Anton Chigurh’s Quarter

In Cormac McCarthy’s book (and in the Coen brother’s adaption of) “No Country for Old Men”, there is an infamous scene where the assassin, Anton Chigurh, subjects a gas-station owner to a trial where his life hangs in the outcome of a coin toss. The innocent owner is at first unaware of the purpose of Chigurh’s demand to “call it”, but the morbidity of the situation slowly starts to dawn on him. (I won’t repeat the entire oft-quoted exchange; you can read it here.)

“You know what date is on this coin?”
“1958. It’s been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it’s here.

Is there any meaning to the date, 1958? At first it just seemed random, but it struck me that perhaps this is not the case. In 1965 the Coin Act changed the make-up of U.S. coins so that dimes, quarters and half-dollars were no longer 90% silver, but where instead cladded nickel and zinc. Gresham’s Law states that bad money quickly pushes good money out of circulation as people tend to horde the coins with the higher intrinsic value. This is exactly what happened in the U.S.; silver coins quickly began to disappear from circulation until by 1980, when the Hunt Brothers’ attempt to corner the silver market pushed the price of silver to $50/oz., it was rare to find one.

Anton Chigurh

What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?

So what was Chigurh doing with a silver coin in his pocket in 1980? There’s really no hint, but I doubt McCarthy wasn’t aware of the oddity of a silver coin being in someone’s possession at that late date. My guess is that the enigmatic Chigurh is meant to have a collection of these coins in his pocket for just this purpose. He seems to know the date of the coin without even looking at it. It has a significance known to only him which compounds for the reader the mystery behind his dark convictions.

» Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2009 | Comments (23) | Permanent Link


Outstanding observation. As a metal detecting aficionado (I love findin pre-1965 silver coins) and having an obsession with NCFOM, I thought this was brilliant.

» Posted by Jim on May 20, 2009 11:49 PM

but I doubt McCarthy wasn’t aware of the oddity of a silver coin being in someone’s possession at that late date

I disagree the coin is silver because it’s role was as a “lucky” coin. In that context a silver coin in that era makes perfect sense.

I still find a silver quarter every once in a while though compared to 1980 it’s a rare find.

» Posted by Chigurth on July 11, 2009 01:36 AM

Anton was the Devil. He represented different sins throughout the story. Mostly greed. Notice that he didn’t kill the main character. Then at the end of the movie he didn’t kill Mrs. Moss. She killed herself from grief.

» Posted by Russell on July 22, 2009 10:36 AM

Something about the movie “No Country For Old Men”. Still haven’t found a satisfying explanation for Chigurh being hit by the car. I like the interpretation of Chigurh being the embodiment of destiny, so for him to be the victim in some random accident seems out of place (not to mention him being shot by Llewelyn). This implies that even the eternal way in which the brutishness of life catches up to us all so too will that brutishness some day be finished. I think of this as a message that even though old timers will say that there is a moral decline in America, we are still becoming more civil on the whole. Does anyone buy that?

» Posted by Ambyr Amoureuse on July 24, 2009 05:38 AM

I have to say, I hadn’t thought about the coins as being significant in any way but now that you mention the dates it makes sense.
I love movie discussions, and this film really needed one.

To Ambyr> Here’s my two cents on the car accident seen at the end: I think it’s meant to establish Chigurh’s role as the unstoppable evil that is often seen in the Coens’ movies. He’s shot, cut my handcuffs in the beginning, and hit by a car but it NEVER fazes him. In the end, he always gets up and walks off.

To Russell> I haven’t read the book. Did Mrs. Moss really kill herself? After seeing the movie, my impression was that with his last statement and the way he checks his boots when he walks out of her house (as though checking for blood) was that he DID kill her. However, he’s such an unpredictable character so I can’t confirm this. I do think she knew she was going to die as evidenced by her statements and, although terrified, she accepted it.
Think of it this way: If you speak with the devil about a promise made to your spouse that he would kill you if your spouse did not comply with his demands, do you think he’d let you live?

» Posted by Samantha Davila on August 21, 2009 10:43 PM

^^reference to earlier comment:
I found an article that sort of defines Chigurh’s evilness

I thought you guys would like to check it out.

» Posted by Samantha Davila on August 21, 2009 10:46 PM

I’m sorry, did you just say that Mrs. Moss “killed herself from grief”? Did you even watch the movie? Do you need everything to be spelled out for you on screen? Good lord.

» Posted by Ed on November 5, 2009 11:30 PM

wow, this sounds like a second rate paper I wrote during the middle of the night before it was due after procrastinating all semester. Very loose connections with very poor dialectical arguments. Try a more substantiative scene (or better argument for the one you’ve chosen) from the book or film next time. sorry this sounds harsh.

» Posted by t0dd on November 6, 2009 01:22 AM

Mrs. Moss killed herself by _not choosing_. If she had chosen, she would have had a 50% chance of survival.

» Posted by Screwhead on November 7, 2009 10:27 PM

this movie sucked you are all fanatics

» Posted by Anonymous on November 17, 2009 04:33 AM

i think you’re reaching here. i would be willing to bet that the coin’s date is more or less random.

» Posted by Anonymous on January 11, 2010 03:26 PM

in the book Mrs. Moss calls it and misses so Chigurh shoots her.

» Posted by Anonymous on February 15, 2010 11:13 PM

I think Chigur is just a psycopath. In the book, the nature of Chiurh’s character thoroghly explored in his discourse with Carson Wells. “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule”.

