April 21, 2008

Joel and Ethan Coen: Feeling (and Fooling?) Minnesota

[This article will appear as part of MovieZeal's month-long celebration of the films of the Coen brothers. Check out excellent reviews of their movies by Evan Derrick and Luke Harrington (The Zealots), in addition to guest reviews and some illuminating insights on the Coen brand from an impressive array of movie bloggers. Like me...?]

"Fargo's naht even in Minnesoda, ya know!"

So has begun many a contentious conversation with Minnesotans about the Oscar-winning film from native sons Joel and Ethan Coen. A word of advice: if you're visiting, don't bring it up. Ironically, we obsessively claim the brothers as our own, while at the same time distance ourselves as much as possible from their most famous portrayal of us. Over the course of their filmmaking careers, the relationship between the brothers and their home state has indeed been a delicate one.

Born and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park by their professorial parents (dad at the University of Minnesota, mom at St. Cloud State University), the Coens were already making films on a Super 8 camera before they reached adolescence. The boys grew up at an interesting time in Minnesota, and not just the 1950's were smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boom. The state was notoriously anti-Semitic during and after World War II, and it would be hard for me to believe such sentiment was totally absent from their childhood, even in their (still) predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Bob Dylan was probably crossing paths with their father as he wandered the U of M campus in Dinkytown. Prince was picking up a guitar for the first time across town. Heck, Al Franken practically grew up with the Coens in St. Louis Park. Like their soon-to-be-famous contemporaries (and me, decades later...), Joel and Ethan headed elsewhere after high school, broadening their horizons at NYU (Ethan), Princeton (Joel), and Bard College at Simon's Rock (both). It was clear they would not be back to Minnesota anytime soon, and by 1984 they had their first film (Blood Simple) and their first addition to the Coen family (Joel's marriage to the actress Frances McDormand). We wouldn't see them again until, of course, Fargo in 1996.

You need to know that Minnesota, like many of the tragically named "flyover states," is a place that swells with pride. For the rural population in the state, moving to "the cities" (Minneapolis and St. Paul) is akin to disowning your family, your roots. To a lesser but still noticeable extent, this thinking also translates to those who move out of the state altogether. Who did the Coens think they were, leaving and never coming back? They're too good for Minnesota? They're better than us? Perhaps you can see why Fargo, with its exaggerated accents and pathetically provincial characters, wasn't selling out theaters around here. On the contrary, many Minnesotans (perhaps already hurt by the Coens departure) were infuriated with the film. The initial reaction was so dramatic, in fact, that the Minneapolis Star Tribune warned filmgoers that "many Minnesotans may be offended by parts of Fargo."

The Coens, for their part, were puzzled by the reaction in their home state. Said Joel Coen after its release, "We were born and grew up in Minnesota, which is one of the reasons why we were interested in the story...We feel very much sort of a part of it, having some from that culture. That's another thing that sort of surprises us about the attitude of the outsider condescending to the yokels from Minnesota." Nevertheless, one quote I found from a Fergus Falls resident summed up the general sentiment at the time: "I left that movie feeling violated and lied about. The Coens should be ashamed." It didn't help the situation when the film would go on to win two Academy Awards and be named as the one of the 100 greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute. Then, ten years after its release, the Library of Congress add Fargo to its prestigious National Film Registry, ensuring that this source of embarrassment for Minnesotans would be "preserved for future generations."

"I think Minnesotans will eventually come to like Fargo," said prescient Minneapolis storyteller Kevin Kling upon the film's release in 1996. Indeed, as the film rose to become an American classic, the local hostility towards it faded. By the time the Coens were back on the national stage in 2007 for their next American classic, No Country for Old Men, half of Minnesota practically claimed familial relations with the brothers (Mine? One of my best friends auditioned for the role of Scotty Lundegaard in Fargo). This tendency to unabashedly jump at the chance for national attention seems to happen a lot here, but not without notice. "I guess I would say it's fun, but it always strikes me as the sort of thing that a place that wants to be someplace else does, not a place that's secure in itself," said media analyst David Brauer in an MPR interview about Minnesota's obsession last year with the Coens (and also with Diablo Cody of Juno fame). True to form, the City of Brainerd, MN, has been using Fargo as an appeal to tourists for years. Turns out the fine citizens here don't really care if people think they're attention-starved, they just care if people think they talk funny.

