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Origines et figures du mal

“The man who wasn’t there”—and was “out there”: Chigurh as cinematic figure

« L’homme qui n’était pas là » et pourtant était « là-bas » : Chigurh comme figure cinématographique
Nicole Cloarec

Résumés

En dépit du commentaire ironique de Joel Coen pour qui le film parle « d’un bon gars, d’un méchant et d’un gars entre les deux », les personnages principaux de No Country for Old Men ont suscité de nombreuses interrogations. Chigurh en particulier, que l’on a qualifié d’un des méchants les plus effrayants de l’histoire du cinéma, élude toute définition archétypale univoque pourtant associée à ce type de personnages. Le présent article se concentre sur le personnage de Chigurh dans le film des Coen. Il examine dans un premier temps la diversité des interprétations qui ont cherché à rendre compte du personnage, puis développe la thèse selon laquelle l’énigmatique ambivalence de Chigurh fait partie intégrante de sa caractérisation. Plus précisément, il met en lumière l’ambivalence du personnage en tant qu’entité cinématographique, c’est-à-dire non pas tant comme une personnification directe de questions morales et philosophiques que comme l’incarnation de figures et de dispositifs cinématographiques qui sont mis en exergue pour traduire la vision du monde transmise par le film.

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  • 1 See for example Steven Frye: “McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men will certainly elicit much discussi (...)
  • 2 Jason Landrum, “Cold-Blooded Coen Brothers: The Death Drive and No Country for Old Men”, ibidem, 19 (...)
  • 3 Jeffrey Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, Hard-boiled Entertainments, New York: Wallflower Pr (...)

1One of the recurring early comments about No Country for Old Men was to underline how much it constituted a marked departure from McCarthy’s previous works.”1 Interestingly, the same remark was made about its film adaptation by the Coen brothers for it was their first adaptation and, more importantly, it differed in terms of style and tone from their previous films. All critics and scholars have pointed out its formal restraint, so unusual for the Coens. In his study of the prevailing trends in the reception of the Coens’ films, Jason Landrum notes of No Country for Old Men that “While it features more murder and their most cold-blooded character to date, reviewers found the film to be a refreshingly new direction for the Coens.”2 This new direction can be summed up in the comment by Jeffrey Adams: “In choosing to adapt McCarthy, the Coen brothers forgo their characteristic ironic detachment.”3

  • 4 Stacey Peebles, Cormac McCarthy and Performance. Page, Stage, Screen, Austin: University of Texas P (...)
  • 5 Jeffrey Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, op. cit., 166.

2Truly, the film No Country for Old Men is quite remarkable for its stylistic restraint, which aptly conveys the spare, matter-of-fact prose of the novel. Nonetheless, many have equally highlighted in the case of both the novel and its adaptation that No Country for Old Men, rather than being a radical break from their previous productions, was very much in keeping with the rest of both McCarthy’s and the Coen brothers’ works as they probe into recurring themes that shape their respective fictional universes. These are well known, and include a keen interest in specific American landscapes, archetypal settings along with their “regional patterns of speech and behavior”,4 and the engagement with popular genres such as the western and the noir, with their distinctive character types and themes such as extreme violence or the questioning of masculinity in American culture. These features undoubtedly provide a common ground that accounts for the strong affinity between the universes of McCarthy and the Coens. Jeffrey Adams even goes as far as to assert that amidst the number of shared authorial preoccupations, the first among them is “no doubt their shared interest in the ‘dark side’ of the human spirit…”5

  • 6 Richard Gilmore, “No Country for Old Men: The Coen’s Tragic Western.” in Mark T. Conard (ed.), op. (...)

3There is thus a broad consensus to say that while still playing within generic codes, the Coens have forgone their idiosyncratic ironic detachment and their characteristic display of the dazzling self-reflexive virtuosity, that Richard Gilmore calls “meta-irony”.6 On that account, the main question that the film No Country for Old Men raises is: to what extent does it acknowledge or undermine the ability of these generic codes to represent some degree of reality? In other words, what regime of representation does the film produce?

  • 7 « Si un lieu peut se définir comme identitaire, relationnel et historique, un espace qui ne peut se (...)

4One can easily see the tensions at play in the treatment of places and space: from the opening sequence of vignettes emblematic of the western genre, the film combines a compelling sense of place, heightened by the absence of musical accompaniment, and its symbolic dimension, conjuring up the mythology of the Old West with Biblical overtones. Likewise, the subsequent places—trailer parks, freeways, motels and diners—are both typically American and strikingly anonymous, transitory spaces epitomising what Marc Augé terms “nonplaces”.7 They clearly partake of the generic symbolism of noir aesthetics, underscoring closed, claustrophobic spaces that denote imprisonment, the dwindling of possibilities (of escape), and the inexorability of fate.

  • 8 Quoted in the DVD bonus feature “The Making of No Country”, 2008.
  • 9 Jan Lumholdt, “What a swell party this was: Jan Lumholdt turns ten as Cannes turns 60,” Film intern (...)

5When it comes to the main characters, however, the question of the film’s regime of representation becomes trickier. Notwithstanding Joel Coen’s tongue-in-cheek comment that the film is “about a good guy, a bad guy, and a guy in between”,8 it clearly appears that the main characters have evinced much more interpretations or perplexity than mere stock characters would have. One character in particular has mystified viewers and critics alike. The present article focuses on the character of Chigurh in the Coens’ film, who has been deemed one of the most chilling villains in cinema history.9 After examining the diversity of interpretations that sought to account for his character, I will contend that Chigurh’s enigmatic ambivalence is part and parcel of his characterisation. More specifically, I suggest that the character’s ambivalence recalls his status as a cinematic entity, that is, not so much as a direct personification of moral and philosophical issues as the embodiment of filmic figures and devices that are displayed to convey the film’s worldview.

A character that defies interpretations

  • 10 See Greimas’s actantial model or narrative schema.
  • 11 Lydia R Cooper, “‘He’s a Psychopathic Killer, but So What?’: Folklore and Morality in Cormac McCar (...)

