Coen Brothers’ Movie Style Essay Example


Films are the way to express personal vision of the reality or show imaginary characters put in the specific situations. Each film director tries to show individual view of life and surrounding via the characters and situations in the movie. Coen brothers, Joel David Coen and Ethan Jesse Coen, are the representatives of the American filmmaking industry, which style makes it different from other kinds of cinematography. Coen brothers’ style can be described as a noir crime, bemused noir. Almost all their movies depict money as the center of the problem, a desire of easy financial success, and absolute ignorance of any future consequences. The main characters of most Coen brothers’ movies are silly uneducated people, poor and very limited in their desires, with financial problems, who want to get much without making any effort on the way to achieving their success. The main purpose of this paper is to analyze the films of Coen brothers and provide a detailed analysis of the their style. Fargo, Barton Fink, and No Country for Old Men are the films which depict Coen brothers’ specific visions of life and their style expressed in cynic, fatal, and morally ambiguous characters full of dark humor and expressive life philosophy based on money and financial superiority.

Coen Brothers’ Success

Coen brothers have become a brand name in cinematography. The success of this idiosyncratic duo is hard to explain. Their specific vision of live and people as well as their perfect ability to show people as cynic and emotionless creatures, which try to be unique and smart but actually show themselves as fools and a part of crowd, help see the world from another angle. Being at the edge of their 60s, Coen brothers remain funny and creative as usual. In one of the interviews published by Coyle, Ethan describes the process of filmmaking as follows:
We were just sitting around the office talking about nothing, as we do, and (Joel) said, ‘OK, supposing it begins in an alley behind Gerde’s Folk City and somebody beats the (expletive) out of Dave Van Ronk?’?” says Ethan, while Joel laughs’ “That’s the beginning of what movie? (Coyle)

The fact that the movies are created in such ordinary and everyday situations proves that the brothers do not think on their scripts daily, but they live them. However, the films and the crime ideas presented in the movies need to have some roots. It is hardly possible to wake up one day with the desire to describe the lives of silly people who failed to achieve anything in their life and show their foolishness and inability to survive in this world. Specific thinking of the main characters and their particular vision of the surrounding world through the prism of easy money and success at the cost of others is the result of particular thinking patters of their film directors. According to Covert, John explains their fascination with macabre themes as follows, “We blame the long winters, sitting home wishing we could get out. We’re the latest in a long list of Midwestern filmmakers and artists with a very dark side” (Covert).

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One of the reasons for Coen brothers’ success is the fact that they do not invent anything new but create the parodies on everything that they see. Malcolm described Coen brothers’ style as “a farcical comedy of manners that parodies almost everybody and everything” (Malcolm 45). Watching the movies, viewers can easily recognize themselves in one of the moments in their lives. It is hardly possible to find a person who has never thought about easy money or easy success. Hardly ever would anyone, who have found thousands of dollars, decline them. Being a famous writer and having stuck on the script, each person would have a desire to find someone who could assist in writing. Having a rich wife but being dependent on her father, one has thought at least once in his life that it could be great for his wife to disappear. Showing these inner desires of human beings, Coen brothers do not say that everyone would follow such desires, but they just show that people think like this. The success of their movies is also proclaimed by the fact that they show the consequences of such actions, how silly people look like, and what events it leads to. Malcolm assures that Coen brothers’ movies have such a tremendous success because they rely “not on any serious conclusions, or even on a rather abrupt, surprise ending, but on its performances and its broad character drawing” (45). Overall, the conclusions in their movies are almost the same. Characters appear in the place where they should be. Everyone can think over the future of each of the figures; however, justice is implemented at the end of each film as this is how the life treats individuals who dare to play unfairly.

Fargo, Barton Fink, and No Country for Old Men Summary

Fargo, Barton Fink, and No Country for Old Men are the movies taken for the analysis in this paper. Each of them perfectly reflects a style and genuineness of the directors. Coen brothers have created these films in their style. Even though the idea in each movie is different, every film under analysis is devoted to the problem of justice in different interpretations. Each one is a parody on the already created movie; however, the parody helps see the foolishness of the situations and the fatal predictable end. Watching each movie separately, it is possible to notice the similarities. The main characters in each movie are men under 30-40 who have achieved nothing but still hope to lead happy lives. Developing their plans, the main characters face some situations where they can have an easy financial success, and they agree on the conditions without having a thought about the consequences. Overall, the situations are funny as they depict the silliness of human nature. Another peculiarity of the movies is the absence of emotions on the faces of the main characters. Being subjected to very complicated situations and having dared for a crime, the main characters feel neither fear nor regret, neither the feeling of happiness for the achieved purposes nor despair for the actions they do. Overall, during the whole movie, it is hard to see the emotional condition of the characters as they seem to be absolutely deprived of any.

