Coen Brothers

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Coens
Two different people? Maybe. We don't think so.
“I'd like to see the Coen brothers cast Steve Buscemi in one of their films.”
~ Captain Oblivious on The Coen Brothers
“Oh yeah? That's just, like, your opinion, man.”
~ The Dude on The Coen Brothers

The Coen Brothers are a pair of brothers from Minnesota that make movies about fringe American cultural stereotypes and their botched crimes. Though there are two distinct brothers, there is actually only one shared brain between them. In fact, if you kill one of them, the films the surviving brother will make won't be any different than if you hadn't.

The Brothers

Joel is the older, controlling brother. He is identical to younger brother Ethan in every way, except that he usually hoardes the directing credit to himself and makes Ethan take producing credit, making him look dumb.[1] For unknown reasons, Joel is married to the only actress the brothers are aware of, Frances McDormand.

Film conceit

Cinematic Style

If a Stanley Kubrick movie had relations with an Alfred Hitchcock movie and they had a child, but they abandoned it and it grew up by itself watching Buster Keaton and Humphrey Bogart, it would be a Coen brother's movie.

The camera, as though it were an incidental character itself, whips, zooms, traipses, saunters and meanders all around every scene like a party crasher that everyone just ignores. It is often frustratingly just out of position to see the important action taking place, causing you to have to think while watching instead of just open your gaping mouth for the giant movie spoon.

Dialog

The boys are known for their dark, humorous dialog, such as:

CHIGURH: What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?
GAS STATION MAN: I don't know.

This exchange from No Country For Old Men had them rolling in the aisles.

They are also fond of snappy, over-the-top, Noir-style dialog. For example, in 2001's brooding The Man Who Wasn't There, a man in a white suit approaches Billy Bob Thornton's laconic noir-soaked barber character, Ed. Here is the exchange between the two characters:

MAN: Hello!
ED: Hello.

This showcases the brothers' uniquely artful ear for dialog, delicately oozing with poignant melodrama and subtle intrigue.

Shutthefuckup
Eventually, Donny does finally shut the fuck up.
Chigurh
A cautionary tale: don't botch your drug deals.

Another trademark feature of their dialog is the shrewd juxtaposition of the vulgar and the sublime, as here in The Big Lebowski:

DONNY: Walter, what's a... pederast?
WALTER: Shut the fuck up, Donny.

Their dialog is always informed by the colorful metaphors of the yokels they happen to be stereotyping. For example, in Fargo, Minnesota State Police Sargeant Marge Gunderson addresses her sidekick, Lou:

MARGE: Aw, jeez.
LOU: Ya.

Themes

Botched Crime

The Coen brothers have never met a botched crime they could not regale with their cinematic vision. On their website, the Coens are always accepting fan submissions on new ideas for things that can be botched and the unexplored cultural stereotypes that can botch them.

Indestructible evil

The Coen brothers' films are steeped in a post-modern pathos - that evil will always be with us and cannot be vanquished. Though well represented in various ways in Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Barton Fink, this pathos finds culmination in the character of Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men. Chigurh demonstrates the uncontrollable inevitability of godless, random chaos by leaving his victims' fates up to a coin toss.[2]

Americana and Regional Stereotype

The Coens reportedly will not stop until they have represented in elitist condescending stereotype every possible facet of American fringe culture. One wonders if there is a limit to the number of overdone regional accents Frances McDormand and John Turturro can affect, but so far they have been unstoppable.

Filmography

Fargo-chipper
A typical Coen-brothers yokel, botching something.

Blood Simple, 1984: Botched murder.

Raising Arizona, 1987: Botched kidnapping.

Miller's Crossing, 1990: Botched gangtser caper.[3]

Barton Fink, 1991: Botched screenwriting caper?[4]

The Hudsucker Proxy, 1994: Botched corporate corruption.[5]

Fargo, 1996: Botched ransom scheme.[6]

The Big Lebowski, 1998: Botched kidnapping plot.[7]

O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2000: Botched prison escape.[8]

The Man Who Wasn't There, 2001: Botched blackmail scheme.[9]

Intolerable Cruelty, 2003: Botched romance.[10]

(sensing a theme here, yet?)
The Ladykillers, 2004: Botched casino heist.

No Country For Old Men, 2007: Botched drug deal.

Burn After Reading, 2008: Botched blackmailing of CIA 'shit'.

A Serious Man, 2009: Botched marriage.

True Grit, 2010: Botched revenge.

As can be seen from this list, there is a wide variety of things that can be botched,[11] and the Coens are intent on making a film about every single one of them. And as long as Frances McDormand and John Turturro have breath, they just might do it.[12]

Footnotes

  1. Because everyone but Ethan Coen knows producers are dumb.
  2. He learned this technique from NFL overtime rules.
  3. Steve Buscemi dies by gunshot.
  4. Steve Buscemi dies by fire.
  5. Steve Buscemi dies somehow.
  6. Steve Buscemi dies by axe/woodchipper.
  7. Steve Buscemi dies by cardiac arrest.
  8. Steve Buscemi, where art thou?
  9. Steve Buscemi wasn't there.
  10. Actually this is a botched filmmaking effort, but...
  11. "Botched" is a funny word, isn't it?
  12. It is also a possibility that the Coens will eventually create a film in which Steve Buscemi does not die. We can all hope...
Filmmakers of the World
Epic Visionaries

Ingmar Bergman | Peter Bogdanovich | Robert Bresson | Charlie Chaplin | Coen Brothers | Cecil B. De Mille | Clint Eastwood | Federico Fellini | John Ford | D.W. Griffith | Alfred Hitchcock | Abbas Kiarostami | Sergio Leone | Martin Scorsese | Steven Spielberg | Andrei Tarkovsky | Orson Welles | James Cameron | Akira Kurosawa

Not-So-Epic Visionaries

Michael Bay | Tim Burton | Ken Burns | John Carpenter | Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer | Mel Gibson | Tom Green | Spike Lee | George Lucas | Dolph Lundgren | McG | Michael Moore | Leonard Nimoy | Guy Ritchie | George Romero | Joel Schumacher | M. Night Shyamalan | Alan Smithee | Billy Bob Thornton | Tommy Wiseau | John Woo | Ed Wood | Rob Zombie

Highly Respected in France

Woody Allen | Michelangelo Antonioni | Darren Aronofsky | Mel Brooks | Sofia Coppola | Jean-Luc Godard | Jim Jarmusch | Charlie Kaufman | Jerry Lewis | David Lynch | Nicolas Winding Refn | Rob Schneider | Remi Gaillard | Lars von Trier

Highly Confusing in Japan
Terry Gilliam | Akira Kurosawa | Russ Meyer | Quentin Tarantino
Highly Disturbing in Mexico

Guillermo del Toro

Highly Racist in Suid-Afrika

Neill Blomkamp

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