In case you were wondering what my childhood was like (I know you totally were), let’s just say that growing up my mom used to giggle whenever she saw a wood chipper and would ask “Who are we going to put in there?” a la Fargo, one of her favorite films of all-time. While she’s a very mommyish-mom most of the time, always trying to get you to “Eat something!”, worrying if you’re even a minute late, knitting baby blankets “Just in case!”, you put on Fargo and she has a decidedly non-Mom reaction and immediately begins giggling, totally undisturbed by the film’s graphic violence and vulgar language.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) needs cash. He knows his father-in-law has it, but also knows he won’t give it to him so he concocts a plan to have two hired goons (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) kidnap his wife so they can split the ransom money paid by his father-in-law. However, a criminal mastermind Jerry is not, and the plan quickly goes awry, with the body count climbing, and it takes one cop (Frances McDormand) to piece it all together. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won for Best Original Screenplay and Best Lead Actress (McDormand).
This film is a great study in how people aren’t always what they seem. At first glance, Jerry appears to be the average family man, the last guy you would expect to put his wife in such a dangerous situation only to scam some money out of her father. Marge Gunderson, with her thick accent and pregnant belly, doesn’t look like someone who could solve a multiple homicide case. Marge’s former classmate Mike seems nice at first but is revealed to be a total nutjob. The Midwest itself is a character, and with their pleasant people and small town values, doesn’t seem like the kind of place where such brutal actions could take place.
Another major theme is how greed destroys all who succumb to it. Jerry clearly has a comfortable life financially but is constantly trying to come up with schemes to get a little more and a little more. While he never dreamed that his kidnapping plot would end the way it did, he still was willing to terrify his wife and child, initially, for only $40,000, only to greedily up his part of the ransom to $960,000 when telling his father-in-law the kidnappers’ demands. When Jerry tries to comfort his son after his wife’s kidnapping, it is clear he thought of nothing but the money and seems surprised by his son’s distress. His delusions of grandeur are crystal clear as the whole situation slips out of his control on all fronts.
Buscemi and Stormare’s Carl and Gaear are also undone by greed. When Carl receives the ransom, he is surprised to see it is for a million dollars when he wasn’t even expecting 100 grand. He hides the extra money from his partner Gaear, only to lose his life when they bicker over who gets the car Jerry provided them, leaving all that money lost in the snow. The only characters that are unconcerned with money are Marge and Norm, who have a simple but sweet life. Marge’s speech to Gaear about how silly it was to bring all that pain for such a small pay-off is a great denouncement.
While the Coen Brothers are very well respected by the industry, they like to fuck with people. The beginning of Fargo proclaims the film is based on a true story, this is a lie. It’s that attitude that permeates their films They show people at their ugliest but they do it with a wink so you know they don’t think we’re all bad. Fargo is among their most respected films and is definately a must-see for all film buffs. However, be careful to avoid the TNT censored version, which replaces f bombs with words like “frozen” and “funny” making the dialogue laughable.