Once again we are in the land of Coen Brothers movies I have only seen once previously, which I will justify by having been six when it was released.
Watching now, as a 34 year old who has always lived a cinema-life in which the Coens have always swung from pitch black to screwball, moving from Blood Simple to Raising Arizona isn’t a shock to the system – but I imagine it must have been a bit of a head-spinner on first release. From a visually and verbally spare, intricately plotted, black as soot murder movie, to a high colour, high speed, extreeeeeemly verbal film that somehow straddles the boundary between heartbreaker and farce.
In writing about Blood Simple I listed a few things that the Coens laid down early:
- Empty Roads: check, for about 0.5 seconds before a car or motorbike screams down the road.
- Terrifyingly bright daylight: check for the brightness, no check for the terrifying.
- Incredible Carter Burwell score: check
- Very realistic violence: I’m going to check, because while it’s not a particularly violent movie, the fight between Gale (John Goodman) and H.I. (Nic Cage) is hilariously realistic.
- Extremely black lines delivered straight: No check, because it’s not really that kind of film. However, it deals with a tough subject, infertility, in a very straightforward way – which, despite the apparent ridiculousness of H.I and the comedy of the lines, embraces the pain of it with great compassion. I’m calling that the same ballpark.
Also, pretty great female leads: Ed (Holly Hunter) is amazeballs, in the way she handles her situation, her muppet of a husband, and especially his ludicrous, jail-break buddies. And Hunter is so, so funny as she does it. For all the plot of Raising Arizona is hyper-elevated, she is never anything less than believable.
But actually, I think that the film is not, at heart, about babies or robberies – it’s about living in Reagan’s America.
“I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn’t easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. I dunno. They say he’s a decent man, so maybe his advisors are confused.”
It’s about how those who already have enough – the Nathan Arizonas of the world – get more, and more than they really need, while those who already don’t have much can’t catch a break. Even when you get a kid – however you get that kid – you don’t get to enjoy having a kid, you have to think jabs and college funds and life insurance, like, yesterday.
Employers hold all the power – even if they suggest to their employees that they’d quite like to sleep with their wives… Or, as Nathan Arizona says of his employees:
Hell, they’re all disgruntled. I ain’t running no damn daisy farm. My motto is “Do it my way or watch your butt!”
It’s not completely hopeless in Raising Arizona land, though. You might not be able to move up the social or financial scale, but goshdarnit it you can’t build a good life anyway.
And I don’t know. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality like I know I’m liable to do? But me and Ed, we can be good too. And it seemed real. It seemed like us and it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away. Where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all children are happy and beloved. I don’t know. Maybe it was Utah.