Sunday, September 28, 2008
SPOILERS FOR SEVERAL COEN BROS MOVIES
This isn't a noir month entry, but it fits in nicely. I hadn't seen the Coen Bros' debut in a long time, probably not since high school. And I think I have to re-evaluate my opinion of it from being really damn good to it being really damn great.
One thing about the Coens: they haven't really changed or matured much as artists since they began. That's not a criticism, it's just that they debuted as great filmmakers, and little has changed since then. Blood Simple feels exactly in step with the rest of their films, the only noticable difference being the budget. It has the clever dialogue, the dark humor, the bleak/cynical worldview, the visual style, the skill with creating tension, the absurdly over-complicated plot. And it's all done every bit as well as they do it today.
I haven't looked into it, but I'm guessing the Coens are not particularly religious guys. I mean, O Brother Where Art Thou? does have kind of a spiritual message, but look at the rest of their films. It seems like a pretty godless universe. They can be unbelievably cruel to their characters, and fairness has no place. Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading all essentially tell the same story. There is a complicated plot, and each player only understands a small part of it. And because everyone has a limited perspective, they are inclined towards actions that damn themselves and everyone else around them, even if they themselves are innocent. In their thrillers, this means a lot of unneccesary death.
It's right there from the beginning of their career, perfectly apparent in Blood Simple, where several people die because they've misunderstood the motivations of other characters. In fact, one character thinks they've killed one person, when they've actually killed another, who they didn't even realize existed. The final shots, a dying man's POV of the bottom of a sink, have a chilly almost nihilism to them: What a stupid, stupid way to die. Is this all a human life adds up to?
It's the same with Chad in Burn After Reading or any of Chigurh's victims in No Country For Old Men. One minute you're minding your busniess, and the next minute your dead, and for no good reason. And there might not be much more to life than that.