Fargo (Coen, Coen, 1996)

There are startling thematic similarities between Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo and their latest film No Country for Old Men, a unique coupling since each takes such a different stylistic approach toward storytelling. Fargo, drenched in cartoonish black comedy, charts the tragic downward spiral of a planned crime, using the bleak, epic whites of the North Dakota snowfall to signify a world bleached of morality. On the other hand, No Country for Old Men sternly focuses on the violent aftermath of a chance occurrence with a dusty, foreboding mise-en-scene, typical of the layered and studied approach to the consequences represented. While each takes a path down a different road to Neo-noir hell, they end up with the same disturbing thesis. Fargo finishes with Frances McDormand’s pregnant police chief asking psycho mute Peter Stormare why he’s murdered so many people. No Country ends in a similar close-up of police chief Tommy Lee Jones contemplating a haunting dream of his dead father, which comes after questioning the heinous nature of Javier Bardem’s ruthless killer. They are afforded no easy answers. As if a part of two separate but equal parallel universes, the scenes speak to a Coen brother’s theme which keeps popping up; the impotence felt by modern day law enforcement officers toward comprehending the viscousness of their criminal counterparts, and an overall questioning of their role as protector/parent. Both McDormand’s Marge Gunderson and Jones’ Ed Tom Bell want to believe they can stem off evil from their respective environments, and the tragedy of both films lies in the personal and silent moments when each honorable servant of the law realize they can’t.

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