(I have been getting several emails about FARGO (1996) because it was just on TV … I wrote this short essay for the City of Angels Film Festival in 2001 and I thought I would post it here. It’s on the AFI top 100 films list.)
That was Mrs. Lundergaard on the floor in there
and I guess your accomplice in the wood chipper….
And three people dead in Brainerd.
And for what?
For a little bit of money.
There’s more to life than a little money, you know.
Don’t you know that?
And here you are and it’s a beautiful day.
Well, I just don’t understand it.
- Sheriff Marge Gunderson
One day, the medieval “noble” poet Dante, guided by Virgil, the muse of human reason, set off on an allegorical journey to recognize sin, to renounce it and to reach the light of God by visiting hell, purgatory, and heaven. When they finally arrived at the pit of hell, Dante described it as a huge frozen lake, a bitterly cold, ice-covered place, guarded by giants.
So, too, do the Coen Brothers in their 1996 ironic icy road study of greed, lies, and murder. The evil deeds of FARGO parallel the sins of Dante’s Inferno with visceral accuracy.
The hellish Northern hemisphere of Dante’s spiritual world matches the snowscape between the Twin Cities and Fargo. In between lies Brainerd, home to Paul Bunyon, the mythic giant who stands guard over the grotesque spiral of blood sins perpetrated by Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) and his team of hired thugs, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare.) Babe the Blue Ox, the beast, watches as back and again we drive across the dark, frozen tundra of highways, parking garages, car lots, fallow fields, bedrooms, dining rooms and hearts, trying to make sense out of a very, very bad situation.
“And for what? For a little bit of money.”
If we travel with Dante or Sheriff Marge Gunderson (Frances MacDormand) along the frozen brink of hell as the snowball of evil grows and gains the momentum of its consequences, we discover the reality of what goes on beneath the cover of snow and ice. Jerry’s attempt to commit a crime under the guise of normalcy and virtue is fraudulent and malicious. Worse yet, it is so utterly stupid.
According to Dante and the Coen Brothers, there are matching circles and ditches in hell for all likes of evildoers, especially dumb ones.
It’s too bad nobody told Jerry.