6Perhaps more than the other two main characters, Chigurh is a source of much perplexity. As many have pointed out, unlike for Sheriff Bell or even Llewellyn Moss in the novel, Chigurh’s characterisation is exclusively conveyed through external focalisation, through a series of acts and movements whose grounds are never explained or made clear. His physical attributes are hardly described, his motivations adumbrated only through dialogues that expound contradictory logics and worldviews. From a narrative point of view, the character seems to be reduced to the two-dimensional actantial function of the opponent.10 This is the perspective that Lydia Cooper upholds when she reads McCarthy’s novel through Vladimir Propp’s analysis of folk tales as an updated medieval Morality Play with Chigurh as the “archetypal Devil” pursuing Moss as Everyman after he has succumbed to temptation. For Cooper, Chigurh “is not much of an individual. Instead, he seems to be a blue-eyed, vaguely ethnic version of Blood Meridian’s judge Holden, who himself is more caricature than complex individual.”11

  • 12 Karine Hildenbrand, “Crossroads in No Country for Old Men”, in Julie Assouly et Yonne-Marie Rogez ( (...)
  • 13 Scott Covell, “Devil with a Bad Haircut: Postmodern Villainy rides the range in No Country for Old (...)

7Quite tellingly, one recurrent approach to the character of Chigurh has been to highlight its intertextual dimension, within literary and filmic canon as well as within McCarthy’s or the Coens’ own works. As Karine Hildenbrand notes, “If Chigurh is such a captivating figure in both works, it is because they borrow from a genealogy of fictional archvillains. The puzzlement Chigurh generates could then be explained through the many characters he conjures up.”12 Likewise, for Scot Covell, Chigurh represents “a postmodern western villain” who “emerges as a human palimpsest, wherein images and aspects of earlier texts and cultural artefacts may be perceived, morphing into an intriguing twenty-first-century depiction of the ultimate western villain persona.”13

  • 14 See for example Richard Gaughran, “‘What Kind of Man Are You?’ The Coen Brothers and Existentialis (...)
  • 15 See for example Jim Welsh, “Borderline Evil: the Dark Side of Byzantium in No Country For Old Men, (...)
  • 16 Even though he is the hero in Flight to Tangier.
  • 17 Yvonne-Marie Rogez, “Le retour de la créature macarthienne dans No Country for Old Men,” in Julie A (...)

8Many scholars have noticed Chigurh’s similarities with the godless homicidal Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”,14 and with Western villains such as the sinister Jack Wilson in Shane (George Stevens 1953).15 Interestingly, Jack Palance, who interprets Jack Wilson, also features in Flight to Tangier (Charles Marquis Warren, 1953), the film that Carla Jean is watching on TV at the beginning of No Country for Old Men, and whose poster tagline was precisely “That ‘Shane’ Killer Excites Again!”16 Even more scholars have pointed out Chigurh’s kinship with a long line of violent cut-throats from McCarthy’s first novels. Yvonne-Marie Rogez recalls that the same type of creature consistently appears in the first five novels through the characters of Kenneth Rattner in The Orchard Keeper, the trio of killers in Outer Park, Lester Ballard in Child of God, the dead twin in Suttree and most particularly the blood-curdling Judge Holden in Blood Meridian who shared a similar sadistic practice of playing with coins to torment their victims.17

  • 18 For example Dennis Rothermel argues that we fail to understand the novel’s message if we follow She (...)
  • 19 In this regard, Gilmore compares him to Melville’s Moby Dick: “It makes as little sense to speak of (...)
  • 20 « Le personnage de Chigurh témoigne du retour, sous une nouvelle forme, de la plus fascinante des c (...)
  • 21 An “unbending agent of fatality” (Welsh, “Borderline Evil: the Dark Side of Byzantium in No Country (...)
  • 22 Kenneth Lincoln, Cormac McCarthy: American Canticles, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 151.
  • 23 Annie Proulx, “Gunning for Trouble: No Country for Old Men,” The Guardian, 29 October 2005.
  • 24 Joan Mellen, “Spiraling Downward: America in Days of Heaven, In the Valley of Elah, and No Country (...)

9However, this palimpsestic dimension only shifts the issue of character interpretation. Although a few critics have argued Chigurh should be interpreted as human, even though he represents an extreme and perverted type of humanity,18 most analyses concur on his allegorical or mythical dimension in a novel that makes use of pulp genres as well as biblical forms such as the jeremiad. In this regard, many interpretations focus on Chigurh as the allegorical personification of some abstract forces or entity. 19Chigurh is evil incarnate, or, what may be worse, the monstrous manifestation of the latent evil in each and every human;20 he is the embodiment of implacable fate,21 in particular one “based on an American brand of predeterminist nihilism rooted in puritan advent”,22 or rather one that typifies chance in all its arbitrariness and existential absurdity. Then, in a contextual perspective, Chigurh has been seen as “the embodiment of the drug world […] reshaping not only Bell’s county, but the whole nation”,23 or “a grotesque mutation produced by America’s wars of empire”24 and more generally as the embodiment of the underlying violence at the core of American society, the hideous return of the repressed history of violence on which the United States was built.

  • 25 Jason Landrum, “Cold-Blooded Coen Brothers: The Death Drive and No Country for Old Men,” Gaughran 3 (...)
  • 26 Ibid.
  • 27 Julie Assouly, “The Wandering Character in the Coen Brothers’ Films: When the Southern Gothic Meets (...)
  • 28 On a lighter note, Adam Nayman jocosely remarks that Chigurh’s preposterous haircut is also much in (...)

10What these multiple interpretations underscore is that the character of Chigurh somehow encapsulates the delusive realism of the novel. As such, he poses a major challenge for a film adaptation. The allegorical mode is by no means new to the Coen brothers, as witness, for instance, Moses, the time keeper in The Hudsucker Proxy or the Blind Seer in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Likewise, the Coens have often been accused of reducing their characters to types. In this respect, just as Chigurh fits among the other avatars of evil that haunt McCarthy’s novels, he also recalls a number of sociopathic archvillains that fill the Coens’ films. According to Jason Landrum, “Chigurh is both typical and the ‘ultimate badass’ version of a Coen antagonist”;25 he is “an amplified version of the cynical detective Loren Visser”26 in Blood Simple, has the same bulky woodenness as the henchman Eddie “the Dane” in Miller’s Crossing or the kidnapper Gaear Grismrud in Fargo. He displays the same demonic obduracy as Sheriff Cooley in O Brother, Where Art Thou? And of course Chigurh evokes the bounty hunter Leonard Smalls aka “the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse” in Raising Arizona. For Julie Assouly, both Smalls and Chigurh can be defined as “wandering characters” that typify the genres of the Southern Gothic and the Western: “Smalls is the comic counterpart of Anton Chigurh, both being creatures of the Frontier chasing their preys, surrounded with a supernatural aura that connects them to the Gothic genre, and both being the embodiment of contemporary Frontier justice.”27 Interestingly, when Moss is seen lying in bed, kept awake by his “inner demons” as it were, he is filmed with a similar (bird’s-eye-view) shot as when Hi, in Raising Arizona, is having a nightmare triggered by his guilty conscience, which visually conjures up the image of the Lone Biker.28

