Souls at hazard
Although the Coen brothers have tried their hand at wildly different genres, their filmography remains very homogeneous. Their distinctive visual style is certainly a unifying factor, but there are thematic constants as well.
In this video essay, Tim Klobuchar charts the parallels between Fargo (1996) and No Country For Old Men (2007). He focuses on the cops that are the emotional anchors of these two movies: Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Klobuchar lets these characters (and the movies) speak for themselves and amongst themselves; there’s no voice over narration by the essayist.
The thematic parallels are obvious, but this comes as no surprise. Both these movies are Neo-Westerns, and revisit many of the classic themes of the Western. Wilderness versus civilization, law and order versus chaos, expertise and experience… These are all recurring themes within many Westerns, as identified by film theorist Jim Kitses in his Horizons West (1). It stands to reason that they would also pop up in these Neo-Westerns.
The strength of this video essay lies more in the way it elegantly blends scenes from both movies. In addition to the thematic similarities, this approach also unearths visual and structural (narrative) echoes. Klobuchar uses parallel editing (cross cutting) to make his point, and reveals visual motifs in side-by-side comparisons. Finally, its leisurely pace and moody use of music and dialogue nicely capture the atmosphere of the Coens’ movies: the form of this video essay is very much part of its message.
(1) Kitses, Jim. Horizons West: Directing The Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood. London: British Film Institute, 2004.