In the scene from No Country For Old Men shown below, Chigurh shoots at a pigeon through the window of his car as he drives along. Why does Chigurh unnecessarily shoot the bird?

Why did Chigurh unnecessarily shoot the bird

What is this trying to say, that he is a psychopath, that will kill anyone without any reason? Or does it mean something else?

  • 3
    Yeah he's just a crazy dude.
    – sanpaco
    Aug 18, 2016 at 20:46
  • 2
    I think this scene is in the novel. There's still the question of why they chose to keep it in the movie, of course, and I could think of a few reasons, but that's probably the main one.
    – Walt
    Aug 18, 2016 at 21:37
  • 3
    His shot misses -- maybe that is intended to foreshadow failure ahead or something? (I don't remember this scene - is it early in the movie?)
    – Shiz Z.
    Aug 19, 2016 at 1:21
  • As portrayed in the film, Chigurh doesn't seem to be a real person, but a force. That's why he cannot be eluded. Which theory this bird scene shoots a big ol' hole in. =P
    – moviegique
    Aug 20, 2016 at 0:32

2 Answers 2


You should absolutely read the book No Country for Old Men, written by Cormac McCarthy. It's a very easy read and short, literary but genre lit, so accessible to us all.

My understanding, after pondering both the book and film, is that Chigurh is really of a "force of nature", brutal, uncompromising and monstrously indifferent. Not just a psychopath, but a "psychopath's psychopath". He kills because that is what he does. However, there may be deeper meaning to the pigeon in that birds are often a metaphor for the soul. Thus, it may indicate that for all his dominion of the physical world, he cannot destroy the soul.

One of the themes of the book, also touched upon in the movie, is the eternality of violence. The book is set against the ultra-violent, modern drug wars, with the feeling that it's never been so bad. (The old Sheriff realizes he's getting too old to deal with it, hence the title.) But then there are passages recounting his grandfather's time, and a bloody vendetta, no less brutal than modern times.

The brutality of both man and nature is a recurring theme in McCarthy's work. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West is set in that earlier period, the 1850's, in the same general region. The Road, also recently adapted into a film, involves similar themes.

The title of this work comes from the famous Yeat's poem, Sailing to Byzantium, and Yeats definitely has some thoughts on the soul. The poem reads:

That is no country for old men. The young in one another's arms, birds in the trees, those dying generations at their song, the salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long—whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect, monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress, nor is there singing school but studying monuments of its own magnificence; and therefore I have sailed the seas and come to the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire as in the gold mosaic of a wall, come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, and be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal—it knows not what it is; and gather me into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing, but such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make of hammered gold and gold enamelling to keep a drowsy Emperor awake; or set upon a golden bough to sing to lords and ladies of Byzantium of what is past, or passing, or to come.

  • Can you relate those themes of violence you elaborated on and the tilte of the book that you explained back to the question about the pigeon a little more? Or is that only adressed in the second paragraph alone?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Aug 20, 2016 at 1:18
  • And please don't use code formatting for emphasis.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Aug 20, 2016 at 1:22
  • Done. Sorry about the code formatting--there's a lot of material there for context, so I wanted to direct people to the specific explanations.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 20, 2016 at 1:23
  • 1
    Sure. You can as well use other markup for emphasis, like bold or italics.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Aug 20, 2016 at 1:43

Pigeons (and birds) are often used to represent freedom, something that is directly in contrast to Chigurgh's belief in fate and inevitability. The pigeon is a representation of both uncertainty and fate. As stated earlier, "Even in a contest between man and beast the outcome is uncertain."

Here, the outcome should be clear. A point blank shot at an unsuspecting, perched pigeon [I thought it was a crow upon first viewing]. But Chigurgh misses, continues on his way, and the bird flies off. It would appear that if Chigurgh were the/a physical manifestation of death, that Chugurgh's failure to kill this bird would represent an ambiguity about his belief system, his role in the world, and his purpose, at least as it applies to the pigeon.

The fact that the shot misses and the pigeon flies away, can either support or negate the fatalistic/no free will worldview of Chigurgh: () maybe the bird was ever meant to be killed, () maybe death is not preordained, () maybe men can kill each other but the rules of nature are unaffected. Maybe the pigeon was not meant to die? Maybe Chigurgh is not a perfectly fair arbiter of death, and is an imperfect tool of fate? Maybe even death can be (briefly) defied?

Also, don't discount that there may be no clear cut answer. The ambiguity is a delightful addition to this movie, and this scene should represent the ongoing debate presented by this film: fate, or free will. Is the nature and manner of our inevitable deaths preordained, or do we have some say, some freedom, in the matter?...

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