11These parallels shed light on one of the major differences between Chigurh and all the Coens’ former archvillains. Chigurh is far from being a minor or secondary character. Although Javier Bardem was the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, he actually has more screen time than Sheriff Bell, and this heightened presence is one of the major differences with the novel where Bell’s voice prevails thanks to the interspersed monologues. As can be seen in the table below, Chigurh’s presence is much expanded in the film adaptation and has actually nearly as much screen time as Moss.

  • 29 The numbers are approximate since the multiplicity of short fragmentary paragraphs that makes it di (...)

Table: No Country for Old Men: a synoptic comparison29

Novel (307 pages)

%

Film (112 min)

% (with some overlapping with the shooting & phone scenes)

Sheriff Bell

approx. 118

40%

approx. 30 min

26.5 %

Chigurh

approx. 55

18.5%

approx. 46 min

41%

Moss

approx. 104

35%

approx. 50 min

44.5%

Others

approx. 20

6.5%

  • 30 Robert Stam, “Introduction: the Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” in Robert Stam & Alessandra Ra (...)
  • 31 Quoted in the DVD bonus feature “The Making of No Country for Old Men”. Ellen Chenoweth started wor (...)

12It is a commonplace in adaptation studies to highlight that what a film brings in addition to a narrative outline is an immediacy, and a strong sense of place and physicality, which Robert Stam calls the automatic “thickness” that filmic characters gain on the screen through bodily presence, posture, dress, and facial expression.30 As the film crew related, casting Chigurh was one of the main challenges in adapting McCarthy’s novel. Casting director Ellen Chenoweth explained that “[they] needed an actor who would be able to flesh it out in a substantial way without giving away too much.”31

A figure of disruption

13Indeed, Chigurh encapsulates the ambiguous status of the film’s realism and it is to the credit of the adaptation that it succeeds in portraying a character whose essence is to remain enigmatic and ambivalent. To that end, the film evinces two opposing strategies. On the one hand, it literally fleshes out the character. This is manifest in the casting of Bardem with his massive physique (5 feet 11¼ inches tall), made even more imposing by his cold, wooden acting. In particular, the use of close-up and extreme close-up shots of open wounds, bare flesh and blood (1:09:13; 1:09:18) in the long scene where Chigurh is tending to his wounds, underscores his human corporal existence while making him larger than life as the distorted vision of the magnifying glass attests (1:09:26).

  • 32 Lee Clark Mitchell, “Dismantling the Western: Film Noir’s Defiance of Genre in No Country for Old (...)
  • 33 For example the vertical high shots in the deputy sheriff’s office (3:08-3:17 and 3:33-3:52).
  • 34 In her essay Precarious Life Judith Butler recalls that in Levinas’s reflections on ethics the fac (...)

14On the other hand, throughout the film, Chigurh is consistently associated with extreme shots, unnatural angles and perspectives, which give the character a supernatural quality. As some scholars like Lee Clark Mitchell have noted, his apparition disrupts the visual regime of the opening sequence characterised by wide horizontal vistas typical of the aesthetic code of the western genre.32 They relate this eruption of radical verticality33 to the oppression of the noir aesthetic, or some kind of panoptic, transcendental power. What is sure is that from the onset Chigurh is associated with a certain kind of abnormality and materialises as an agent of disruption not merely on the narrative level but also from an aesthetic point of view. Indeed, the film displays a number of cinematographic devices that challenge the viewers’ perception of the character. Most significantly, Chigurh is introduced as a faceless figure filmed from the back (1:56-2:10; 2:20), then he is repeatedly filmed as a silhouette or a lurking shadow (for example in the doorway of Moss’s trailer (30:16), through the translucent glass approaching the mobile home park manager’s office door (31:59)). This strategy not only forecloses any human connection that the human face provides in a Levinasian ethical perspective34 but also challenges the logical consistency of the films’ spatial framework.

15One of the most striking instances of this disruption is of course the scene when Bell returns to the motel room where Moss was killed (scene starting 1:35:12). The scene is a manifest rewriting of the novel (page 243) in which Chigurh remains at a distance, sitting in his truck as he is about to leave the place when he sees Bell’s cruiser pulling over. The film adds acute suspense through standard use of intercutting with shots of Chigurh who is seen inside, playing with audience expectation along typical narrative patterns such as the final showdown between the antagonists.

  • 35 « …avant que le shérif n’entre dans la chambre, Chigurh s’enfuit par la fenêtre de la salle de bain (...)
  • 36 For example Rick Wallach writes that Chigurh is “warily regarding Bell’s reflection in the outside (...)
  • 37 Adam Nayman, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, op. cit., 173.

16The scene has thus baffled many and has led to all kinds of interpretations. Some are even blatantly erroneous like the assertion that Chigurh managed to escape through the bathroom window while the insert of the latch clearly testifies to the contrary.35 It also seems that some interpretations were drawn from the available screenplay, which actually is not an officially published one and does not correspond to what one can actually see in the film.36 For most of the commentators, however, the scene epitomises Chigurh’s elusive otherworldliness, his ability to vanish at will. He is, after all, described as a ghost by Sheriff Bell, and thus would appear as the projection of the sheriff’s mind. Still, other analyses (Adams Jeffrey’s for example) contend that the point of the scene is precisely its lack of explanation that leaves the viewers “abandoned to speculation and uncertainty.”37

  • 38 Jay Ellis, “‘Do you see?’: Levels of Ellipsis in No Country for Old Men,” in Cormac McCarthy: All (...)

