As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Coen Night #3: Fargo & The Big Lebowski

Posted by Hedwig on January 23, 2008

The Blurbs:

FARGO

When your father-in-law refuses to give you money, maybe the wisest way to respond is not to hire two thugs (Steve Buscemi & Peter Stormare) to kidnap her and ask for ransom. Because as can be seen in Fargo, that can end badly. Very badly, indeed. Still, it’s what Jerry Lundegaard (the male half of the celebrity power couple known as Filliam H. Muffman) does, and when bodies start cropping up, very pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is put on the case. That’s when blood really starts staining the snow-covered North-Dakota landscape. It’s gruesome, it’s funny, and it’s maybe the most Coen of movies. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have, I have no doubt you’ll want to see it again.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

Yet again, the Coens followed up a succesful thriller with a somewhat less succesful comedy. However, despite rather disappointing results at the box-office, the Big Lebowski went on to develop a huge cult following later on, and deservedly. The story of ‘the Dude’ is actually best when you don’t try to follow the story, and just let yourself be swept along by the absurdity: by the bowling-alley dreams, the nihilists, the kidnapping plot gone awry – yes, again. Filled with Coen regulars – John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro) and virtuoso camerawork, this is, above all, a film that’s still funny (if not funnier) the fifth time you see it. So join me for my sixth, and see if it still holds true.

The Reviews:

I’d only seen Fargo start to finish once before. Oh, of course, after that I often caught a scene or two when it was on TV, but this was only the second time I sat down and devoted my attention entirely to it. To my surprise, it was quite a different viewing experience. It was much funnier than I remembered, first of all. And, primed by 5 previous Coen movies, I noticed how almost all the humor was grounded either in language (the repeated “yah” especially elicited many laughs) or exaggerated misfortune. At the same time, this time, I found myself feeling very sorry for poor Jerry Lundegaard’s wife. My friends laughed at her predicament and panic, and it IS rather played for laughs, but at the same time, she truly doesn’t deserve what happens to her. She might not be especially bright, not like Marge anyway, but is (relative) stupidity enough of a justification for such violence? The Coens are often accused of contempt for their characters, but I don’t think they have contempt themselves. It’s the audience, really, which assigns contempt and hence risibility or, on the other hand, pity. And if we feel contempt, does that say something about the Coens, or about us?

The Big Lebowski on the other hand I must have seen 6 or 7 times already in its entirety, and it’s funnier each time. I still don’t quite know the plot, I’m afraid. Or rather, I forget it. This time again, at about the halfway point I found myself wondering what had happened to the money, again. I simply couldn’t remember, but I didn’t really care, either. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t “get” the movie the first time they see it: they are looking for a plot, trying to understand what’s happening, and in that process they forget to notice the jokes.

So what about the trademarks? People getting beat up: check and check. I didn’t notice any prominent circles in Fargo, but the bowling balls in Lebowski are photographed almost lecherously. Fun from language? Absolutely in Fargo, with the North Dakotan accent and the simple way people talk, and it’s not for nothing the Big Lebowski is so very quotable. The power play in language is also prominently there, between Walter and Donnie most notably, but also between the Dude and Maude, a woman who’d very much aware of every word she uses and of the effect they might have. And there is a certain 4-letter word that’s rarely been more effectively – and elaborately – used.

It’s not for nothing these two are considered the Coens’ best, at least until No Country For Old Men came along. Hopefully Burn After Reading will form with the latter as perfect a movie night.

“Do you have to use so many cuss words?”

“What the fuck you talking about?”

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2 Responses to “Coen Night #3: Fargo & The Big Lebowski”

  1. Nick Plowman said

    Fargo is one of my all time favourite films, and I too was surprised at how funny it was. Frances McDormand was so good!

    I have never seen The Big Lebowski – I am embarrassed to admit that – but I want to check it out so badly.

    Burn After Reading looks very interesting, I hope it falls under the Coens “masterpieces” list, where Fargo, Lebowski and now No Country For Old Men (which I still haven’t seen either).
    What would we do without the Coens? They are no doubt the best in the business, or at least up there with the greats, and they never cease to amaze me.

    Lovely Review(s) as always! 🙂

  2. Just thinking about these two movies puts a smile on my face.

    “It’s the audience, really, which assigns contempt” exactly and that’s a special pet peeve of mine. The most ridiculous criticism of the Coen brothers ever. They poke fun at their characters and make light of them, but I think they seen a certain goodness and nobility in them.

    Isn’t it funny how the humor in so many of their movies kind of sneaks up on you?

    Good stuff. I’m enjoying revisiting them vicariously.

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