While it seems too easy to relate the Coen brothers exclusively to Fargo when talking about their link to Minnesota, none of their other films (full disclosure: I haven't seen all 12 of them) so prominently feature the state and culture that influenced them, and none of their other films left such an impression here. And although it may still be considered their career-defining work, Fargo was not an anomaly or change of pace for the Coens, but an emblematic example of their unique style. But what sets them apart from other filmmakers? Or rather, what is uniquely "Minnesotan" about their films?

In order to bolster both my knowledge of film and my credibility in writing this, I spoke with Minneapolis Star Tribune film critic Colin Covert about Joel and Ethan's relationship to their home state. He identified two aspects of their films that could be considered "Minnesotan", and I agree with both. "I think they have a very down-to-earth, Midwestern and specifically Minnesotan quality to their films," notes Covert. "They're very observant of the details of everyday life," he added, citing Raising Arizona as an example. To be sure, this is an understatement. The brothers are well-known for their meticulous attention to the regional characteristics of their story settings, including accents, landscapes, music, religion, and cultural traditions. The Los Angeles of The Big Lebowski; the Deep South of O Brother, Where Art Thou?; the West Texas of No Country for Old Men. Minnesota, with its deep commitment to preserving Scandinavian traditions, served as a perfect model for the young Coens. Growing up Jewish, the Coens must have looked on with curiosity at the Lutherans around them eating lutefisk and telling Sven and Ole jokes with funny accents (those of you outside of Minnesota don't even know what I'm talking about, do you?) - exactly the kind of specific cultural details present in so many of their films. Had the Coens grown up in a more culturally diverse place, they may not have had the same fixation on the regional characteristics that help define their distinct style.

Secondly, Covert pointed out the "dry, dark, pessimistic humor that runs through their films." Those of you familiar with "Minnesota nice" might find this surprising, but Minnesotans can actually be a pretty perverse bunch of Scandinavians. I don't know how many times I've looked around half-shocked and half-disturbed by the hoots and guffaws around me in the theater during an unsettling or bloody scene, especially at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. Covert nailed it on the head with his description, and while it might not be a style exclusive to the Coens, neither is crass humor exclusive to witty New Yorkers or above-it-all Los Angelenos. While others were laughing at the funny accents in Fargo, Minnesotans (those who went) were cackling during the wood chipper scene. This subtle humor is palpable in many of the Coens' films, from the silly (The Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona) to the suspenseful (the gas station scene in No Country for Old Men). There's one other observation that I have to make here, and that is the fact that many of the characters in their films just seem like typical Minnesotans. John Goodman (originally from Missouri), for example, could easily pass for a local in the Twin Cities.

And what about Fargo's eventual celebration here in Minnesota? "At first I thought it was extremely condescending," said Covert. "Minnesotans don't talk like that," he continued, referring to Frances McDormand's turn as Marge Gunderson (which incidentally earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress). So how did we come full circle? Laughing, Covert admitted that in the years following Fargo's success, he realized, "Minnesotans really do talk like that. On the first viewing you're terrified of the condescension, and that blinded us to the more affectionate aspects of it." But after multiple viewings, Covert observed (and I agree) that while the satire cannot be ignored, the Coens balance it out with subtle tributes to the special culture and character in which so many Minnesotans take pride.

So, twelve feature films into their career, where are we in the ever-interesting relationship between the Coen brothers and their place of birth? Soon after No Country for Old Men began its road to glory last year, the pair announced that their upcoming film, A Serious Man, would start filming in Minnesota in 2008. The story ( a "dark comedy") focuses on the life of a Jewish professor in the late 60's, and it will mark the first time they've filmed locally since Fargo. Because of its non-contemporary story and non-traditional main character, I personally don't expect A Serious Man will make as much of a splash here as Fargo, but the fact that the brothers wrote the screenplay (instead of adapting it, like No Country) increases the likelihood that an "authentic" Minnesota will be a prominent presence on the screen. Perhaps the moviegoing American public will see a new side of the state, if they see the state at all. I wondered about this aloud, and Covert agreed that the rest of the country "doesn't know Minnesota from Nebraska."