17Conversely, a few critics have offered a more rational explanation. Jay Ellis argues that “The Coens [...] place the men in two different rooms, each space of course a mirror of the other—as in most hotels.”38 Adam Nayman also foregrounds the duality that underpins the scene, relating this motif of duality to the theme of chance:

  • 39 Adam Nayman, op. cit., 206.

Bell stands in front of two motel room doors, knowing that Chigurh the killing machine may be behind one of them; the Coens stage this moment as Bell’s version of the coin flip offered by Chigurh to all his victims: door #1 or door#2, heads or tails. He takes his chance and the room he picks is empty. All the sheriff sees is his own looming shadow against the back wall just as he saw himself in the TV set—a projection at once larger than life and totally insubstantial.39

18This is a very appealing interpretation. I would nonetheless like to elaborate on the six shots at the climax of the scene (1:36:06-1:36-27). The scene starts with a close shot of Bell’s face staring at the lock, followed by the insert of the lock in a point-of-view reverse shot, with a fleeting alteration of light reflected in its inner curvature. Then we can see Chigurh inside the room, standing next to the spot of light emitted through the hollowed lock cylinder. Next the film intercuts first back to Bell’s face who hasn’t moved, then to Chigurh still in the same position as before but with one major change: due to a tighter framing, there is no longer any spot of light, only the reflection on his gun. The next shot shows the cylinder from the inside in an extreme close up, thus foreclosing any spatial landmarks and clues as to the character’s position. In other words, if the two shots mirror each other, they also function in opposition along an on-and-off dichotomy, just like the switch of a light.

  • 40 Conceptualised by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the uncertainty principle states (...)
  • 41 “They got this guy, in Germany. Fritz Something-or-other. Or is it? Maybe it’s Werner. Anyway, he’s (...)

19Without invalidating any of the previous interpretations, I would like to contend that this apparent repetition, but with a marked difference, points to the intrinsic ambivalence of the “uncertainty principle”, also called the indeterminacy principle after the German physicist Werner Heisenberg.40 The “uncertainty principle” is one of the central themes in the Coens’ films, (humorously) expounded by attorney Reidenschneider in The Man who Wasn’t There,41 or in A Serious Man by the professor of physics Larry Gopnik who concludes his lecture proclaiming that “it proves we can’t even really know what’s going on”. It also unmistakably evokes the aporetic duality of Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment whereby a creature can be simultaneously both alive and dead as a direct consequence of randomness (in this case the random nature of subatomic particles). Chigurh is thus the man who was not there, to refer to the title of the Coen film and the man “who was out there” as quoted in the novel:

  • 42 Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men [2005], London: Picador, 2010, 248.

Chapter IX (monologue)
He’s a ghost. But he’s out there. You wouldnt think it would be possible to just come and go thataway.42

  • 43 Ibid, 299.

Chapter XI (reported dialogue inside monologue)
He’s pretty much a ghost.
Is he pretty much or is he one?
No he’s out there. I wish he wasnt. But he is.43

  • 44 See Hervé Mayer “This radical disruption in narrative continuity exposes the expressive power of cr (...)
  • 45 « Cadrer, la chose est connue, c’est autant choisir de montrer que de ne pas montrer. Tout plan fil (...)
  • 46 Ibid, 195.

20The scene certainly celebrates the expressive power of cross-editing,44 its ability to construct a purely filmic space that is aberrant in reality. It also points to the duality intrinsic in all shots. As André Gardies recalls in his study of space in cinema, a filmic shot constructs two types of spaces at the same time: one on screen, the other off screen. Both induce two types of knowledge: one an assertive type of knowledge, the other hypothetical and virtual.45 Gardies thus contends that “Contrairement à ce qu’une vue un peu courte laisserait entendre, raccorder deux plans, c’est moins articuler un champ sur un autre, qu’articuler un champ/hors-champ sur un autre champ/hors champ, c’est-à-dire régler du savoir assertif et hypothétique sur un autre savoir assertif et hypothétique.”46

An aporetic duality

  • 47 Jay Ellis, “‘Do you see?’: Levels of Ellipsis in No Country for Old Men,” 109.
  • 48 One could add that the words are repeated once again by Chigurh in the scene where he meets the two (...)
  • 49 Not only do the two men perform the same gestures but their own reflections echo each other while (...)

21 What characterises Chigurh is thus his duality, which underpins both his indiscernibility and his unpredictability. The motif of the coin is of course the most obvious marker of this duality. But Chigurh’s elusiveness is also conveyed through the dissemination of the character through doubles. As Jay Ellis pointed out, “the novel and film reverberate with doublings.”47 This is even more true in the film which adds a number of verbal and visual echoes that circulate among the main characters and weave connections between them. These eloquent echoes have already been extensively commented upon, the most striking instances being the words “hold still” that are first uttered by Chigurh before he kills the hapless driver (4:45), then immediately repeated by Moss (5:17),48 and the troubling mirror effect when Sheriff Bell drinks a glass of milk from the bottle that Chigurh has left out in Moss’s trailer and looks at his own reflection in the television screen exactly the same way as Chigurh did in the previous scene (respectively at 31:35-31-56 and 34:55-35-21).49

22I would like to focus here on the contradictory, seemingly incompatible features the character is endowed with. Most notably, his aporetic nature is epitomised by his relationship to space. This is where I would like to come back to the famous scene in the motel room. In fact, Chigurh’s position remains ambiguous not only in relation to Bell but also to his whereabouts inside the room. In the first shot in which we are led to construe that Chigurh is standing just behind the door, we can see next to him the spot of light that flows through the emptied lock cylinder, and yet the spot also evokes its very projection. As the insert on the emptied lock cylinder shows (1:36:27), Chigurh’s operational method of blowing out door locks cannot but evoke the principle of camera obscura, which is viewed as one of the proto-devices of cinema, foregrounding the bare apparatus of its projection. The character of Chigurh is thus associated with the distance needed to create a projection and the projection thus created. In other words, he is a walking syllepsis that actually conflates both meanings of the word “projection”, as the process itself and as its result.

  • 50 Sébastien Lefait, “‘His slowly uncoupling world visible to see’”: suture visuelle et tension entre (...)
  • 51 Interestingly, the contrast created by the echoing line “hold on” paradoxically does not foreground (...)
  • 52 For example in the deputy sheriff’s office (2:49-2:54), when Chigurh approaches the car he’s going (...)

