Minnesota and Hollywood: The Coen Brothers

by Max Carlson

Minnesota should be proud of making a significant impact in film in Hollywood these past few decades. I’m talking about the remarkable work of the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel. They were born and raised in Minneapolis and went to school at St. Louis Park High School. Their mother works at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Their very first movie, Blood Simple (1984), is grainy and low-budget but it is also a small masterpiece. It’s all about adultery and murder: the kind of stuff that allegedly makes a good movie. Blood Simple is kind of a rough film but, when watching it, one can see how the Coens really can make something stylistic and interesting. It was recently re-released and may be in theaters anywhere.

Raising Arizona (1987) is what really put the Coen brothers on the map. It’s a slapstick comedy about a married couple (Nicholas Cage as an ex-con and Holly Hunter as an ex-cop) who are unable to have children so they decide to kidnap one. It’s a slapstick comedy and is also very touching. The emotions expressed by these colorful characters (especially Holly Hunter) are a bit overdone, but I have the feeling this is very intentional and it just adds to the hilarity.

Then came their biggest hit, Fargo (1996). It’s a very witty film and it captures the desolation of the harsh Minnesota winters perfectly, along with bittersweet observations about Minnesota culture. Fargo, like Blood Simple, is another rough film to watch (i.e. the woodchipper scene) but it’s still a good flick. It is my favorite of all the Coens’ movies. More recently the Coens wrote, produced, and directed their latest hit, The Big Lebowski (1998). It is pretty funny and has some of the strangest character creations ever to appear in a movie. The story was written very much like the screenplays of Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity). It’s a good story but one can tell that the Coens are just having fun and being experimental with their style of direction. The Big Lebowski doesn’t even come close to Fargo but it’s still a good, funny movie.

The Coen brothers are due to come up with a new movie soon. Unlike some directors, they refuse to get stuck in a rut and use the same formula for all their film ideas. Each one of their pictures is different in its own way so who knows what their next film will be like.

Max Carlson studies music and cinema at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

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