Well, we can't fault the Coen brothers for trying, even if Fargo wasn't the side we wanted to show. All we can do is hope that one day, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" will receive its due credit for shaping the careers of two legendary American filmmakers.


  1. Great article! I guess I will have to see Fargo now... I'm obviously not from Minnesota since I haven't seen this film, or have most people seen Fargo? -wic

  2. Thanks! I would say of all the Coens' movies, Fargo had been their most well-known film before No Country for Old Men, but it's mostly been known as an indie favorite and not a mainstream classic. You should check it out.

  3. Really excellent article, Daniel. If you haven't already, you should submit it to the local press - it ought to get picked up.

    I love that Minnesotans were initially offended and yet have come around to Fargo, even going so far as to give up on the "that's not like us!" refrains.

    Though perhaps over the top, I never felt the portrayal of the characters was negative in Fargo. Even with the saddest of people (Jerry Lundegaard), you can feel the love the Coens had for their characters.

  4. A well-written and informative post Daniel. You have a real talent for writing the in-depth profile.

  5. Great post, Daniel. This gives us some great insight in the Coens, and makes me anxious for "A Serious Man."

  6. I second (or is that fifth?) the very generous and correct comments regarding your article. I think our fearless leader, Fletch, is right, Danny. A perspective (not to mention the very fine writing) would likely be of interest to the local press. Maybe you should check into that?

    The Coens, for me, are people that I revere for their interesting and positive contribution to the art of film. Can't say I'm a fan, though.

    (DAMN IT, NCFOM should NEVER have won the BP Oscar! I finally said it. Now I feel better...)

    But it's always fun to read about them...

  7. Thanks a lot, Fletch. I haven't submitted it locally, but maybe it's worth a shot. The Fargo turnaround should have been no surprise - we latch on to anything that can be consider ours, no matter the cost. You bring up a good point about the care for the characters, too, and your initial reaction to them was probably like most non-Minnesotans - you weren't obsessed with the accent.

    Anyone interested should check out Fletch's Coen piece on MovieZeal as well.

    Thank you, Rick. Means a lot coming from someone I consider a superb writer.

    Thanks, Pat. I think Burn After Reading will be their next high-profile mainstream film, but A Serious Man will definitely be a big deal around these parts.

    Cheers to owning your opinion, Miranda, and thanks for the sixthing. I don't adore them as much as some others do, but I appreciate their style and think they have a knack for classic American storytelling. Yeah, and they're films are pretty amazing from a technical aspect as well. Like everything, it's mostly a matter of taste.

  8. Nicely done Daniel. I like your personal spin on the Coen universe a great deal.

    The insight provided by Mr. Covert that many of the things we regard as Coenesque are actually Minnesotan is new to me, but it makes a lot of sense.

    Very interesting.

  9. Thanks, Craig. I'm glad you'll be able to look at their style in a new way. It would be really interesting to find out their thoughts on the validity of it. I don't think they're one of my feed subscribers, though...

  10. You never know! Word is getting out there...

    Though they're definitely not a pair who really like to talk about what they do and why. They seem to prefer to remain mysterious.

  11. I was going to mention their avoidance of the limelight somewhere along the way. It's tough to get a grasp of what really influences and motivates them - they don't have a blog or do a lot of interviews or commentaries. Not to mention they probably have the best poker faces in Hollywood.

  12. One of my favorite exchanges in Fargo, between Jerry and Wade: "What'cha watchin' there?" "Gophers."

    It's a small moment, to be sure, but I think it speaks volumes about the film. The terse delivery of Wade's reply is consistent with the brusque matter-of-factness I've observed in many older Minnesotans (or, at least, older Midwestern Lutherans). These folks can be a mite taciturn unless and until you get some coffee in them.

