Establishing Villains – Part 3: Anton Chigurh

Okay, I know I said I would do something old and classic for Part 3, but I was just dying to get this out first.

No Country For Old Men (2007) has a one of the best villains. His name is Anton Chigurh, and he kills people with an air pressure gun. He’s tall, and imposing. He has a hippy haircut, and freaky buggy eyes. He’s always serious and intense. And like most villains of the creepy variety, he doesn’t emote much. Here’s the first shots of Anton Chigurh; they follow the same convention as before: Don’t show his face.

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When we do see his face, its when he’s in the middle of strangling a man to death. How cool is that intro? It’s not hype with a bunch of other actor’s going on about, “Keyser Söze! Keyser Söze!” (The Usual Suspects (1995)). The first thing you see is what this guy can and will do. This is a great example of showing over telling. In order to establish a villain, introduce him doing something vicious like this right away. You can reveal more of your villain’s character later in an exposition scene (like the one below). Doing it this way is a lot better than hyping a guy up with talk for half of the movie (telling) without actually showing what he can do.

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Obviously this isn’t his first murder, this shot says it all:

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The coolest part of the film, and the one I want to analyze in this post, is the scene below. Watch it now.

This is the expository scene I was talking about. Anton quickly establishes power and controls the conversation. When I watch this scene I end up feeling like the clerk; I’m totally intimidated. But why? There isn’t enough contrast in shots throughout the scene to make me feel this way. There are some tighter shots, and slight close-ups; There’s very subtle up and down shots used. But nothing that would help me feel like Anton is in control from a strictly visual standpoint.

The answer is in the dialogue. The scene is basically four minutes of Anton and the Clerk asking each other questions. Anton asks about fifteen questions, and the Clerk asks about twelve. We get to know Anton, but we still don’t end up knowing anything about him. At the same time, we know everything about the clerk. We know when he closes, what time he goes to bed (9:30), where he lives (the house out back of the convenience store), where he grew up (Temple, Texas), and how he came to be in the town he’s in today (marriage). That’s the big difference. We feel threatened by Anton and empathize with the Clerk because Anton knows everything about the Clerk (us), and we still don’t know anything about Anton. There’s only one question the Clerk asks that gets a straight answer:

The Clerk: Where do you want me to put it?

Anton: Anywhere, but not in your pocket.

But this still doesn’t reveal anything else about Anton; he goes on to create more uncertainty (fear) by saying, “…Or it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin…Which it is.”

How vague is that?

Okay, so what do we know about Anton? We know he doesn’t blink much. We know he doesn’t like people asking him questions. We know he is confident. We know he doesn’t think highly of the Clerk (“You’ve been putting it up your whole life, you just didn’t know it”). And from that we can assume Anton believes what he does in honorable. It’s safe to assume that if the Clerk calls the coin toss incorrectly, he’s going to die. We know this, but the Clerk doesn’t. That’s called Dramatic Irony, and it creates the tension at the end of the scene and keep us on the edge of our seats.

So all of the information we have on Anton just makes him scarier. The fact that he leaves killing people up to chance makes him even more reckless. What a fantastic villain.

We don’t know who he his, we never know what he’s thinking or what he’s going to do, and he has no concience for killing. It all point back to The Unknown: the scariest thing to the human mind.