Blog Directory CineVerse: Why Marge matters...and Jerry, Carl and the Coens, too

Why Marge matters...and Jerry, Carl and the Coens, too

Thursday, June 9, 2016

No moss has grown on "Fargo" over the past 20 years – the film is still entertaining, relevant, bitingly comical, and refreshingly different from mainstream cinema. At least, these were among the opinions shared by members of our CineVerse film discussion group last evening after viewing the Coen brothers' 1996 masterwork all these years later. What makes "Fargo" tick? Consider these points:

It sets itself up as a true crime thriller, even with the title card that it is based on a true story, with names changed to protect the innocent. However, it unfolds as a very unconventional and unpredictable take on this subgenre, using humor, irony, and flawed but fascinating characters to tell its story.
Some of the violence that should be disturbing and grisly becomes funny—such as when Carl is shot in the face, his partner pushes down Carl’s severed foot in the wood chipper, Shep Proudfoot whips Carl, Jerry’s wife stumbles around blindly in the shower curtain, etc.
Marge is the complete opposite of a traditional heroic protagonist: she’s female, pregnant, and not exactly Sherlock Holmes like in her crime-solving skills, although she proves to be intuitive and smarter than audiences might have expected. She isn’t a wisecracking gumshoe detective with a sordid past; actually, she’s polite and contented. She also leads a very simple, Monday and life with her ordinary Joe husband, whose major accomplishment is getting one of his artistic works on the three cents stamp.
Jerry and Carl, while capable of great evil, are depicted as petty and pathetic villains whose greed and selfishness obscures their ability to properly plan a crime. The bad guys in this movie bungle just about everything, which contradicts the unwritten rule in the crime thriller that the antagonist should be shrewd, elusive and diabolically intelligent. Ironically, Jerry comes across as somewhat sympathetic, despite being cruel and heartless in his motivations, which are to flee with the cash and abandon his wife to violence and death and abandon his son. Carl, meanwhile, provides much of the comic relief in this film, despite being a dangerous criminal.
The setting is one that is almost never chosen in mainstream Hollywood movies; the cold, bleak wild expanse of North Dakota and Minnesota. Also, the regional dialect is one rarely used in movies.
The movie also contains quirky subplots and digressions, such as Marge meeting up with an Asian former schoolmate.
This picture also contains a MacGuffin – it is never explained why Jerry needs the money.
Many crime thrillers contain gratuitous nudity or at least erotic scenes; “Fargo” has minimal sex scenes, and these are decidedly unsexy.
The dialogue is often quite clumsy and stilted—like real life; this is not a film with clever quips and one-liners.
Also, the title is completely misleading, as nothing actually occurs in Fargo, North Dakota; most of the action happens in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Marge has wrapped up the case, and she and Norm can look forward to their forthcoming baby and celebrating the fact that his art has been chosen for a minor stamp. However, these victories appear rather humdrum, unglamorous and anticlimactic.
However, consider that the villains, despite all their planning and efforts, were not successful. Their pursuit of “a little bit of money”, according to Marge, was futile and destructive. Marge cannot understand their petty and materialistic motivations. At the end of the movie, we are left watching a scene of simplistic domestic bliss, which may appear like a boring reward or vindication to us. But it’s an affirmation of the abiding power of simple people and the affection they share.
Marge and Norm are the characters left to inherit the ending of the movie. They are like the 3-cent stamps—often overlooked, not as important or sexy as the full-postage stamp, but they can serve a significant purpose when needed. Likewise, the message here could be that the meek shall inherit the earth.
Another theme could be that ignorance is bliss: Marge and Norm may be unflappable Midwesterners, and their tastes may be relatively plain and simple, but they appear happy.

Blood Simple
Raising Arizona
Miller’s Crossing
Barton Fink 
The Big Lebowski
O Brother Where Art Thou
No Country for Old Men
True Grit

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