In No Country for Old Men (2007 film), one of the most memorable quotes is “What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?” This is a short rhymed question asked by Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) to a Texaco worker; the answer will determine if Anton’s next action will be a threat or a promise. At this point in the film, we have already seen that Anton has a way of changing others direction in life when he crosses their path, whether it be killing them or letting them live.
Today I want to talk about the popular coin toss scene in this film. It is a symbolic moment that shows how Anton values human life. Throughout the film, it is shown that people constantly think they should be assessed at a higher value or risk than others. However, this scene gives us a real message to focus on too: that at the end of the day, everyone is the same. We are all travelling through the journey of life from one place to the next with the same odds of success or failure. It’s all just a gamble on our potential that makes the decision. Check it out below:
The significance of this coin toss scene is to illustrate the character of Anton; it is to show that he is in control at all times. He remains in control of others destiny throughout the film.
When he walks up to the counter at the gas station, he intends to just pay for his peanuts and gas for his car. The Texaco worker (“old man”) tells him the price of everything and proceeds to make small talk, asking him about the weather where he’s from since Anton’s license plate is issued in Dallas when they’re actually in Mexico. Anton doesn’t appreciate the old man’s effort at making small talk and is annoyed by the uncomfortable conversation. So he replies by telling the old man that it’s none of his business and he makes the conversation steer another way by directing the old man to believing that Anton would harm him. He makes the old man feel as uncomfortable as he did a moment ago.
The old man continues to ramble and starts going in circles, repeating himself and getting flustered as Anton stands there responding calmly while slowly eating a pack of peanuts. The old man says that he’s about to get ready to close the store and that he has to close now. Anton picks at him for his word choice stating to the old man, “Now is not a time. What time do you close?”… The old man replies, “Generally around dark. At dark,” and looks outside the store window realizing that the sun hasn’t even begin to set. Anton realizes that he’s shaken the old man so he keeps taking jabs: “You don’t know what you’re talking about do you?” “What time do you go to bed? You’re a bit deaf, aren’t you? I said, what time do you go to bed?” “I could come back then…”
At this point, we, as the viewers, are on the edge of our seats, waiting in anticipation to see what happens next. We have already seen Anton’s capacity to kill and/or intimidate. We’re wondering… Will Anton kill the old man and not pay for anything then go about his day as if nothing happened? Or will Anton give this old man a chance at redemption, to start over and forget the awkwardness of the attempted conversation?
The interrogation continues until Anton is satisfied. He crumples up the peanut bag and places it on the store counter. He then offers the old man a shot at redemption… sort of. Anton gives him an opportunity at a game of chance, asking the old man, “What’s the most you’ve ever lost in a coin toss?” The old man answers, “I don’t know. I couldn’t say.” Anton takes a quarter from his pocket and flips it in the air, catches the coin and puts it down on the counter with his hand placed over it. “Call it.”
The suspense is building. There are so many unknowns. What is going to be the result of this coin toss? Is the old man going to loss his life? Will his wife die? Will Anton leave the shop and do nothing? The old man says he didn’t put anything up to bet with on this coin toss, implying that he’s not comfortable with calling the coin toss when he doesn’t even know what he could lose. The great part about that is neither do we. Anton is in complete control here. He says to the old man, “Yes you did. You’ve been putting it up your whole life. You just didn’t know it. Do you know what date is on this coin?… 1958… It’s been travelling 22 years to get here and now it’s here and it’s either heads or tales. You have to say. Call it.” Now, the old man is concerned with what he stands to win. The old man finally calls it, “Heads”… Anton lifts his hand up… The quarter is revealed… Heads, it is.
Anton congratulates the old man, “Well done,” and gives him the quarter. The old man goes to put the quarter in his pocket and Anton stops him, saying, “Don’t put it your pocket. That’s your lucky quarter. Put it anywhere else, but not in your pocket or it will get mixed in with the others and become just a coin…which it is.” This coin toss scene is a metaphoric example of the chances we are presented with in life (both good and bad), the opportunities that can exist in the unknowns of our journey through life, the symbolism of fate through a coin toss, the sentimental value of our encounters with people in life as a reminder of those moments, and the value of patience and understanding.
As a result, even though this coin toss scene has multiple layers to what it could mean and how it can be perceived, the real point of it was a character development scene for Anton. It shows that he feels accomplished as a murderer because even when he can’t control the fate of others, he is still in control of himself and the results of the moments he’s in, in other people’s lives.