If you want to explore the spiritual world of the Coen brothers, where do you start?
Tomorrow in our interview with Cathleen Falsani, we’re going to strongly recommend that you start with her new book, “The Dude Abides.” You can grab a copy via Amazon right now through the link at right. It’s great for small groups.
But, today, I’m adding my own “best bets” for dipping your toe into the very adult, very challenging spiritual ocean of the Coens’ modern fairy tales. They’ve now produced 14 quirky feature films. I don’t think there’s any question that the Brothers Coen are going to rank with the Brothers Grimm as major collectors and re-interpreters of an entire, enduring body of cultural tales.
START WITH TWO COUPLES, TWO COPS …
AND TALES THAT WILL CHILL YOU TO THE BONE
In Cathleen Falsani’s book, she says that “No Country for Old Men” and “Fargo” are about the nature of goodness and evil in the world—a question of faith that reaches back to the most ancient myths in all of our global cultures.
I think Cathleen is right and, in fact, I go even further than she does in her book. (That’s the beauty of her book, by the way—the moment you read it, you start arguing with Cathleen.)
I think “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” are an intentionally matched set of movies.
In one film, goodness is triumphant through the wisdom and courage of Marge Gunderson, the very pregnant detective in rural Minnesota who solves one of the most twisted and brutal crime sprees ever seen in her part of the country.
In the second film, which won the Coens 4 Oscars, the equally competent detective Tom Bell in rural Texas utterly fails to resolve the brutal crime spree in his domain—and, what’s worse, has to retire before the bad guy is ever captured!
In one film, Marge Gunderson comes off as a contemporary saint, goodness triumphs—and Marge reassures us that she has known goodness would win from the very beginning. Her faith is that strong.
In the second film, evil is triumphant—even though there are strong signs that Bell also has a calm and assured faith that goodness ultimately should triumph in his world. His faith is strong, but still evil wins.
Are these two movies really a “set”?
Well, watch the opening sequences of these films—both of them open with expansive visions of rugged American landscapes and twinges of danger first emerge in the form of public-safety vehicles rolling down the highway. As Americans, the Coens are showing us, we’re all just travelers passing through these vast landscapes—good guys and bad guys together on the road.
Then, watch the closing sequences of these films—both movies close with grassroots American couples at home in unguarded moments between husbands and wives. In both cases, the couples share their spiritual wisdom—or their lack of it—with each other in the only words they know.
As if to drive home the point that these movies are linked, you’ll notice that Tom Bell talks with his wife in the final scene of “No Country” at the kitchen table—with a wooden bird sitting at his elbow. I think it’s a pretty obvious wink to viewers who recall that Marge’s husband in “Fargo” populated their world and their kitchen table with the wooden birds he loved to paint.
Two families. Related to each other—just as all of us are spiritually connected by basic truths in daily living.
Sometimes faith and goodness triumph. Sometimes evil wins. And what continues? The families and their spiritual wonderment. Evil may be barreling down the same highways we travel every day. But families continue. We abide in faith.
Well, that’s one interpretation of these 2 movies. By the time Cathleen gets done analyzing these films, she invokes far more heavy-duty theology than I’m sketching here. She references H. Richard Niebuhr and Flannery O’Connor among others.
So, come back tomorrow for an in-depth interview with Cathleen!
THREE MORE ON OUR
COEN SHORT LIST
Oh, what else should you see to start sampling the Brothers Coen?
My other three “must-see” picks for starting to dabble in this rich spiritual realm?
“Miller’s Crossing,” a historical drama about the Irish mob during Prohibition.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” which sparked the recent revival in Southern “Old Time” music.
And, the new “A Serious Man,” which you can learn more about in Monday’s story.
BUT PLEASE, Email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think about the Coens’ films—or, if you haven’t seen any of their films, tell us about a movie that sparks spiritual reflection for you!
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)