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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hollywood Rewind | Fargo: A masterclass on dealing with cinematic contradictions

Fargo won many accolades post its release, including seven Academy Award nominations, out of which it bagged two — for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. And once you are twenty minutes into the movie, you will know why.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi | Published: May 16, 2020 6:40:54 am
coen brothers Fargo released in 1996 and was helmed by Joel Coen.

A tired, timid husband wants his rich wife kidnapped in order to extort some money from his father-in-law. He hires two criminals, but they are not what they seem at all. Things begin to fall apart when a heavily pregnant cop called Marge (Frances McDormand) is asked to investigate the case. Naturally, chaos ensues. And in the most hilarious, thrilling ways. Were you able to guess the film? The movie’s success inspired a show of the same name, and it currently streams on Netflix. Yes, I am talking about Fargo. The highly acclaimed dark comedy by Joel and Ethan Coen. (Interesting trivia: Lead actor Dormand is married to filmmaker Joel Coen in real life.)

Fargo won many accolades post its release, including seven Academy Award nominations, out of which it bagged two — for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. And once you are twenty minutes into the movie, you will know why. Barely spanning one-and-a-half hours, Fargo is a tightly scripted film which subverts stereotypes about cop movies and female cops in general. This becomes evident a while after you start watching the film. Because, let us be honest, Marge is not your quintessential ‘sexy’ female police officer, with perfect hair and a perfect body. In fact, she is with child. Her appearance is that of a woman who takes her job seriously, but not herself. And that is definitely attractive. But she is not on the celluloid to look pretty, she has a job at hand — to catch the bad guys. Marge is ‘normal’, rooted in reality. She is warm and affable and fends off flirtations with polite remarks. But that doesn’t mean she takes things lying down. She seems like a fun person you might want to hang out with if you were to run into her in the neighbourhood, and she is forgiving of her partner’s artistic failures. All in all, Marge is a walking contradiction. But director Joel Coen and actor Frances McDormand make her believable, a person extraordinary in her ordinariness.

Now a bit about the actor who plays Marge. To state that McDormand was wonderful as Marge seems a little underwhelming and repetitive. But really, that is the first word that strikes my mind when I think of her portrayal. It was wholesome and wonderful — like a good meal. Of course, since this is ultimately a thriller, there is some gore involved. But nowhere near Quentin Tarantino levels. There is a police chase, some blood and a few witty one-liners, but everything is suffused with elements of dark comedy. You fear yet you laugh. Like its lead heroine, Fargo also works best when it is playing with paradoxes.

Hollywood Rewind: The Virgin Suicides | The Breakfast Club | Enchanted | Walk the Line | Blood Diamond | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Mortal Kombat | Bridges of Madison County | Edward Scissorhands | Breakfast at Tiffany’s | She’s Gotta Have It | Ever After | The Devil Wears Prada | The Matrix | Creed | Mulan | Ratatouille | Shutter Island | Her | Dead Poets Society | Sleepless in Seattle | Waitress | Pride and Prejudice | The Dark Knight | Before Sunset | School of Rock | About a Boy | A Few Good Men | 50/50 | Begin Again | Brooklyn | Drive | Chocolat | Batman Begins | 10 Things I Hate About You | The Departed | Freedom Writers | Pretty Woman | Dan in Real Life | Jurassic Park | TangledMeet Joe Black | Monster’s Ball | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | You’ve Got Mail | Half Nelson | Fight Club | Doubt | American Psycho | Julie and Julia | Forrest Gump | The Silence of the Lambs | Finding Neverland | Roman Holiday| American History X | Tropic Thunder | Before Sunrise | Scent of a Woman | Finding Forrester | Sixteen Candles

And since we are talking of contradictions, here is something the makers admitted in earlier interviews — the movie also parodies true-crime genre. After all, its opening credits read, “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” This was of course largely proven false when people started searching about it on the internet. However, years later, the Coen brothers confessed that a small portion of the film was inspired by real-world happenings. (I will leave you to find which bits.)

And lastly, 100 points to cinematographer Roger Deakins for his pristine, stunning camera work. The idea of a snow-filled Minnesota and a splash of some unintentional blood onto its landscape is a scary, dangerous thought. But that was somehow moulded into art by the deft hands of the Coen brothers and their team. An unlikely achievement.

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