23Here I will partly follow Sébastien Lefait’s insightful analysis50 when he comments on the contrast between Moss’s and Chigurh’s ways of killing in terms of filmic space, one defined by distance in keeping with the mediation of optical instruments, the other by annihilation of any distance between weapon and prey.51 Lefait contends that Chigurh is associated with a visual regime that is characterised by the absence of depth. I would argue that rather than being equated with the absence of depth, what ultimately characterises Chigurh is the way he disrupts the notion of distance and proximity by conflating them. The play on soft-focus is emblematic of such disruption, undermining spatial points of reference for the viewers.52 It is also noteworthy that while Chigurh seems utterly out of place in the Texan landscape, he also perfectly blends into the background, like a shadow merging into the shade (for example sitting in front of Wells (starting at 1:18:16) or waiting for Carla Jean in her bedroom (starting at 1:43:49)).

  • 53 In the first Bell meets with Carla Jean (starting at 1:15:03); in the second Bell discusses the new (...)

24Significantly the duality at play in the scene of Bell’s return to the El Paso motel is prefigured in a former scene involving a motel door (45:06-45:21). After Chigurh arrives at the Del Rio Motel, we can see, from the dark interior of a room, a door that is slowly opened to reveal Chigurh in the doorway, switching on the light (45:06). The next shot espouses his point of view as he looks around the room. Next we see him turn off the light before closing the door again, turning the screen to black. A few seconds later, the door opens again, Chigurh entering in the same way only this time more briskly. Although the most likely interpretation is that Chigurh is rehearsing a surprise attack, the fact remains that the repetition of a quasi-identical scene looks odd, and leads us to question the actual value of the cut to black as a potential source of ellipsis (evoking another time/place/degree of reality). Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the motif of two adjacent doors, this time one open and lit, the other closed, occurs in two other scenes with Sheriff Bell. Considering the Coens’ extreme attention to detail, this background qualifier cannot be a matter of chance.53 The visual dichotomy of adjacent states can certainly be seen as a portent of the enigmatic scene at the Motel. One could even contend that the very last shot provides a final instance of this dichotomy when Bells recounts his two dreams about his father. The scene is remarkable for its sparse decor and sober mise en scene which foreground the evocative power of words and Tommy Lee Jones’s powerful performance. The background details appear all the more salient, echoing the duality of Bell’s dreams of a stand of two trees, one apparently dead and the other alive.

  • 54 It starts with chapter IV p.90, quotes from chapter III p.63-64 and chapter I p.3 and ends up quoti (...)
  • 55 See Mayer: “Chigurh is introduced in a fluid relation with the frame, able to move in and out of sh (...)

25It should be remembered that Chigurh is introduced by Bell’s narrative in one of the departures from the book. While the opening voiceover actually borrows from Bell’s different monologues,54 one significant change, occurs near the end of the prologue with the addition of Bell’s direct address to the viewer: “The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure.” (1:57) The apparition of Chigurh is thus literally conjured up by Bell’s own words. Likewise, Chigurh’s last appearance is followed by a dissolve on Bell’s face, as though the walking figure were lingering in his mind (1:49:18). Although the film omits most of Bell’s monologues and the structural dichotomy it creates in the novel, it nonetheless frames its narrative with Bell’s introductory voiceover and his final monologue. Still Chigurh is also precisely introduced as a character that challenges the notion of frame.55 Emerging from the front, which is the virtual place of the audience, breaching the fourth wall as it were, Chigurh also calls into question the viewers’ positioning.

Conclusion

  • 56 « Dans les cinq premiers romans de McCarthy la violence est toujours l’expression incessante de bat (...)

26As Yvonne-Marie Rogez aptly argues, Chigurh is a figure of the in-between. For Rogez, the character of Chigurh is a manifestation of the advent of the worst that is brought about by the inner conflicts of the protagonists but paradoxically the worst is not death but an in-between state, between life and death: “le personnage de Chigurh est une manifestation du mystère et de la monstruosité de cet entre-deux.”56Like Schrödinger’s cat, he is there and not there, obstinately alive and hauntingly spectral, the object of specularity and speculation. Above all, Chigurh is the embodiment of the Coens’ ongoing reflection on the modalities of perception itself. He is an aporetic figure linked with cinematographic projection itself, so it comes as no surprise that he should appear on a TV screen, or as projections such as shadows or mirror images. As a haunting presence off screen, he is a reminder of the virtuality of the off-screen, calling the frame into question as it can never contain the scene it was meant to delimit. From an epistemological and ontological point of view, he substantiates the law of uncertainty that suggests our perception of reality, not to mention its interpretation and its meaning, can only be partial and elusive.

  • 57 Jeffrey Adams, op. cit., 194.

27Jeffrey Adams writes about the endings of the Coens’ films that “One of the few legitimate generalisations that can be made about Coen brothers movies is that they always end suspended in a limbo of irresolution.”57 No Country for Old Men is no exception. Many have noted that Chigurh’s survival forecloses any classical sense of closure. Adams contends that it denies “any sense of justice, poetic or otherwise”. Yet, there is some irony in Chigurh’s car accident. While, in the novel, it seems to be provoked by a bunch of youths that are described as the by-product of Chigurh’s ruthless dealings with the Mexican drug cartels, in the film, the stress is again on a perceptual misapprehension. The insert of Chigurh’s point of view of the rearview mirror (1:46:45) delusively points to the hidden reality of a dead angle; for all its frame within the frame, its conflation of spaces recalls that it can never completely limn a world governed by chance and the uncertainty principle.

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Bibliographie

ADAMS Jeffrey, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, Hard-boiled Entertainments, New York: Wallflower Press, 2015.

ASSOULY Julie, “The Wandering Character in the Coen Brothers’ Films: When the Southern Gothic Meets the Western,” Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, vol. XVI-no 1 | 2018, <http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/9304>; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.9304, accessed on 15 July 2021.

AUGE Marc, Non-lieux, introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité, Seuil, 1992.

BUTLER Judith, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, New York: Verso, 2004.

COEN Ethan et Joel, No Country for Old Men, 2007, Paramount Vantage and Miramax.

