Monday, August 17, 2009

Chance, Probability, and Gambling in No Country for Old Men

I noticed while reading No Country For Old Men that there was a continual reference to gambling with life. When trying to find critical essays for my paper, I noticed several book reviews that mentioned the gambling aspect, but only in reference to Chigurh. I found this interesting because while Chigurh is the one who decides life or death on the toss of a coin, Bell is the first one to mention it.

On page 4 Bell is talking about the killer he sent to the gas chamber and says "I won't push my chips forward and stand up and go out to meet him. . .And I think a man would have to put his soul at hazard." Meeting with another such killer would be a gamble, one that he's not willing to risk losing himself for.

There's then the scene on pages 55-57 where Chigurh decides to let the man go on the flip of the coin. If he's called the flip correctly, he'll live. If he doesn't, he'll die. His entire life comes down to the random 50/50 probability of a coin toss. In this case he lives when he calls heads, the reverse of the scene with Carla Jean whom Chigurh gives the same opportunity (258). When Carla Jean calls heads, she gets tails. Chigurh has a very philosophical reply to her accusation that it's all his decision.

259 - "I had no say in the matter. Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A person's path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning."

Everything, every small decision is like that coin toss. A path opens up or closes because of a choice. All of life is a risk and a gamble. . .


  1. I found the coin toss very interesting as well because more often we see fate being determined by chance. For instance, in the movie "Batman Returns" two-face determines his victims fate upon a simple coin toss. If the victims choose the correct side of the coin they live, if they choose the wrong side, they die. I think this goes along with the theme presented throughout the book "No Country For Old Men." Fate is already determined and ultimately you can not stop what will happen next. Stay tuned till tomorrow!

  2. I wonder how this works with the parable of the coin-maker from Blood Meridian. Certainly there must be some connection here, but it's perhaps not for me to write about. . .