    They're chatty among their own kind, but wary of outsiders, and Wade certainly seems to regard Jerry as somewhat of an outsider.

    The other thing I like about it is that the Coens have Wade watching a U of M hockey game, rather than the Vikes or the Twins or what have you. Real Minnesotans do watch the Gophers, but I suspect Hollywood Minnesotans wouldn't know the difference between U of M and UMD.

    Maybe I'm wrong, though. I've not lived among the Minnesotans for any considerable length of time, but I've visited often, as many friends and family reside there.

    The film that they seem most proud of is not Fargo, but Grumpy Old Men...

  13. Great article, although I do have a few small quibbles.

    * Not ALL Minnesotans hate "Fargo". Actually it's one of my favorite films.

    It's been my experience that people either love or hate Coen films, period -- and it's usually for the same reasons.

    * Not ALL Minnesotans DO "talk like that", although certainly SOME of us do. And the farther north ya go, the more pronounced (sorry) it gets.

    * As someone born and raised in Minnesota, I have no problem whatsoever with the way Minnesotans are portrayed.

    The Coens don't discriminate: they're equal-opportunity mockers. A LOT of characters in Coen films are portrayed in less than flattering ways.

    Some of 'em may be pathetically provincial, but others are white trash, burned out, morally bankrupt, greedy, or just plain stupid.

    Besides, I LOVE that the smartest character in the film was both female AND pregnant. Margie ROCKS, man!

  14. I'm a young Minnesotan from the western border of the state - Moorhead, MN - which is right across the border from Fargo, ND. I can honestly say I feel like I've met many of the characters in the Coens' film. Sure - not everyone's accent is quite so thick - but some of them are! Especially the older generations. And the sensibility of the characters in the film was spot on.

  15. As a proud Minnesotan and fan of "Fargo" (and the Coens), I thoroughly enjoyed this article. And yes, we do have a surprisingly perverse sense of humor. Must be the long winters that give us that macabre sensibility.

  16. However, I'm always shocked to find (or hear about -- I don't think I've ever met anyone who felt this way) Minnesotans that were offended by it. But I guess I didn't notice the initial hype, as I was very young. But still, I practically use this film to celebrate Minnesota with fellow natives and to introduce outsiders to my beloved state. A great film, it is, and I love how it celebrates the little quirks and inside allusions and references (i.e., the classic "gophers" line that someone mentioned before).

  17. When I first saw Fargo I was sitting in a cinema at the Mall of America laughing my head off. Until I realised I was the only one laughing and that I might not get out of there alive! At that point I slunk down in my seat and merely sniggered quietly for the next 2 hours. Thankfully over the next few years my friends and acquaintances came to see the movie as the affectionate, fun-poking, oh-so-dry fairytale that it was and appreciated it as much as I did.

  18. I'm a St. Paul native, and a huge Coen Bros. fan. Great to hear that they'll be shooting there again.

    10-15 years ago, MN had a pretty booming (or, at least, consistent) film industry that's since all but died. Hopefully, this will reinvigorate interest in shooting there...

  19. Really insightful comments, and thanks for your visits. To be honest, I actually haven't seen Fargo for quite a while and I didn't mean to focus so much on it here, but it seems that's what filtering out of it, and that's fine.

    Erik, you have a great handle on local culture for someone who hasn't resided here for a significant amount of time. Consider yourself an honorary Minnesotan. Choosing the Gophers game really was important, and I never thought about that before. Also, you are dead on with the wariness of outsiders. Grumpy Old Men...yeah, that accurately hit some targets here, too, but I would throw it in with the slapstick Minnesota movies like The Mighty Ducks, Jingle All the Way, Joe Somebody and others. Factotum showed the Twin Cities in a darker light a couple of years ago, but that was supposed to be a stand-in for L.A., anyway. I'm a big fan of Aurora Borealis, and I think that really captured local culture better than anything I've seen in a long time.