COOPER Lydia R., “‘He’s a Psychopathic Killer, but So What?’: Folklore and Morality in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men,” Papers on Language & Literature 45 no1, Winter 2009, 37-59.

COVELL Scott, “Devil with a Bad Haircut: Postmodern Villainy rides the range in No Country for Old Men,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 95-109.

ELLIS Jay, “‘Do you see?’: Levels of Ellipsis in No Country for Old Men.” in Sara L. Spurgeon (ed), Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road, New York: Continuum, 2011, 94-116.

FRYE Steven, “Yeats’ ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men: Art and Artifice in New Novel,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 13-20.

GARDIES André, L’Espace au cinéma, Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck, 1993, 192.

GAUGHRAN Richard, “‘What Kind of Man Are You?’ The Coen Brothers and Existentialist Role Playing” in Mark T. Conard, (ed.), The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009, 227-39.

GILMORE Richard, “No Country for Old Men: The Coen’s Tragic Western”, in Mark T. Conard (ed.), The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009, 55-78.

HILDENBRAND Karine, “Crossroads in No Country for Old Men”, in Julie Assouly, Yvonne-Marie Rogez (eds), No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy, Ethan et Joel Coen), Paris: Ellipses, 2021, 109-124.

LANDRUM Jason, “Cold-Blooded Coen Brothers: The Death Drive and No Country for Old Men,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 199-218.

LEFAIT Sébastien, “‘His slowly uncoupling world visible to see’”: suture visuelle et tension entre regimes d’adaptation dans No Country for Old Men,” in Julie Assouly, Yvonne-Marie Rogez (eds), No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy, Ethan et Joel Coen), Paris: Ellipses, 2021, 141-154.

LINCOLN Kenneth, Cormac McCarthy: American Canticles, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

LUMHOLDT Jan, “What a swell party this was: Jan Lumholdt turns ten as Cannes turns 60,” Film international 5, 2007, 94-97.

McCARTHY Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men [2005], London, Picador, 2010.

MAYER Hervé, “The West/ern and Frontier Mythology in No Country for Old Men,” in Julie Assouly, Yvonne-Marie Rogez (eds), No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy, Ethan et Joel Coen), Paris: Ellipses, 2022, 35-62.

MELLEN Joan, “Spiraling Downward: America in Days of Heaven, In the Valley of Elah, and No Country for Old Men,Film Quarterly Vol. 61 No. 3 (Spring 2008): 24-31.

MITCHELL Lee Clark, “Dismantling the Western: Film Noir’s Defiance of Genre in No Country for Old Men.” Genre 47.3 (2014): 335-56.

O’BRIEN Geoffrey, “Gone Tomorrow: The Echoing Spaces of Joel & Ethan Coen ‘s No Country for Old Men,” Film Comment, November/December 2007, 30.

NAYMAN Adam, The Coen Brothers, New York: Abrams 2018.

PEEBLES Stacey, Cormac McCarthy and Performance. Page, Stage, Screen, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

PROULX Annie, “Gunning for Trouble: No Country for Old Men,” The Guardian, 29 October 2005.

ROGEZ Yvonne-Marie, “Le retour de la créature macarthienne dans No Country for Old Men,” in Julie Assouly et Yonne-Marie Rogez (eds), No Country for Old Men, Paris: Ellipses, 2021, 175-186.

ROTHERMEL Dennis, “Denial and Trepidation Awaiting What’s Coming in the Coen Brothers’ First Film adapation,” in No Country for Old Me: From Novel to Film, Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 173-98.

SAUBIN Auréle, « Les Coen frappent toujours deux fois » in « Joel & Ethan Coen, Principes d’incertitudes », revue Éclipses, no 49, 2011, 84-90.

SCHWARZBAUM Lisa, “No Country for Old Men,” Entertainment Weekly, November 7, 2007, <www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20158940,00.html>, accessed on 22 July 2021.

STAM Robert, “Introduction: the Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” in Robert Stam & Alessandra Raengo (eds), Literature and Film: a Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation, Malden: Blackwell, 2005.

WALLACH Rick, “Introduction. Dialogues and Intertextuality: No Country for Old Men as Fictional and Cinematic Text.” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, xi-xxiii.

WELSH Jim, “Borderline Evil: the Dark Side of Byzantium in No Country For Old Men, Novel and Film,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Me: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 73-85.

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Notes

1 See for example Steven Frye: “McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men will certainly elicit much discussion regarding the notable stylistic departure from his previous works.” in “Yeats’ ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men: Art and Artifice in New Novel,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 13-20, 14.

2 Jason Landrum, “Cold-Blooded Coen Brothers: The Death Drive and No Country for Old Men”, ibidem, 199-218, 3425 Kindle edition.

3 Jeffrey Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, Hard-boiled Entertainments, New York: Wallflower Press, 2015, 166. To quote but a few of such comments, Lisa Schwarzbaum claims that the Coens have eschewed their “hyper-controlling interest in clever cinematic style.” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, “No Country for Old Men,” Entertainment Weekly, November 7, 2007, <www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20158940,00.html>, accessed on 22 July 2021). Geoffrey O’Brien praises the film for similar reasons: “The surpassingly excellent movie the Coens have made of No Country for Old Men gets part of its power from deliberately holding in check the invention that flourishes so exuberantly elsewhere in their work.... In No Country for Old Men the Coens rigorously deny themselves most of the gratifications associated with the phrase ‘a Coen brothers movie.’” (Geoffrey O’Brien, “Gone Tomorrow: The Echoing Spaces of Joel & Ethan Coen ‘s No Country for Old Men,” Film Comment, November/December 2007, 30). Richard Gilmore concurs: “No Country for Old Men feels like a very different kind of movie from every other Coen brothers film. It is more serious, or it is serious in a different way from their other movies. It is not unusual for the Coens to take on dark themes in their movies, but previous to No Country for Old Men there was always a level of what I will call meta-irony. That is, there was a level of detachment, a sense that their movies were meant to be taken as just stories, that you should not take them too seriously.” (Richard Gilmore, “No Country for Old Men: The Coen’s Tragic Western” in Mark T. Conard (ed.), The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009, 55).

4 Stacey Peebles, Cormac McCarthy and Performance. Page, Stage, Screen, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017, 135.

