The brothers coen: unique characteristics of violence
The book is a study of the works of Ethan and Joel Coen; it examines violence as a theme running through the work of the brothers. The chapters look at the thoughts, motives and actions of the main characters in every one of the Coen’s films. Their films depict a world in which violence has devastating consequences not just on the characters who live by violence but on those characters who are bystanders to other people’s violence. The book covers all of the Coens’ films apart from A Serious Man which came out in 2009.
The films by the brothers combine wry humor, eccentricity, arch irony and brutal violence. The brothers made their debut into the movie industry with the movie Blood Simple which earned a lot of critical acclaim. It was significant in establishing the brothers as original and fresh talent. Raising Arizona led to even greater acclaim as did Miller’s Crossing and Fink. Joel earned Best Director award and a Golden Palm for the movie Fink. The movie was heavily stylized and the brothers were especially successful at creating an appropriate atmosphere for it. Violence and unstoppable evil seem to be concurrent themes in most of the movies for instance in The Hudsucker Proxy, the plot begins with the suiced of Waring Hudscuker, in the Laydkillers, many characters meet their death as they try to dispose of an elderly woman. Fargo is one of the more graphic films of the Coens in which several characters are assaulted or die. Most of this is portrayed on the screen, one scene is extremely graphic where a character’s body is put into a wood chipper. Burn After Reading has some comedy but there is also grim violence when Brad Pitt’s character is shot in the face. Another character in the same movie also gets hacked to death using a hatchet. Unstoppable evil recurs often in the brothers’ work. A good example of this is No Country for Old Men where Anton Chigurh wreaks considerable havoc without being stopped in most of the movie.
The movie the Hudsucker was somewhat a commercial and critical disappointment. It however had the same stylized post modern irony that endeared the brothers to their audience. The Fargo however is lauded as one of the rare movies where everything connected. In this movie, the theme of violence like in all others is present but it has the quality of creating characters who are wholly natural something that the author argues lacked in the Hudsucker. The themes of violence, greed and crime are present.
The fears, introspections and motivations of the characters in the Coens’ movies have been largely portrayed by use of dream sequences. Raizing Arizona has several dream sequences. The first movie, Blood Simple also has a dream sequence while No Country for Old Men ends as a character describes a vivid dream. One of their lighter works, the Big Lebowski also has a dream sequence that is very well-known. In addition to revealing the motivations of characters the dream sequences may also have the purpose of foreshadowing the film’s progression and reflecting on events that have already occurred in the movie.
The style of filming adopted by the brothers as described by the book is one that pays tribute to the movie genres of the classic American period. The films are able to combine the classical American genre with a postmodern feel. The creation of atmosphere is one of the most notable things about the Coens’ movies. Most of their movies have their settings in the past or have assumed a convention of nostalgic genres such as the film nor and screwball comedies of the 1940s and 1930s. The brothers are usually careful in their recreation of a time period regardless of recent it is. The Big Lebowski is a case in point; it was set some eight years before it was released but the brothers paid special attention to the fashion of the day and the current events at the time. The use of classic American music styles is common for example country, folk and roots gospel. Most of the settings have remained within the United States, with few forays into other countries such as in the movie No Country for Old Men where there is a brief departure into the country of Mexico.
All of the movies by the Coen brothers also have social commentary lurking somewhere beneath the surface. Most seem to be dealing with the desensitization to violence in America and the cold nature of people especially as they greedily pursue what they think is going to make them happy. Perhaps this is why the movies are largely set in America to not only entertain but also to provide a mirror through which the American nation can see itself.
Doom, Ryan P. The Brothers Coen: Unique Characters of Violence. ABC-CLIO, 2009. ISBN: 0313355983, 9780313355981