    Regarding the mocking of characters in Coen movies - yes, they've certainly been accused. First impressions of their characters leave that taste in your mouth, but as has been pointed out here, it can also be read as admiration and embracing of their quirks. A lot of Texans might have rolled their eyes at Carla Jean Moss in No Country, but she ends up being pretty sharp. Great observation about Marge as atypical heroine.

    Fuzzy Duck, glad you enjoyed it and thanks for your insight. I'd be wary to introduce outsiders to this without being able to explain some things, but you could have a lot of fun using it as a marketing video for MN.

    Ironically, I'm pretty sure I didn't see Fargo in the theater the first time. As our MOA visitor confirms, though, the majority of people were initially horrified, not humored. There still might be some who haven't come around to it, which is kind of sad.

    Thanks for the visit, John. You're right about the industry here, and I hope that A Serious Man (along with those last two that I mentioned above) will bring some more crews to town. There's also the revived Snowbate program that reimburses production costs here. However, tax is still an issue, and if it can be shot in Canada (Juno), it probably will be.

  20. Nice article all around. While I think Fargo is an excellent and well crafted film I do find a few issues with the "satire" of Minnesota life in the film.

    * For the audience of the movie around the country and world most people are laughing AT not WITH Minnesotans when they watch the movie. Nothing they do is too insulting but it does seem the intention is for viewers to laugh at the locals

    * There isn't really a point to it that I've ever figured out. Its hard to call something a "parody" or "satire" when they aren't really making a larger point about the culture they are depicting

    * The accents are completely wrong and unbelievable. Nobody in Minnesota talks like that, at all. Drop Dead Gorgeous is film that very much gets Minnesota accents and dialogue correct, its no where near as well made or great a film as Fargo...but in terms of accent and dialogue representing Minnesota it does a much better job. Kirsten Dunst and Allison Janey (also great in Juno) both have great MN accents when they want

    I like Fargo, but it is not the Cohen brother's best work, personally I'd put it below No Country, Blood Simple, Man Who Wasn't There (their best) and Big Lebowski

  21. Great piece. The Coen bros. are such cyphers that it's always great to get a possible peek into their minds, and obviously the environment in which you grow up says a lot about who you become.

    Just out of curiosity, which is the Coen movie you haven't seen? I finally caught up with the only one I was missing (The Hudsucker Proxy) last January. Aside from the Ladykillers, they're all absolutely worth watching, even watching twice, and even that one exception has some striking visuals (though it's mostly notable as the proof that even the Coen bros. can't make IBS jokes funny)

  22. Having lived in Minnesota most of my life (Go Gophers! Ski-U-Mah) I noticed one flaw in the movie Fargo.
    When Jerry Lundegaard goes back to his car in the empty parking lot after the meeting with Wade and Stan, and he is scraping the ice off the windshield, Jerry doesn't start his car. Any good Minnesotan knows the first thing you do is start the car to let it warm. - Nurdlinger

  23. This was a great article by the author, but I got too distracted here in the comments with all the Fargo love.

    I could not stand that movie when it came out, and it has not gotten any better with time. As a middle-aged Minnesotan, maybe I was just too old when it came out to "get it". It is certainly full of "what life is really like here" flaws, and many geographical errors - including placing the NE Minneapolis King of Clubs in Fargo?!? In one scene with Buscemi and Stormare in the car, even in the theater someone was saying loudly "From Fargo, how did they end up driving NORTH toward downtown Minneapolis on 35W?".
    Mostly though, I just thought it celebrated venality and humiliation too much to actually be enjoyable entertainment; I could definitely never say I "loved" this movie.

  24. Thanks for the comment. You're right that most people will laugh at the characters (and thus, MN) on first viewing, but those who revisit it will probably find more meaning. I don't think it has very deep symbolism, but it's a well-crafted story. It's true, though, that it doesn't explicitly satire an aspect of the culture. You know, I totally blocked Drop Dead Gorgeous out of my mind after seeing it in the theater, so I'll take your word for it regarding the accents. I also have to mention one of my favorite movies, A Simple Plan, that takes place and was filmed in Delano. No real accents involved, but a great movie featuring MN. I sometimes call it the Coen brothers' movie that wasn't.

