Fargo (1996) Directors: The Coen Brothers
Hollywood rarely seems to tread forth into the slick icy north, however in one of the most celebrated genre-blending combinations of comedy-western and regional-nihilism, The Coen Brothers take us on a fearless journey upward to Minnesota and North Dakota for a murder mystery. Ethan and Joel Coen actually grew up in Minneapolis and they shot Fargo in places they once knew. The success and uniqueness of the film has since led to a Fargo television series which is still running to this day.
Loosely based on a true story, Frances McDormand plays Marge Gunderson, a seven months pregnant chief of police investigating the brutal murder of two citizens and a state trooper. It all starts with the greed of one man: a frustratingly pathetic weasel-of-a-car salesman named Jerry Lundegaard (William H Macy). Jerry is on the verge of bankruptcy and hires a pair of buffoonish crooks (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to stage his wife’s kidnapping in the hopes that it will urge her wealthy father (Harve Presnell) to cough up the $1M ransom. Jerry is driven by fear and resentment while in search of “easy” money. The bulk of the film displays one uncomfortable scene after another as the scheme goes off the rails, more people die, and yet Jerry still attempts to maintain the facade.
Fargo shows the wanton nature of evil: feeble men with anxieties, particularly fearful of losing their middle class rank, and what happens when those fears transcend loyalty to family. We watch as grand plans fall apart, and brutal slaughter is a mere inconvenience for some. The blinding white snow conceals a great deal of evil, however it can also reveal things like footprints leading to the scene of a crime. Snow cannot hide everything. Perhaps the greatest cover of all is the thin veneer of polite midwestern society, masked in friendly Scandinavian-American colloquialisms like “Eh” and “Don’tcha know.” At the same time, this polite society refuses to acknowledge a hideous darkness lurking out in the icy tundra. All it has room for is friendly conversation with warm people, and thus it remains vulnerable to threat. This theme of truly dark, chaotic evil is carried into numerous other Coen Brothers films, especially No Country For Old Men. It is a bleak lens which we see through a glass darkly.