Fargo is a movie which positions itself as “a simple set-up, looking like a straightforward crime narrative” (Godfrey 53) from the very beginning, but later, the situation becomes more complicated. The kidnapping of Jerry Lundegaard’s wife goes in a wrong way; everything is ruined. One crime leads to another; many people have been killed; and finally, the main character appears in jail. One of the peculiarities of this film is the absence of any sympathetic character, which could be considered as a positive one. Even the wife, who is a victim in this case, is presented as a very stupid and limited person. Having implemented his plan, the husband appears in a very problematic situation as everything goes wrong: he will not receive money for the project; he will not get the ransom, and finally, he understands that his life has been murdered.

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One of the final thoughts expressed by Marge Gunderson tries to deliver the central theme of the whole movie:

So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it (Fargo).
The movie shows how weak and limited people use very primitive actions to gain their purposes, but they still collapse as the very idea is a failure from the beginning.
Barton Fink is a story about a scriptwriter, young in his career but not that fresh in his age. Working for the sake of simple people, Barton receives an offer to write a script for Hollywood.

Having very motivating goals at the beginning of his career, Barton wants to refuse Hollywood; he says:

Not the kind of success where the critics fawn over you or the producers like Derek make a lot of money. No, a real success – the success we’ve been dreaming about – the creation of a new, living theater of, about, and for the common man! If I ran off to Hollywood now I’d be making money, going to parties, meeting the big shots, sure, but I’d be cutting myself off from the wellspring of that success, from the common man (Barton Fink).

Having come to the place, some strange things happen to Barton; he changes. He gets acquainted with a neighbor who tries to assist him in writing, but nothing happens. He still cannot write. The situation is impressive. Having received a well-paid position, Barton stops writing, and all attempts to do it finally fail. This movie is also about a murder, a serial killer, and an absolutely absent compassion for a killed woman. Having a desire to write something about and for people, the best work by Barton appears to be a failure.

No Country for Old Men being “Cormac McCarthy adaptation” (Godfrey 59) is a movie about a man who dared to get money of a criminal and was killed as the payment for the theft. Godfrey calls this movie a “noir in blazing sunlight” (57). The whole idea reminds farce as such situation cannot appear in the real life. A person cannot steal money from a criminal and then hide from him during the whole movie. The cynical and absolutely unreal situation is depicted as an ordinary case without any attempt to smooth the angles and try to make the situation sympathetic.

From the very beginning till the very end of the movie, the characters show their mercenary goals and vanity of their souls:

Ellis: Whatcha got ain’t nothing new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.
Ed Tom Bell: How many of those things you got now?
Ellis: Cats? Several. Well, depends what you mean by got. Some are half-wild, and some are just outlaws.
Ed Tom Bell: That man that shot you died in prison.
Ellis: Angola. Yeah…
Ed Tom Bell: What you’d done he had been released?
Ellis: Oh, I dunno. Nothing. Wouldn’t be no point in it.
Ed Tom Bell: I’m kindly surprised to hear you say that.
Ellis: Well all the time ya spend trying to get back what’s been took from ya, more is going out the door. After a while you just have to try to get a tourniquet on it. Your granddad never asked me to sign on as a deputy (No Country for Old Men).

This dialog shows the attitude of people to what they have and what they do.

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The movies under analysis are characterized as “crime films in that they are united by criminality as the driving narrative element – but in parsing them further, we see traces of not just noir, but gangster films, inside-Hollywood movies, buddy pictures, murder mysteries, and a number of other variations” (Sickels 116). The noirish murders as the center of the discussion are presented as something ordinary and daily. None of the characters deliver an idea that the murder is a poor action which must be stopped. Having committed a very cynical crime, the characters do not even think to stop. The murder in a movie is presented as an ordinary affair without any tears, regret, or remorse. Overall, the films under consideration are good examples of the Coen brothers’ style of filmmaking. Showing ordinary people, the directors demonstrate “the Coens’ characteristic desire to subvert audience expectations, right down to the title card that claims that the film is based on a true story (this would later be revealed as a ruse)” (Godfrey 57). This is one of the basic characteristics of Coen brothers’ style.