    Thanks, Hedwig.I knew I'd have to disclose the unseens at some point! Unfortunately I haven't seen either Blood Simple or Miller's Crossing - I know. I also missed, deliberately, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. Those are listed in the order that I'd like to see them.

    Ha, great point about the car starting - always comes before doing anything else. These days it's even by remote, if you have the money.

  25. Thanks for commenting. As I said earlier, this turned into a Fargo discussion a lot more than I hoped, but I suppose it was large part of what I wrote anyway. Also, if it just means that more locals are visiting and commenting, that's fine - come back often and check out other posts about the Twin Cities.

    Errors in geography really bug me, but I can get past it if it's for the purpose of the production. Maybe it was easier to get a shot of a 35W sign that said Minneapolis and showed the city in the background only if you're coming from the south. I don't know, but yeah, it's usually pretty annoying.

  26. Well, that's pretty much the order I'd recommend them in! Of the first two, Miller's Crossing is the more complex, sophisticated movie, with a few great scenes and a great use of language, but Blood Simple affects you on a much more primal level. It's a punch in the gut, and not recommended to anyone who couldn't stomach the woodchipper scene in Fargo.

    Intolerable Cruelty is amusing enough as an update on the screwball genre, but aside from a few elements it's not really a Coen movie, and it has little substance. As for The Ladykillers...well, I think I said enough before.

  27. As another native Minnesotan, I have to take issue with the so called "Minnesota Nice". I've never seen it. It sure isn't present on the freeway. Maybe visitors mistake our reserved demeanor as "nice", but rest assured we're cursing deep inside.

    In all seriousness, great article and I'm proud to be from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

    Oh, and just a note on Fargo: The Gopher Hockey scene is just awesome. Perfect example of the Coen's attention to detail

  28. Yeah, Hedwig - the mention of IBS jokes doesn't excite me too much. Sounds more Farrelly Bros. than Coen Bros.

    Thanks for the visit, Corey. You reminded me of a national road rage survey where MSP ranked 14th, right after Detroit and right before Baltimore. Looks like we can hold our own.

  29. any one from minnesota that is offended by fargo needs to lighten up

  30. I'm not sure it matters how authentically they depict Minnesotans as long as people are willing to "suspend disbelief." Apparently, Minnesotans have, even if it did take a few years.

  31. I'm an adopted Minnesotan in diaspora, and this post made me miss Minnesota...

    But I have to agree with how detailed the Coens are concerning local areas - accents, language, etc. I haven't seen all of the Coen films - I remember watching the Hudsucker Proxy when I was really little - I think one could make an argument around the use of rural space in their films. I'm thinking specifically of Fargo and No Country, but I think you might even be able to fit The Big Lebowski in as well. It's set in LA, but it has a very small town, rural feel to it.

    Then again, it's been awhile since I've seen anything of theirs (apart from No Country this past year).

  32. Thanks for stopping by, News Lamp. People would have a lot more fun at a lot more movies if they suspended disbelief, but I'm admittedly slow to do so.

    You bring up a good point, Lindsey. Certainly O Brother would fit into the rural category. They seem to avoid urban settings (though Hudsucker is metropolitan) in favor of vast and sweeping landscapes.

  33. Great article Daniel, both in idea and execution - thanks for doing this topic!

    Enlightening discussion -- I learned a lot about the Coens, and their effect on people, from both the original post, and now all the comments as well.

    Always loved Raising Arizona, and it truly gets better for me with every viewing. I would rank it in my personal top 10 faves.

    I have to agree with sarcastig, my experience with Blood Simple was indeed primal and powerful; I would call it a modern masterpiece.

    I didn't think much about The Big Lebowski when I saw it in the theater, but repeated viewings on video and TV have warmed me up to it. But I never liked Fargo, it just didn't endear itself to me in any way, and I would never want to see it again. I really enjoyed The Man Who Wasn't There when I saw it in the theater, I found it moving and interesting on several levels.

