by Victoria H
You cannot help but feel cold when you watch Fargo. It is not only the beautiful shots of the barren winter North Dakota landscape that brings the chill. Rather it is the engaging story that the Coen brothers weave in this winter landscape that causes you to fall into the story and feel the cold winter with the characters.
The film starts out with a disclaimer to let the audience know that all the events are true, and out of respect for the ‘survivors’ the names have been changed. This sets the stage for drama, mystery and violence. Yet the following shot is simple and unassuming – a whiteout blizzard in the Midwest United States. This juxtaposition leaves the audience wondering what violence could truly have happened in such a barren and unassuming landscape. It is this juxtaposition that draws the audience in right from the beginning.
The Coen brothers take big risks in this film that pay off. Taking a simple narrative of a middle class man wanting to pay off his significant debt, the Coen brothers twist and turn the story into something original, surprising and engaging. Yet the film is more that the gruesome and violent crimes it follows. The Coens couple it with midwestern charm allowing the film to be a dark comedy rather than solely a drama. As it is the Midwestern charm, with tons of ‘you betchas’, and ‘oh jeez’, that gives even the darker moments a comedic lightness. This sly use of midwestern speech is the source of much of the comedy and lightness in this film noir.
Fargo returns crime to where it actually dwells with the hotheads, bullies, and scatterbrains. Rather than being criminal masterminds (which have become the norm in Hollywood crimes), Fargo’s criminals are men of limited wits and few morals. This is much closer to the reality of criminals. It is this truth to reality that makes the film ‘believable’ as true. Moreover the film relates itself to reality by indulging in the bland and often idiotic daily routines. These routines are then contrasted with the violence and drama. This helps the audience to further relate to characters and the film itself. This relationship to reality, gives the film the credence of truth, which makes the tale it weaves believable.
It is not just the story or script that gives life to this film. The actors all do marvellous jobs of bringing the truth of their characters to screen. In particular, Frances McDormand as our main protagonist Marge truly shines. Her Oscar for the role is well deserved.
Fargo captured both critics and audiences with its release in 1996. This popularity is why 18 years after its release the Coen Brothers revisited the film to create a television series. And so the legacy of Fargo lives on today. Not all films can say they age so well.