The Coin Toss/Annotated Paragraph


The following passage comes from Cormac McCarthy’s modern Western No Country For Old Men. I went beyond the 100 word count since this entire passage is almost entirely dialogue. The following is probably one of the most popular scenes from both the novel and the film adaptation by Joel and Ethan Coehn. I believe this scene was also what helped win Javier Bardem his Oscar as Anton Chigurh. 
In this passage force-of-nature killer Anton Chigurh has arrived at a gas station to buy himself a bag of peanuts and some fuel. Before hand we have seen Chigurh commit a series of murders with little or no explanation. Upon paying for his goods and services at the gas station Chigurh becomes annoyed at the gas station’s owner behind the counter for his unnasumingly friendly conversation. Chigurh is a weirdo–that is he handles situations a bit differently than you and I. Chigurh instead of simply killing the gas station owner he offers a coin toss. Also note that Cormac never uses quotation marks and very selective punctuation in his work. -JA


You need to call. it, Chigurh said. I cant call it for you. It wouldnt be fair .It wouldnt even be right . Just call it.

I didnt put nothin up.

Yes you did. You’ve been putting it up your whole life. You just didn’t know it. You know what the date is on the coin?


It’s nineteen fifty-eight. It’s been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it’s here. And I’m here . And I’ve got my hand over it. And it’s either heads or tails. And you have to say it. Call it.

I don’t know what it is I stand to win.

In the blue light the man’s face was beaded thinly with sweat. He licked his upper lip.

You stand to win everything, Chigurh said. Everything.

You ain’t making any sense mister.

Call it.

Heads then.

Chigurh uncovered the coin. He turned his arm slightly for the man to see. Well done, he said.

He picked the coin from his wrist and handed it across.

What do I want with that?

Take it. Its your lucky coin .

I dont need it.

Yes you do. Take it.

The man took the coin. I got to close now, he said.

Dont put it in your pocket.

Where do you want me to put it?

Dont put it in your pocket. You wont know which one it is.

All right.

Anything can be an instrument,Chigurh said. Small things. Thing you wouldnt even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People dont pay attention. And then one day there’s an accounting.. And after that nothing is the same. Well, you say. It’s just a coin. For instance. Nothing special there. What could that be an instrument of? You see the problem.To seperate the act from the thing. As if the parts of some moment in history might be interchangeable with the parts of some other moment. How could that be? Well, it’s just a coin. Yes. That’s true. Is it?



The passage plays out like an Old West shootout but instead of guns he have a simple coin toss and an unassuming victim. McCarthy has been accused of writing in a very simplistic way and ignoring the “rules” of writing. Reminiscent of Hemingway and Faulkner, McCarthy’s style uses simplicity to get across much larger ideas about mortality, the human condition, and choice. Interestingly McCarthy seldom lets the reader into the inner workings of a characters thoughts. You simply have what he gives you in the dialogue itself in a scene like this. Very little description of characters allow the reader to envision Chigurh to whatever boogey man they can imagine he is. HP Lovecraft employed a similar philosophy in his horror stories noting that an individuals running imagination is much scarier than anything that he can put on paper. The dialogue itself is sparse and straight the point representing the matter-of-the- fact speaking of the  American South. 

Anton Chigurh represents a looming darkness that defies understanding to many of the characters within No Country for Old Men. We know next to nothing about this killer of men (and women) except the few moments he directly tells a victim how his brain works. Even then his contradictions and seemingly greater understanding of humanity leads his victims and readers puzzled. We are not meant to fully grasp the meaning of Chigurh just as his name is difficult to pronounce,–we struggle with him. His mystery and ideology is what makes him such a compelling character. The greater mysteries of life, especially Higher Powers like God, are not mean to be truly understood. We are simply meant to Obey and Trust in “God’s” descions. Chigurh lives his life as God would. He doesn’t explain himself and feels no true need. Even in the closing monologue he gives to the gas station owner we are left with even more questions. Higher beings are enigmas that are better left unsaid. Mystery is what propels a reader to ponder meaning and answers, which in turns keeps us glued to the story. Big ideas like Fate and Death should be things we both fear and respect while leaving us asking “why?” Just like Anton Chigurh himself. But don’t expect an answer. 


Here’s the film adaptation of the very same scene.


McCarthy, Cormac.  No Country for Old Men. New York: Vintage International/Vintage, 2007. 56-57. Print.

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Published on May 22, 2013 at 10:13 am Comments (1)

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  1. on September 17, 2013 at 9:22 pm coach 財布 Said:

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