This past March marked the first ever Academy Award win – yes, first ever – for acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins! It was a long deserved win for his magnificently neon-drenched work on Blade Runner 2049, and one that came four days on the heels of the 22nd anniversary of his understated work on the Coen brother’s Fargo; a film that garnered him a nomination, and a win for Joel Coen (Best Screenplay). Join Set the Tape’s own staff writers Jenn Reid and Greg Mucci as they bundle up to discuss pancakes and the frozen, blood strewn landscape of the Coen’s classic neo-noir, Fargo.
Greg: Alright, let’s scrape the ice off this Coen Brothers film!
Jenna: The first thing I noticed (after not having seen this in like a decade) is how late in the film Frances McDormand shows up. I was like, “isn’t she a lead? What’s taking so long?”
G: For a film that’s shy of 2 hours, the Coen’s take their time with their characters, and it’s something I now appreciate more and more. Like a ten minute segment where her character meets an old high school friend that has nothing to do with the central story? I love it!
J: It’s been so long since I’ve seen this that I’ve forgotten quite a bit from this.
G: Oh god yeah, probably over a decade for me. I don’t remember laughing this much. It’s alarmingly funny at times!
J: It’s definitely funny! I was cracking up the most at Steve Buscemi refusing to shut up in the car, although Margie’s commitment to food was equally hilarious. Like, there have been a dozen murders and she’s like “Yeah I’ll get to that, no rush. Where’s the nearest Arbys?”
G: I love how much they consume, because their relationship is sort of all-consuming. I mean, everyone else really despises each other. Jerry hated his wife. Carl hated Gaear.
J: Yeah! Marge and Norm have possibly the best movie marriage. And I think it all ties together at the end too when she’s like “there’s so much more to life!” like her life might look boring or simple to an outsider but she has a loving relationship and is genuinely good at her job, who cares about the rest?
G: Oh, as a committed homebody, I relate to their relationship. I would also totally be the one to stumble out of bed at the crack of dawn to make eggs.
J: That’s sweet! I’m not getting up at 6 am for anyone; they can make their own damn eggs!
G: Aw, hopefully someone will be your egg maker!
J: Maybe that’s what you need in a relationship, one person to be the egg maker and one to be the badass career lady
G: That’s a really sweet way to look at it! It’s definitely why Carl and Gaear didn’t get along; he was so against stopping for a second helping of pancakes. Which, by the way, I completely relate to; that urge for pancakes. I’m not a psychopath or anything, but I caught a glimpse of myself in him.
J: They were driving for hours! Stopping at a diner for all-day breakfast is what you’re *suppose* to do
G: Right?! I feel like Carl and Gaear represent two distinct gender stereotypes. Carl just wants to talk, while Gaear just wants to eat. Their relationship is such a contrast to Norm and Marge, who are a cohesive unit that works as a team and in the end, lives life as a team, versus the reckless marriage that ends with one in a wood-chipper
J: That’s an interesting way to look at it. I definitely think of Carl and Gaear as an odd couple. If they were with different partners (or even going it alone) things might not have blown up as spectacularly as it did. It’s like a comedy of errors, but the errors are all murder.
G: Oh, totally! It’s as if for every plate of food Marge consumes, Carl and Gaear take a life. Their similarity, aside from their sociopathic behavior, is their temper. Each one just held onto it differently. In the end, Gaear has a total of 18 lines of dialogue, versus Carl’s 150 or so.
J: Gaear would hold it in until he exploded, whereas Carl just couldn’t control himself in any way. Also, Steve Buscemi is a national treasure. Just want to get that out there.
G: Oh, Buscemi is a goddamn icon! I bought a shirt with his face on it off Etsy while I was watching this. I’ve never done that for any actor.
J: That is amazing and I need that shirt!
G: I loved the two women they pick up, describing him as the little fella who looks weird. It’s the only descriptor they can give Marge, and it’s absolutely perfect.
J: Yes! And then the old man shovelling snow says basically the same thing, “a little guy, kind of funny looking.”
G: Apparently the Coen’s wrote Carl with Buscemi in mind, which is pretty brilliant.
J: Do you think you’d read the script and see that everyone calls you funny looking and be like “oh great…. thanks guys…..”
G: I’m sure Buscemi has perfected the art of embracing that. I think that’s part of Buscemi’s charm: he knows his own characteristics that make his characters tick, and uses them as an actor to such an advantage. I mean in The Big Lebowski, he plays a character who barely says anything, but that ownership that comes from that face is so crucial to understanding Donny.
J: I’ve never actually seen The Big Lebowski…*but anyway* ignoring that minor gap in my film knowledge…
G: Wait *record scratch* what? Well, at least we know what we’re watching next!
J: I have somehow made it to 2018 without seeing it! I don’t know how.