Coen Brothers’ Unique Style

It is possible either to like Coen brothers’ movies or not. However, it is impossible to agree that their style is unique and there are no such film directors who show human life better than they do. Working in a so-called neo-noir dark comedy crime style, Coen brothers depict the life of people though cynicism and fatality. Three movies under analysis are the best examples of the unique Coen brothers’ style, which shows human limitations, desire to achieve success at the expense of others, and a very silly attitude to others. The center of the films is a very cynical and heartless crime. According to Davis, Coen brothers, “a brilliantly creative two-headed beast, have maintained a consistency in their work that one might describe as a bemused noir” (14). The main characters of the movies are usually shown as lovable idiots, who appear in the circumstances which lead them to criminal actions. The crimes are their decisions; they are the result of inner desires supported by the circumstances. Even though the main characters have an opportunity to find other ways out, the initial decision has already been made, and there is no other way to escape the fate. Moreover, the situations are usually complicated because “unjustified faith in their own cleverness erodes the implications of tragedy that usually characterize noir vehicles” (Davis 14). From the very beginning, each movie depicts silly people. It seems that the directors want the audience to consider them funny just to guarantee that people do not consider them weak and unfortunate. However, this feeling does not vanish. Throughout the whole movie, financial and mental limitations of the characters do not awake any sympathy.

Snarky eccentric impudence is the core aspect in the directors’ style. The main characters seem to be adults with some experience; however, their actions are childish, and a mocking view is aimed at depicting the situation as a contemporary hipness. Emotional desperation is presented as part of the movie. Trying to achieve their purposes, the main characters do not attempt to show any positive feelings. They seem absolutely emotionless despite the cases when they need to show regret about the failure of the plan. No one expresses any grief about dead people. This is a particular way of showing human desires and needs. The absence of emotions on the faces is how the directors display their main characters’ hidden purposes. According to White, “Behind the frequent violence and threat and neediness in Coen Brothers scenarios is a remarkable confrontation with the meaning of mankind’s existence, humanity’s grappling with the unknown, and individuals’ relationships with God” (53).

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The background and the atmosphere in the movies are similar. It is almost impossible to see bright colors. The places that people live in are simple and are in the same grey and brown colors. Also, it is impossible to see much furniture or many details. However, much attention is paid to those details. The wallpapers and the picture in Barton Fink are the brightest examples of how the details can represent the inner world of people. The background of each movie is a direct reflection of the human inner world. The absence of the bright colors and luxury environment, absolutely no dynamics, and the lack of the fast shift from one situation to another are also a particular device used to highlight slow thinking processes of the main characters. It is worth highlighting that the films by Coen brothers are difficult to describe. Joel Coen also confirms this fact: in one of the interviews, he said the following:
Yeah, [Ethan Coen] likes to call it a buddy movie for the ’90s. I’m not sure what you would call it. John Turturro (who plays the title character) thinks it’s a sort of coming- of-age story. It’s like a sort of black comedy, I guess … well, there is a certain sort of somber quality to it that you wouldn’t associate with a comedy. And people might be sort of put off by it if they think they’re going to see a straight comedy. Yeah, it’s hard to describe, generically… (“Emerson” P04).
Creating very dark films in their vision, Coen brothers produce very bright examples of human inner desires and dark intentions. All these crimes are aimed at showing people as very coward and, at the same time, very cruel personalities. However, their limited vision of the world and silly performance in general create such particular movies.

In conclusion, Fargo, Barton Fink, and No Country for Old Men are the examples of the films which display the unique style of Coen brothers. Trying to exhibit simple people without any reasonable financial possibilities, Coen brothers also want to show that even ordinary and limited people can carry criminal plans in their minds. Creating the movies using black humor and pointing to them as to the neo-noir dark comedy crimes, the directors depict silly and poor people who want to get easy money. Financial success cannot be achieved without any attempts, but the main characters in Coen brothers’ films think that it is possible. Having decided to commit a crime, the protagonists in each movie described above do not think about the consequences. The particular cynicism in combination with dark humor makes the movies by Coen brothers absolutely unique. Due to the characters’ actions and the lack of brain, the situations come out of control. Without thinking of the consequences, the protagonists face numerous problems, but they do not eliminate them or solve. They just try to escape, but it is not what the brothers want to show. At the end of each movie, the characters endeavor to deliver the information that money or other material things are not the center of the life and happiness is a much simpler notion.

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