    Apparently I am the only person on planet Earth who read the book first, and then really didn't like the adaptation to film for, No Country For Old Men, but I would agree it was a very good film in its own right. Even so, I concur with Miranda Wilding that it should NOT in any way have won the Best Picture Oscar. But I am very grateful still that the Coens continue to make the unique films that they do, and I look forward to their future efforts.

  34. Nice to come across a kindred spirit, josh. I'll take this right to the wall if I may. I not only think that NCFOM shouldn't have won the BP Oscar, I don't even think that it should've been nominated. Especially in 2007, which will go down in history as an exceedingly rich landmark year for cinema of all types.

    NC is actually a fairly good film. Slightly better than average to my mind. But it's rare that I ever come across something so endlessly overrated. The fact that you read the book (I freely admit that I have not) means that you genuinely think that the movie didn't live up to the source material. So I feel my personal view is somewhat bolstered.

    According to your blog profile, you apparently admire What's Up Doc, the original Star Wars trilogy, Out Of Sight, A Clockwork Orange, Brazil, The Manchurian Candidate (from 62) and Neil Jordan. Most compelling and exquisite, I must say.

    Feel free to visit my site any time you like, josh. People with bold perspectives and wonderful taste are always welcome...

  35. Thanks, Josh. I was never a huge fan of Fargo, either (compared to their others), but now I find myself wanting to review their entire filmography, especially those that I only gave a chance in the theater, like Man Who Wasn't.

    You can take things as far as you want to here, Miranda, though I'll quietly still hold on to NC as my favorite from last year! I didn't read the book, either, so I only have the adaptation to consider as well. Oh well, such was the great year of 2007 - enough greatness so that hopefully everyone can find a different favorite.

  36. I very much enjoyed this well written piece.

    I loved Fargo upon release and repeat viewings. As a New Zealander who had never been exposed to anything Minnesotan beforehand I was surprised by the broad Scandinavian quality of the film’s local accents. And yes I laughed at it, but only so much comedic mileage can be gained from accent alone. The dialogue, story, acting, direction etc. all combined to make the heavily accented characters funny. I doubt people from outside Minnesota experience Fargo as somehow a fully realistic representation of local culture and citizenry. But you knew that despite it being an oddball Coens’ fictional universe that it was infused with something of the place and people. And that the film-makers regarded both with enormous warmth and affection in a way that encouraged the audience to feel that too.

    In that spirit, it makes sense to me that you’re a Minnesotan Daniel.

  37. Whoa, Danny...

    I had TOTALLY forgotten about how much you loved NC. Well, you know me sufficiently well to realize that I meant absolutely no disrespect. This is your site, after all. As frequent visitors to both of our respective hangouts, the two of us have various opinions about all kinds of media and artistic endevours. We don't always agree. I don't expect that we will and we shouldn't have to in any case. It's not even necessary and I'm sure you feel the same way. What is important is the discussion and the sharing of ideas.

    I'm a staunch individualist. Though there are times when I don't mind going with the prevailing train of thought, this time I didn't. I guess I was so surprised at josh's refreshing honesty that I had to comment on it.

    Though I'm no fan of the Coens, there are other films that they've done (MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY) that I admire and enjoy far more than NC and Fargo.

    But what can I say? Personal tastes make us the people that we are. CRAIG KENNEDY (of the fabulous blog LIVING IN CINEMA) had NC as his #1 for last year as well. So you obviously are in very good company...

  38. Thanks much, sartre. Glad to hear another perspective.

    "The dialogue, story, acting, direction etc. all combined to make the heavily accented characters funny."

    Well said. If I can build on it, I would just add that those elements all support each other extremely well in all of the Coens' movies. As such, the sum is usually more than the parts may lead you to believe.

    I should probably disclose something else here: I've spent almost exactly half my life here in Minnesota, and it's not my state of birth. However, my formative years took place here and it has more elements of "home" than anywhere else. So I'm no expert, but I feel pretty secure in my cultural knowledge.

    Wonderfully stated, Miranda. I'm glad you and Josh found common ground. I'm a pretty independent spirit in my own right and would never feel comfortable avoiding legitimate disagreements, here or at Cinematic Passions.


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