5 Jeffrey Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, op. cit., 166.

6 Richard Gilmore, “No Country for Old Men: The Coen’s Tragic Western.” in Mark T. Conard (ed.), op. cit., 55-78, 55.

7 « Si un lieu peut se définir comme identitaire, relationnel et historique, un espace qui ne peut se définir ni comme identitaire, ni comme relationnel, ni comme historique définira un non-lieu. » [If a place can be defined by identity, relationships and history, a space which cannot be defined by either identity, or relationships or history, will be defined as a non-place] (Marc Augé, Non-lieux, introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité, Paris: Seuil, 1992, 100.)

8 Quoted in the DVD bonus feature “The Making of No Country”, 2008.

9 Jan Lumholdt, “What a swell party this was: Jan Lumholdt turns ten as Cannes turns 60,” Film international 5, 2007, 94-97, 96.

10 See Greimas’s actantial model or narrative schema.

11 Lydia R Cooper, “‘He’s a Psychopathic Killer, but So What?’: Folklore and Morality in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men,” Papers on Language & Literature 45 no1, Winter 2009, 37-59, 43.

12 Karine Hildenbrand, “Crossroads in No Country for Old Men”, in Julie Assouly et Yonne-Marie Rogez (eds), No Country for Old Men, Paris: Ellipses, 2021, 109-124, 118.

13 Scott Covell, “Devil with a Bad Haircut: Postmodern Villainy rides the range in No Country for Old Men,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), op. cit., 95-109, 1716 kindle edition.

14 See for example Richard Gaughran, “‘What Kind of Man Are You?’ The Coen Brothers and Existentialist Role Playing” in Mark T. Conard (ed.), op. cit., 227-39.

15 See for example Jim Welsh, “Borderline Evil: the Dark Side of Byzantium in No Country For Old Men, Novel and Film,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), No Country for Old Me: From Novel to Film, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009, 73-85, 1368 & 1399 Kindle edition; Scott Covell, “Devil with a Bad Haircut: Postmodern Villainy rides the range in No Country for Old Men,” 1754 Kindle edition.

16 Even though he is the hero in Flight to Tangier.

17 Yvonne-Marie Rogez, “Le retour de la créature macarthienne dans No Country for Old Men,” in Julie Assouly et Yonne-Marie Rogez (eds), op. cit., 175-186.

18 For example Dennis Rothermel argues that we fail to understand the novel’s message if we follow Sheriff Bell’s apprehension of the character as a mythical figure but should instead use sociological studies of psychopaths: “Chigurh we must understand as a man, not a symbol, a cipher, an embodiment, or evil incarnate.” (Dennis Rothermel, “Denial and Trepidation Awaiting What’s Coming in the Coen Brothers’ First Film adaptation,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), op. cit., 173-98). Likewise Jeffrey Adams contends that “As a mythic figure Chigurh is not allegorical. He does not merely represent death or fate, or any abstract concept. He is far too real, too plausibly human, if only as an aberration of humanity.”? (Jeffrey Adams, op. cit., 173).

19 In this regard, Gilmore compares him to Melville’s Moby Dick: “It makes as little sense to speak of him as evil as it does to say that raw nature, a blizzard or a flood, is evil. […] he is more of an inexorable force. He is not a rampaging killer on the loose; he has been summoned by a human will, a human desire, to achieve a desired end. He appears only because he was summoned.” Richard Gilmore, “No Country for Old Men: The Coen’s Tragic Western,” in Mark T. Conard (ed), op. cit., 55-78, 59-60.

20 « Le personnage de Chigurh témoigne du retour, sous une nouvelle forme, de la plus fascinante des créations littéraires de l’auteur, celle d’un personnage cauchemardesque à la violence sans borne, monstre révélateur de la nature potentiellement monstrueuse de chaque être humain ». Rogez, “Le retour de la créature macarthienne dans No Country for Old Men,” 175).

21 An “unbending agent of fatality” (Welsh, “Borderline Evil: the Dark Side of Byzantium in No Country For Old Men, Novel and Film.” 1484 Kindle edition).

22 Kenneth Lincoln, Cormac McCarthy: American Canticles, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 151.

23 Annie Proulx, “Gunning for Trouble: No Country for Old Men,” The Guardian, 29 October 2005.

24 Joan Mellen, “Spiraling Downward: America in Days of Heaven, In the Valley of Elah, and No Country for Old Men,Film Quarterly Vol. 61 No. 3 (Spring 2008): 24-31, 24.

25 Jason Landrum, “Cold-Blooded Coen Brothers: The Death Drive and No Country for Old Men,” Gaughran 3517 Kindle edition.

26 Ibid.

27 Julie Assouly, “The Wandering Character in the Coen Brothers’ Films: When the Southern Gothic Meets the Western,” Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, vol. XVI-no 1 | 2018, <http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/9304>; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.9304, accessed on 15 July 2021.

28 On a lighter note, Adam Nayman jocosely remarks that Chigurh’s preposterous haircut is also much in keeping with the way the Coens like to characterise their protagonist through capillary extravagance, from Hi’s shaggy hairdo to Barton’s woolly top reminiscent of Henry Spencer in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) and Ulysses Everett McGill’s fetishistic use of pomade. Adam Nayman, The Coen Brothers, New York: Abrams 2018, 133.

29 The numbers are approximate since the multiplicity of short fragmentary paragraphs that makes it difficult to get a totally accurate page count.

30 Robert Stam, “Introduction: the Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” in Robert Stam & Alessandra Raengo (eds), Literature and Film: a Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation, Malden: Blackwell, 2005, 22.

31 Quoted in the DVD bonus feature “The Making of No Country for Old Men”. Ellen Chenoweth started working with the Coen brothers on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and she has cast every Coen film since, including No Country for Old Men.

32 Lee Clark Mitchell, “Dismantling the Western: Film Noir’s Defiance of Genre in No Country for Old Men.” Genre 47.3 (2014): 335-56.

33 For example the vertical high shots in the deputy sheriff’s office (3:08-3:17 and 3:33-3:52).

34 In her essay Precarious Life Judith Butler recalls that in Levinas’s reflections on ethics the face plays a central part: “the Levinasian face […] communicates what is human, what is precarious, what is injurable.” Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, New York: Verso, 2004, xviii.