I’m paraphrasing, but in that sentence the author succinctly summarizes Chigurhs world view. Right and wrong does not matter, as long as the psycopath achieves his goals or satisfies his needs. Chigurh has to be understood not as the antihero to Moss, but as the anti hero to the only “good” person in the bool, sherrif Bell. Bell is the opposit of Chigurh and shows great empathy and emotional intelligence, qualities that are lacking in the psycho Chigurh.

» Posted by Carson Wells on February 17, 2010 09:23 PM

The coin (as well as Chigurh) represents the moral of the story; you cant stop whats coming. Its all about fate. Hence the coin.

» Posted by Anonymous on March 6, 2010 03:06 AM

this is the only scene in the entire movie where chigurh nearly jokes with another human, albeit in a very dry and stern, monotone manner. he tells the old man not to put the coin in his pocket because then it would get mixed in with the other coins, saying then it will be just a regular coin, which it is.

» Posted by browny on March 15, 2010 10:41 PM

@Carson Wells - “Right and wrong does not matter, as long as the psycopath achieves his goals or satisfies his needs. Chigurh has to be understood not as the antihero to Moss, but as the anti hero to the only “good” person in the bool, sherrif Bell.”

If the author intended Chigurh to be just another psychopathic serial killer in the world, then Bell’s role as the “good person” of the story was unnecessary.

» Posted by Sean on December 24, 2010 02:04 PM

Actually… Anton is the ultimate badass. He is the angel of death. Not the devil. He kills everyone that has anything to do the devil: narcotics…and anyone else:sheep. The author is devoutley catholic, hence…this is the solution to the problem of evil: extermination.
Your welcome.

» Posted by jesse on February 19, 2011 04:01 AM

I thinks it’s random. In the book, Chigurh uses a Glock to shoot the two men. Glocks were not in the US in 1980. He also uses a cell phone that would fit in a pocket to talk to Moss. Come on!
Obvious errors like that really distract me from an otherwise well written book.

» Posted by Charles on September 16, 2011 06:53 AM

@charles Agreed. If Cormac had actually spent time researching coins for this scene, he most likely would have researched guns and cellphones of that era.

» Posted by kernuscorn on November 17, 2011 06:48 PM

Did Anton actually choke while eating a pack of peanuts or something in the gas station scene? Or was that a planned part of the movie?

» Posted by Kelvin on April 11, 2013 01:20 PM

I realize this is way late but a few things happened in 1958 that could be significant. First, if you buy into the idea that Anton represents a modern amorality (the opposite of Ed Tom’s idealized good ol’ days)then the fact that the microchip was invented in 1958 could be seen as the dawning of our modern, disconnected society. However, given how much the Coen’s like inside jokes, the fact that the hula-hoop was invented in 1958 (see Hudsucker Proxy) might have more to do with it.

» Posted by Brian on February 26, 2015 01:56 PM

Brian, I like your theory. There is significance in the year 1958 whether it was intended or not (though I suspect there was because the coin travelled 22 years specifically).
I also think there is significance in the year 1980, as well, the year the “Reagan Revolution” began (the death of the “Liberal Era”).
The conversation with Ellis in the epilogue bookends the era by defining the beginning as the sheriff’s experience and perspective as emanating from his time as a soldier in WWII.
Ellis gives context by talking of the death of an uncle in 1909(?) at the hands of Indians on the uncle’s front porch. His wife buries him the next day without much ado.
We have returned to the normal course of the human experience; the respite brought by the Golden Age of prosperity post-WWII was little more than us futilely attempting to escape Death (a la “An Appointment in Samarra”).

» Posted by Roscoe N. on July 3, 2017 08:48 AM

There are 4 themes that repeat through tbe book and movie. Integrity, Chance ( or luck), Power( Will) , and Skill. Anton mentions several times how he has chosen a set of principals that are in line with a deeper reality, beyond our surface notions of right and wrong. He is a priest of integrity and the will to power. I believe there are allusions to Carson and him having worked together in the past. Probably as Special Forces or as Intelligence Agents, possibly mercenaries. Whereas Carson gave up his principals to seek a mercenary life, Anton follows that path because of the purity and integrity of being a hired killer. He believes that he is powerful and was chosen to follow that path. His gifts combine with his integrity to create an irresistible force. He embodies the judgement of a god, so long as he keeps to his principals. It makes him a “holy” instrument. He almost always takes time to explain to his victims exactly what is determining their fate. He seems to distinguish between people who exert their will and those who are led by fate alone. He almost never harms people who have integrity, unless they chose to cross him or stand between him and his goal.By sticking to their proncipals, they are leading a holy life even if they aren’t skilled or powerful. The shop keeper was repugnant to Anton but he was not standing in his way. He would have ignored him totally if he hadn’t been nosey. Even at that, he let the man have a chance, and let fate decide. That’s the significance of the coin toss. It’s his way of letting God choose their judgement. They are only asked to make a choice to allow fate to decide.

Moss has Skill and Will, but he falls prey to greed and let’s his integrity suffer for it. His Skill and will cannot overcome the force of fate, though he makes a heroic effort to do so. His friends and loved ones suffer for it as well, but only because Anton gave him a choice.

There are some other subtle things, such as Moss overcoming his trials until he loses focus because of his weakness for the girl. He may have already given up the moment he picked her up. Everything after that choice is him sliding back from heroism to being a normal weak man.

» Posted by Suttree on November 13, 2017 09:53 PM

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