Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Coens Place It

            Coen brothers movies are often so good because they examine so closely the idea of place.  And along with place goes culture.  What is it about one place that separates it from another.  While they tackle so many other themes in their films as well, it is obvious much of the time what they are trying to express about each place.  In each statement, one way or another, they are trying to express what makes each place unique.  The answer to each question could be: it’s crazy.  Actually, more particularly, it’s dangerous.  To take examples of three very similar movies they’ve done, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, where art thou? and Fargo, we can see just how these statements play out.
            The Big Lebowski captures the essence of living in Los Angeles, which is that as much as there is always going on, there is never anything to do.  The whole plot of the movie points out just how much something is made out of nothing, simply because everyone is so bored out of their mind.  The Big Lebowski himself is just pent up in his house with a ton of money and nothing really to do, so he tries to con the first bum that comes walking in off the street.  The Nihilists are bored, so all they do is try to make crappy pornos and steal some money.  The Cowboy tries to tell us a story the goes nowhere in order to make Los Angeles sound like a place full of heroes.  The Dude himself might be the most accepting one of the fact that life is so boring out there, because he just decides to smoke, drink, fuck and bowl, and he never even does any work throughout the whole film.  The Dude abides.  He pretty much does have it all figured out.  The moral decrepitude of such a place simply stems from their need for something to be going on all the time.
            O Brother Where Art Thou? has been for me one of their most satisfying movies, and that has to do with the fact that it was a somewhat adapted screenplay.  The Odyssey by Homer, to be exact.  Since they had their basic storyline, the Coen Brothers were free to enhance the setting they chose to put the story in, namely the Deep South in the 1930s.  They capture this place through a lens of the 21st century, so it seems to be somewhat skewed, but it’s able to reconcile itself because the film’s genre could very easily fall under magical realism.  It contains witchcraft, monsters and miracles.  Or it doesn’t.  But it definitely presents this place as something where just about anything can happen.  And it satisfies because as the viewer we want to believe that a place like that existed at some point.
            Since seeing the movie Fargo, every time I go out into the crazy snow and blistering cold, I picture myself in the Coens’ frozen wasteland of this movie.  I thought the movie was okay, and I don’t think it’s great, like other people do.  But it has its moments, and I have changed my mind that it disparages Minnesota.  I think in many ways it captures the essence of Minnesota.  The main character, played by William H. Macy, goes to Fargo, out of state, to meet with some hit men and hire them to off his family.  This is the ultimate act of passive-aggressiveness. He can’t even bring himself to kill them himself!  But he also wants to collect their life insurance, so it’s another example of how we Minnesotans just think we are smarter than everybody else.  And the scene where the guy shoveling snow tells the cop what he heard from a guy at his bar about a murder sums up the point of the movie.  That we Minnesotans just want to stay out of other people’s business- and we “don’t make no fuss”.

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