G: If that’s something you’re proud of, I don’t want to be the one who deters you from taking that to your grave.
J: No, the one I’m trying to see how long I can go without ever actually seeing is The Wizard of Oz.
G: I need a minute…
J: Okay, my bad. Take some time.
G: Okay I’m good, but I’m also jealous. I would love to see that for the first time.
J: Unless I hate it! Who knows!
G: Only time will tell…time, will tell. But was there anything specific that you really related to within any of the characters?
J: Oh, Jerry for sure! I think the relatability was just, the fear of admitting the truth. All he had to do at any time was just *talk* to people and admit he fucked up but instead he’s like “what if I staged a kidnapping!” I’ve never done that exactly, but I’ve totally done something stupid and tried to hide it only to come out looking even more stupid. I mean, how do you even arrive at fake kidnapping anyways? Why not just poison the father in law so the inheritance goes to wife?
G: Yeah, it’s kind of fudged from the very beginning. He even meets Carl and Gaear in a relatively packed bar. Not a good start! But I love the shots of the Paul Bunyan statue because it cuts to this small man who couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations placed on him for simply living in a town that’s home to one of the strongest men in history. And by history I mean folklore…
J: Yeah, the Paul Bunyan thing was interesting! It’s like this quintessential masculine lumberjack staring down at a spineless car salesman and a couple of hapless criminals.
G: The thing that I love about Roger Deakins’ cinematography here is that it’s relatively understated, in that everything in this sparse town is framed perfectly. A lot of the shots are pulled back, but we never feel like we’re searching for a focal point.
J: It really is perfect! I briefly forgot it was Deakins’ until there were a few incredible shots. Then you get these wide shots where it’s all white and snowy and then a tiny person in the distance. Like there’s so much more out there, or as marge says there’s so much more to life, but these little people in the frame are just focused on themselves.
G: Excellent point! This is easy to see, since you can feel their survival in a sort of desolate place like this. That for me is what’s relatable about Jerry, is that fight or flight instinct that comes up, and he’s fighting it in all the wrong ways, and by the end after he has nothing left, he finally flees. But the scope and depth that Deakins’ brings to Fargo adds to the minuscule nature of its characters, as if they are continually lost in this white out, looking for a way to make it. Norm and Marcy make it off the love for each other; everyone else sort of freezes to death, metaphorically speaking.
J: Yeah, and the long harsh winter makes people crazy too! They all got seasonal affective disorder or cabin fever and have to find a way out. The location does so much work for the film – it’s harsh and desolate and remote and creates the kind of people you see here.
G: Yeah, though I never really got the sense of like, extreme isolation, because a lot of the characters are centred amongst objects or people. There’s a sense of communication that I feel is developed really well, and in a relatively short time.
J: Can we talk about the accents? I feel like there should be a discussion on these accents. I don’t know if I truly believe they are real. Do people really talk like this? Or was it completely exaggerated? I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Minnesotan or North Dakotan. Also, people will mimic this accent when mocking Canadians and I’m like, “Fargo is you guys!!! Sarah Palin is you!!! Not us! Leave our Canadian accents out of this!”
G: I think that Minnesotans were insulted in regards to its depiction, though I also don’t know any real Minnesotans. But I think it’s supposed to feel exaggerated. It adds to the surreal nature of the crime, and its location, which to the outside world is some sort of abstract tundra.
J: But it’s now the standard depiction of Minnesotans and they’ve got three seasons of a TV show doing the same thing! We’ve all just generally accepted the Fargo accent as real.
G: I think there is a truth to it, to a point, but it’s stretched as thin as it can go for comedic value, which is necessary to cut the brooding and dark crime angle.
J: Do you think it would have been the same with a different accent? Like even an over the top southern accent or a Boston one. Did it need to be this strange dialect to have the comedic effect?
G: I think so, mainly because it isn’t necessarily about the accent itself but the fabrication and exaggeration of it. I feel like it’s similarly done with Snatch, where it places this cockney accent on its head for laughs.
J: That’s a good point. I always thought that because this accent was so unfamiliar (to most, anyway) it really cut in differently. Like, you aren’t expecting people to sound like this.
G: Oh exactly! I mean, its landscape is such a strange land to many. It acts like a foreign film at times. It’s a world that’s filled with foreign sounds and this bazaar mystery, even though the Coen’s aren’t interested in uncovering the mysteries, just the people.
J: True! I think you mentioned before that you didn’t love this as much as others. Do you still feel that way? Or have you accepted that this movie is pretty flawless?
G: Oh it’s perfect! It’s an incredibly tight film, with zero excess to it. I can’t think of a single ounce that I would trim. I really do love it, despite its at times bleak, bleak story.
J: Very, and I agree that there is nothing excessive and missing that should be there. It really is insane how good this is, and how good the Coen’s continue to be.