Preserving The Mysterious Nature Of Javier Bardem’s No Country For Old Men Character Was A Big Challenge

Being a Coen Brothers movie, “No Country For Old Men” investigates many grand themes, including fate, justice, and in the case of Tommy Lee Jones’ aging sheriff Ed Tom Bell, the alienating effect that comes with the passing of time. And, as with many Coen projects, a study of evil — embodied by Bardem’s character — forms a central part of the movie.

When it came to adapting Anton Chigurh for the screen, the brothers struggled. In the novel, McCarthy kept his descriptions intentionally vague so as to heighten the mystery surrounding the antagonist. The few descriptions offered are sparse: “He was medium height. Medium build. Looked like he was in shape. In his mid-thirties, maybe. Dark hair. Dark brown, I think. I don’t know,” and “He looked like anybody.” Brief references to his “foreign cologne” with “a medicinal edge to it” failed to bring any real solidity to Chigurh’s image, who remained “oddly untroubled” by his violent deeds “as if this were all part of his day.”

How could the Coens adapt this barely-described villain for the big screen? It’s an issue that the pair were keenly aware of, with Joel Coen saying:

“In the novel, the character is not described at all […] He’s very coy about it, and he makes the name sort of untraceable ethnically, he’s not telling you who this guy is, what he looks like, anything of that nature. But obviously when you make a movie, you’re casting an actor and bang there he is. You don’t have to describe them, you can see them up there on the … So, you’ve removed a lot of that, a lot of this sort of mystery of the character is now defined.”

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