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Anton Chigurh from 'No Country for Old Men' voted "most realistic psychopath ever"


The influential filmmaking duo, Joel and Ethan Coen are well-known for bringing some of the most iconic cinematic characters to life, from the laid-back Dude of The Big Lebowski to the sparky personality of police chief Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Often celebrating such optimistic, life-affirming characters, across their 18-movie filmography, they have also been known to depict some of cinema’s cruellest minds. 

Celebrated as one of the greatest films of the 21st century, the Coen brothers’ 12th film, No Country for Old Men, stars Javier Bardem as one of the most despicable villains of all time, a hitman named Anton Chigurh. Seemingly devoid of remorse, compassion or even human conscience, Chigurh stalks the Texas wilderness with his weapon of choice, a captive bolt pistol usually used to slaughter cattle. Often flipping a coin to decide the fate of his victims, Chigurh treats the residents of the wilderness as mere obstacles, dispatching them with utter remorselessness. 

Based on the book of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the character of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men is familiar with the ‘unstoppable evil’ archetype found throughout the author’s body of work. In the film, his malevolence is also self-evident, with the Coen brothers even changing the colour of his eyes from deep blue to dark brown to deepen the character’s sinister mystery. 

As a silent, unsympathetic killer, Anton Chigurh is thought to reflect the fear, apprehension and paranoia of post 9/11 America, where people on the edge of violence act on instinct rather than emotional or rational thought. Consequently, Chigurh, as well as Javier Bardem’s portrayal of the haunting character, has gone down as one of cinema’s most frightening villains, giving off an ethereal energy of omnipotence as he rains terror down on the Texas community.

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Putting the maniacal laugh and expressive theatrics to one side to portray the psychopath, forensic psychiatrist Samuel Leistedt names the performance as the most realistic depiction of the mental illness in all of cinema. “They don’t know what an emotion is,” the psychiatrist stated in a real-life study that led Leistedt and his colleague Paul Linkowski to spend three years watching 400 movies in search of the most realistic depiction of psychopaths in cinema. 

Reporting that depictions of psychopaths have gotten more realistic over time, Leistedt and Linkowski reported in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, modern versions provide a “compelling glimpse into the complex human psyche”. Noting No Country for Old Men as containing the very best portrayal, the psychiatrist recognised that the character “does his job and he can sleep without any problems. In my practice I have met a few people like this”. 

Making a real-life comparison to two professional hitmen that he had previously interviewed, Leistedt stated that Chigurh reminds him of such a mental state, adding, “They were like this: cold, smart, no guilt, no anxiety, no depression”. 

With his own twisted set of morals, Chigurh kills without purpose or mercy, representing an insidious phantom of modern America who stalks the land with genuine psychopathic tendencies.