35 « …avant que le shérif n’entre dans la chambre, Chigurh s’enfuit par la fenêtre de la salle de bain », Auréle Saubin, « Les Coen frappent toujours deux fois, » in « Joel & Ethan Coen, Principes d’incertitudes », Revue eclipses n°49, 2011, 84-90, 89.

36 For example Rick Wallach writes that Chigurh is “warily regarding Bell’s reflection in the outside doorknob.” (“Introduction. Dialogues and Intertextuality: No Country for Old Men as Fictional and Cinematic Text,” in Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh (eds), op. cit., 2009, xi-xxiii). Wallach’s comment echoes the wording of the available screenplay that reads “Chigurh is also looking at the lock cylinder”, which is not what we can see in the film. Another example of incorrect or questionable statement is “The curvature distorts to unrecognizability what is reflected, but we see the color of Sheriff Bell’s uniform” This last point is incorrect for the first two inserts from outside, appears very speculative and is not corroborated for the last insert from inside.

37 Adam Nayman, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers, op. cit., 173.

38 Jay Ellis, “‘Do you see?’: Levels of Ellipsis in No Country for Old Men,” in Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road, Sara L. Spurgeon (ed), New York: Continuum, 2011, 94-116, 109.

39 Adam Nayman, op. cit., 206.

40 Conceptualised by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the uncertainty principle states that it is impossible to know both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same time, and is one of the founding principles of quantum physics.

41 “They got this guy, in Germany. Fritz Something-or-other. Or is it? Maybe it’s Werner. Anyway, he’s got this theory, you wanna test something, you know, scientifically – how the planets go round the sun, what sunspots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap – well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes you look at it, your looking changes it. You can’t know the reality of what happened, or what would’ve happened if you hadn’t-a stuck in your own goddamn schnozz. So there is no ‘what happened’? Not in any sense that we can grasp, with our puny minds. Because our minds... our minds get in the way. Looking at something changes it. They call it the ‘Uncertainty Principle’. Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy’s on to something.” Later on Reidenschneider recaps the theory: “The more you look, the less you really know. It’s a fact, a true fact. In a way, it’s the only fact there is.”

42 Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men [2005], London: Picador, 2010, 248.

43 Ibid, 299.

44 See Hervé Mayer “This radical disruption in narrative continuity exposes the expressive power of cross-cutting and the manipulative potential in editing choices.” “The West/ern and Frontier Mythology in No Country for Old Men,” in Julie Assouly & Yvonne-Marie Rogez (eds), op. cit., 35-62, 56.

45 « Cadrer, la chose est connue, c’est autant choisir de montrer que de ne pas montrer. Tout plan filmique construit en même temps un champ et son hors-champ, instruisant deux types de savoir. Les premier, lié au vu, est de type assertif : je sais (par) ce que je vois. Il est, suivant l’expression de Michel Colin, de nature épistémique. Le second, concernant le hors-vu, est de type hypothétique. Il n’existe qu’à l’état virtuel; il est de l’ordre de la supputation car il se fonde sur une activité de nature conjecturale de la part du spectateur : à partir des données fournies par le vu (et en relation, au besoin, avec les postulats narratifs du récit en cours) j’émets des hypothèses sur ce hors-vu. » André Gardies, L’Espace au cinéma, Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck, 1993, 192.

46 Ibid, 195.

47 Jay Ellis, “‘Do you see?’: Levels of Ellipsis in No Country for Old Men,” 109.

48 One could add that the words are repeated once again by Chigurh in the scene where he meets the two men who entrust him with the receiver (25:06).

49 Not only do the two men perform the same gestures but their own reflections echo each other while framing each of them.

50 Sébastien Lefait, “‘His slowly uncoupling world visible to see’”: suture visuelle et tension entre regimes d’adaptation dans No Country for Old Men,” in Julie Assouly & Yvonne-Marie Rogez (eds), op. cit., 141-154.

51 Interestingly, the contrast created by the echoing line “hold on” paradoxically does not foreground distance but on the contrary a delusive proximity; this rather highlights Moss’s POV shot as unreliable, echoing the novel “it was the distance that was uncertain” (9).

52 For example in the deputy sheriff’s office (2:49-2:54), when Chigurh approaches the car he’s going to blow up (1:06:54-1:07:02); when he lurks behind Carson Wells in the hallway of the hotel (1:17:55-1:18:07).

53 In the first Bell meets with Carla Jean (starting at 1:15:03); in the second Bell discusses the news with Wendell (starting at 1:16:46).

54 It starts with chapter IV p.90, quotes from chapter III p.63-64 and chapter I p.3 and ends up quoting the actual first sentence of the novel.

55 See Mayer: “Chigurh is introduced in a fluid relation with the frame, able to move in and out of shots and from background to foreground […] This is a way to give him greater offscreen presence, heightening the sense of threat bit also gives his movements a relative autonomy from the frame.” (“The West/ern and Frontier Mythology in No Country for Old Men,” 52, note 1).

56 « Dans les cinq premiers romans de McCarthy la violence est toujours l’expression incessante de batailles internes – les personnages invitent la chose à se révéler en eux […] Elle apparait comme sortir des personnages principaux, façonnée par eux et correspond à l’infini des possibles et l’avènement du pire – paradoxalement, ce pire n’est pas la mort ; il s’agit de l’entre-deux, l’entre la vie et la mort. » Rogez, “Le retour de la créature maccarthienne dans No Country for Old Men,” op. cit., 178. Rogez highlights that Moss is defined early on as “A trespasser. Among the dead” (McCarthy, No Country for Old Men, 27).

57 Jeffrey Adams, op. cit., 194.

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Nicole Cloarec, « “The man who wasn’t there”—and was “out there”: Chigurh as cinematic figure »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 21-n°55 | 2023, mis en ligne le 26 janvier 2023, consulté le 20 mai 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/14988 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.14988

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Auteur

Nicole Cloarec

Nicole Cloarec is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Rennes. Her research focuses on British and English-speaking cinema and in particular questions related to the cinematic apparatus, transmediality, adaptation and the documentary. Among her recent publications related to film adaptation and the Agrégation, she has co-written Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Joe Wright’s Film Adaptation (Ellipses, 2017) and written “‘Only connect…’ and disconnect: pattern and rhythm in Howards End (Merchant-Ivory, 1992),” published by Ellipses (2019).

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