The following article was written as an assignment for the Introduction to Film and Video Analysis class.
The Coen brothers often make films that are categorized into crime movies. The genre includes the elements such as crimes, guns, murders, police, fights, violence, "good guys," and "bad guys." Miller's Crossing (1990), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007), and some other Coen's films have a lot of these elements. Strong influences by the hard-boiled novels of Raymond Chandler are seen in their films. Among them, Fargo (1996) received two Academy Awards (best actress and writing original screenplay) and a Cannes Film Festival Award (best director) and is considered one of their best movies. It has very unique characteristics, among which may even change the notion of the categorized genre as a crime movie. By comparing their first film Blood Simple (1984), its uniqueness becomes much clearer. Fargo seems to follow the rules of crime movies on the surface, but its motif and composition are quite out of them that allow this movie to be seen as an anti-crime movie in some points.
Raising Arizona (1987), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Burn After Reading (2008). All the similarities mentioned above suggest that they are apparently pretty much the same kind of crime movies.
The ways the characters are depicted are also very different in both movies. All the characters are depicted quite seriously, and some are even depressed in Blood Simple. However, they are not heavily characterized with repeated actions or phrases. Especially the two main characters, Abby and Ray, are depicted as plain characters so that the viewers are easy to relate with them and imagine how they feel. In fact, there are many close-up scenes of them without saying anything, which may force the audience to guess what they are thinking. In Fargo, all the characters, including the very minor ones, seem a little comical to the audience even though they act seriously in the film. One of the main reasons for this is that each character bears caricatured traits which leave the viewers the strong impression of them and make the viewers easy to expect what the character will do and say next time when he or she appears on the screen. The characters' characteristic signs repeatedly occur again and again to the same characters throughout the movie in the forms of the actions, phrases, and facial expressions and form his or her unique characteristics. In other words, the characters are dominated by their own characteristics and do not act or say anything against their characterized images any more. The characters act and say as they are expected, which may lead the viewers to see them as a stereotypes with no complex human emotion.
The other reason for the comical aspect is that all the characters in Brainerd speak in very heavy regional accents and say colloquial dialects quite often as mentioned above. This also helps the viewers regard them as "characterized others" instead of seeing them as "ordinary people like us" just like the viewers themselves. This regional characteristic plays another important role in forming the perception of the characters. The viewers would notice that these Minnesotans act and say things quite politely. This politeness of the people in Minnesota is known as "Minnesota Nice." They also act politely even when they are in the middle of dangerous or desperate situations, which make the scenes funny even though they are quite serious. These contrasting points in both films make the very different impressions. Blood Simple keeps the thrilling tension, while Fargo has a relaxed, little comical atmosphere even though the events are very dreadful. Some other Coens' movies such as Big Libowski and Burn After Reading also have the same kind of comical atmosphere.
Though there are many similar points in Fargo and Blood Simple, Fargo is more complex in composition and leaves the viewers a different impression at last from what it is expected as a crime movie. In a word, Blood Simple shows only the chain of violence, whereas Fargo shows how the violence and crimes look ridiculous and comical when it is compared with the peacefulness of caricatured ordinary people.