly picked because in contrast with Chigurh he’s ahelpless victim who the audience can sympathise with as he’s powerless. However on the otherhand Chigurh’s character is seen to be very confident and from the start the audience have a simpleconstruction of his character as he is wearing black which has, in many films connotation of thevillain.
  • 2. Chigurh has walked in wanting to pay for his petrol so he can leave and continue on his hunthowever he’s very subtle and gives nothing away through his expressions which conveys that he’svery in control. This soon changes as the shop owner decides to have small talk “I seen you wasfrom Dallas.” identifying where Chigurh has come from. This clearly ticks off Chigurh and the overthe shoulder shot of him clearly shows this as he tilts his head up to look at the shop owner in anannoyed expression and says “What business is it of yours where Im from, friendo?” because thefact that the shop keeper knows where he is from could be a threat. Also the inappropriate use of theword “friendo” is another thing that’s noticed about Chigurh which explores his character evenmore and to some extent fits him. A reverse over the shoulder of Chigurh looking at the shopowner, suddenly aware that he has offended Chigurh, and in this bit there are 3 shot reverse shots tocatch up with the pace of the script as it shows Chigurh clearly irritated and the shop keepersuddenly realising he has caused offence as he is alarmed and tries to repair the situation.The shop owner quickly repairs what he’s said by saying “I didnt mean nothing by it.” However bythis point Chigurh has already decided to pick on the shop keeper and wants to take theconversation further “Didnt mean nothing.” Here he repeats what the shop keeper says with acertain mocking tone implying that the shop keeper did mean something and that he better answerhim. This is very similar to a western movie called “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” becausein the opening sequence of this film no one knows that Sundance is a professional gun slinger andonce everything is revealed the other player becomes like the shop keeper wanting to take backeverything he’s said so he can get out of the situation because they’ve both sensed danger. For itstime “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was a contemporary western film however this film iseven more so contemporary which means it still has a hint of western and though out the scene thisis explored through dialogue and also through the scenes.Whilst the shop keeper is still trying to conclude the conversation Chigurh is talking more andcreating an awkward situation. The shop keeper finally feels like he’s repaired his offence andconcludes the conversation by saying “...Will there be something else?” and he sighs a relief andgoes back to writing on his pad expecting Chigurh to leave however Chigurh is not done yet andcontinues the conversation “I dont know. Will there?” not really making any sense in the questionhe’s asking because he just wants to take the shop keeper deeper into conversation. This causes theshop keeper to say “Is something wrong?” expecting to get an answer however Chigurh isntcooperating and amusingly playing with words asks another question “With what?”. This meanshes not letting the shop keeper take control and hes using another question to push the dialoguedown more layers. Were three levels down in this dialogue, which is about as much as people aregood at handling. Any deeper and the shop keeper will be lost. The audience can sympathise with
  • 3. because so they would be lost to put it that situation. Chigurh continues to talk to the shop keeper asif he’s a child and mocks him for not understanding where Chigurh is going with. However inChigurh mind the shop keeper is too stupid to understand therefore he gets fed up and says “Is thatwhat youre asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?” he says this with a serious anddangerous tone simply wondering why the shop keeper is unable to catch up. By this point the shopkeeper has lost hope of understanding Chigurh and tries once again to finish the conversation “Willthere be anything else?” and Chigurh says “You already asked me that.” And this means he givesnot another question, but a hostile comment and the shop keeper only has one way out: make a bidto terminate the dialogue properly. Therefore he says “Well...I need to see about closing.” And thisis what pushes Chigurh to the edge as he sees that the shop keeper is backing down but he wants tocontinue on as if it’s like a showdown and he wants to kill the other player but the other player optsout. Chigurh is not amused and very frustrated at the shop keepers stupidity and lack ofunderstanding however we don’t fully understand what he needs the shop keeper to say to besatisfied, maybe he never is satisfied and that is why he continues on his path as we see throughoutthe film.Chigurh rejects the conclusion of the conversation and he takes control, issuing question afterindirectly threatening question. “What time do you close?” the shop keeper answers very quicklyclearly showing he’s agitated “Now. We close now.” However Chigurh is not happy with theanswer. He will decide the level of specificity required. Therefore he continues on with histhreatening questions and this means the mood is getting more and more intense and the audiencecan almost feel the tension building up. Until the camera cuts to a close up of the rapper of the nutsChigurh was eating creating a crunching noise as it un-crunches. This shot somehow direct theaudience to look away or take a break from the intensity of the conversation as it may seem thatnothing’s going on but ironically in this conversation a lot is happening and the shot was used tohelp the audience take a breath before they are put back into that position. Then without hesitatingChigurh asks “...Whats the most youve ever lost on a coin toss?” starting his game and seriouslyputting the shop keeper’s life in danger. The “coin toss” scene is one of the most significant scenesin which the character of Chigurh is explored further without blood or violence which is why it’s aneffective scene as it build up tension to create fear and anxiety for the audience out of a simplesituation because the dramatic irony is that we know Chigurh as a character and expect him to actout at any moment however the shop keeper has no idea. This creates a climax in Chigurh’spsychopathic expression just before he reveals the coin and this is the moment the shop keeper andthe audience are relieved. “Well done.” He congratulates the owner on having won out against theodds. Ordering the owner not to put the quarter in his pocket, Chigurh says, “Or it will get mixed inwith the others and become just a coin……which it is.”
  • 4. The “coin toss” scene is one of the most significant scenes in which the character of Chigurh isexplored further without any blood or violence which is why it’s an effective scene as it build uptension to create fear and anxiety out of a simple situation because the dramatic irony is that weknow Chigurh as a character and expect him to act out at any moment however the shop keeper hasno idea. This creates a climax in Chigurh’s psychopathic expression just before he reveals the coinand this is the moment the shop keeper and the audience are relieved. However the shop keeper stilldoesn’t understand the immensity of what had just happened yet we the audience understandperfectly that if that coin had tossed the wrong way that scene would have ended very differently.The emphasis here is on fate and chance. Chigurh says that the coin has arrived at this momentmuch the way that he and the gas station owner have arrived, asserting that fate has brought themhere. Now, Chigurh leaves it up to chance to determine the final outcome.In the end, it is Chigurh who goes on. Chigurhs principles and adherence to his "moral code", evilas it may seem, allows you to develop a strange respect for him. He took care of himself; he kepthimself clean, never wanting to get his boots dirty. While watching the film, I felt feelings oflikeness and slight admiration for this serial killer. In the moral sense of society he is not a good guyand I think did represent the pervasive evil in society, which is why it would make sense for hischaracter to go on.This is a powerful film because it takes classical themes and makes them complex by using thecharacters to reveal something new, or something from a new perspective. The way the camera isused is effective because it directs the audiences attention, such as always showing Chigurh washhis hands, make sure his boots are clean, etc. It is showing instances like this in the film that arerevealing. The film emphasized Chigurhs principles and rigidness by emphasizing his cleanliness.The setting, a character, also provided a setting that made the film and narrative believable. Therewere several elements that the Coens synthesized together to make the film effective. They tookfamiliar themes and used the characters in innovative ways to support the message of this film.