Fargo (Coen Brothers, 1996)

In Fargo (1996), a film fictitiously based on a true story, Joel and Ethan Coen use humour to present dark and disturbing violence in a light and airy manner. The comedic style emphasizes the ridiculousness of the characters’ purported actions, illustrating a world of incompetence and buffoonery. In this way, Fargo parodies the conventions associated with film noir and other genres of violence where the characters are expected to behave rationally and carefully.

First of all, the characters in Fargo are laughable. The protagonist, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), hires hit men to pretend to kidnap his wife for ransom – this is extremely foolish. The criminals are thoughtless, bumbling idiots; they leave a distinct trail everywhere they go, act without thinking – especially Gaer (Peter Stormare), the psychopathic one, who murders people relentlessly with little reason to do so. Jerry’s wife, Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrid), does nothing but run around making noise in vain with her face covered – hurting herself in the process. Then there is policewoman Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) who challenges all conventions; she is a pregnant female cop who’s good police work is largely done by accident rather than by thoughtful examination or reason. Her nonchalant attitude sharply contrasts the serious attitude of private investigators depicted in film noir’s.

The film is quirky in many respects. Many of the characters repeat the word “Yaa”, as if they have nothing of substance to say. Margie is constantly either craving food or eating, and many of the scenes end with a peculiar one liner, such as the dumbfounded character expressing surprise with an “ohh” or a “huh”. Moreover, each of the murders have a tinge of humour; the cop is pulled down and shot directly through the top of the head, the young, helpless passersby are shot in vain, Jerry’s father in law, Wade, is shot out of frustration, and Jerry’s wife, Jean, is hit with a table out of annoyance. These humouristic elements create a light and airy atmosphere in an otherwise dark and disturbing film; for once, viewers can watch a violent noir-esque film with a casual, offhand attitude.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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