And so we reach Fargo, which is sort of where I came in to Coen-land, as the first Coen brothers film I remember hearing about and then the first I saw – hired from the video shop, sometime late at night during a sleepover.
I have a slightly odd relationship with it, because while I could see while it was very good, I didn’t really get it at the time – and since then I’ve never really been dragged in by it – but it’s been a long time since I watched it. Here goes – with me introducing my housemate (‘Who are the Coen brothers?’) to the film.
- Empty Roads? Yes. From the very opening in the snow, when you can barely see the road, there are a lot of empty roads, punctuated by one car swooshing by. One car swooshing in this wasteland is pretty ominous, especially when you’re trying to quietly commit crime.
- Terrifyingly bright daylight: it’s more like terrifying bright whiteness. Snow is so white and clean and beautiful. And it shows up absolutely everything. The petty venality of Jerry and Wade, and the human carelessness and cruelty of Carl and Gaear ends up splashed across the North Dakota snow. In this film, if there’s grime inside you it’s gonna end up on the outside.
- Incredible Carter Burwell score? Yep. That theme is plaintive.
- Very realistic violence? Yes. Absolutely. No one here is messing around. This is why you do not mess around with fake kidnappings
‘Oh no, it’s all worked out.’
‘Alright, don’t worry, I’ll take care of this.’
- Extremely black lines delivered straight? Yes. Personal fave: ‘Just sit still back there lady, or we’ll have to shoot you.’
- An obsession with odd hair? Well, Peter Stormare’s bleach blond is a look, but this is more about the 80s hair – which is almost normal
And Pretty great female leads? Yes. Yes yes and yes. Marge Gunderson is (a) the heart and soul of this film and (b) the best human being in the Coen brothers canon. It’s so nice watching a film in which the cops are competent and decent, and happily respecting the talented, decent, hard-working Marge. And it is amusing watching Jerry underestimate Marge, because she’s a woman, from Brainerd, and nice – before he finds himself trying to bluster his way out.
‘And for what? For a little bit of money’
I think that’s what’s really winning about the film – that melancholy and wistfulness in the air. It’s kind of sad about the world, that there are people who can’t see that there’s more to life than money, that it’s a beautiful day.
‘Whenever they raise the postage people need the little stamps’
You don’t gotta be a ‘big deal’ like Wade Gustafson or have a bunch of money. You just gotta do your little bit and be decent.
I know it’s not actually a true story, but it does actually feel like it might be a true story. There are a lot of people like these people in the world – the Carls and Gaears, the Wades and Jerrys, and the Marges and the Norms.
Verdict: Oh yah. I understand why it blew the doors off the Coen’s career and it all came tumbling out into the mainstream. It’s incredibly accessible, without giving up the essential them-mess. It doesn’t hit some of my specific buttons the way something like Miller’s Crossing does, and so I may never love it quite as much – but it is so very very good.
Housemate verdict: ‘I liked it. It was weird but kinda funny.’ ‘If I have nightmares about wood chippers I’m blaming you.’
Note to self: don’t try and attack home invaders from inside a shower curtain.