The Movie Fargo - - BRAINERD, MN

Welcome to The Movie Fargo. From Brainerd, MN where it allegedly took place.

Brainerd watertower

Brainerd's Landmark Watertower:
Dey didn't show ya dis here really big watertower dat we're so attached ta in dat der movie, did dey?

We was mentioned in dat der purty littl' National Geographic Magazine ting doncha know. Dey wrote up some nice tings about us and our littl' web site. Ya know, dey sure take nice pitures.
 fargo - the movie
 A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, March 14, 1996

The Coen Brothers, 'Fargo' and Foregoing Boundaries



Sky and earth meet in the opening and closing scenes of the latest Coen brothers' movie, "Fargo."

The horizon is barely detectable as a whiteout causes physical boundaries to become a blur - much like the indistinct line marking the brothers' marriage of the humorous and the horrific.

That sometimes uncomfortable melding may go far in explaining why there's no middle ground in the reaction to their films, from their 1984 debut "Blood Simple" to "Miller's Crossing" to "Barton Fink," the sensation of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.

Admirers consider them hip, ingenious and original; detractors think they're self-conscious, emphasizing style while foregoing emotion.

Guffaws and chortles abound in "Fargo," in which seven people are brutally murdered.

Many of the laughs come from the unrelenting earnestness, sunny disposition and Scandinavian-induced speech cadences of small-town Police Chief Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand, Joel's wife).

Seven months' pregnant, Marge begins a homicide investigation, unaware the killings are related to the kidnapping of a Minneapolis housewife, a plot hatched by the victim's debt-ridden husband (played by William H. Macy).

Ethan notes that Marge might be laughable at times, yet she's admirable - indeed, she has a can-do attitude that would put NASA to shame - and that some viewer are uncomfortable with that because they equate laughing at someone with denigrating them.

"That doesn't follow for me," he says.

"Right," Joel says, "I mean you can laugh at a friend or yourself even ... at behavior that is funny, but that doesn't mean that you're condescending to that necessarily."

So anyone who thinks they're a couple of self-important New Yorkers looking down their noses at folks in the upper Midwest are looking up the wrong nostrils, say the Coens, Minnesota natives themselves.

"It's a little bit strange to us, because certainly there was no intention to lampoon the characters in the movie," Joel says. "I think people who aren't from that area think we're somehow exaggerating the accent, for instance.

"We were born and grew up in Minnesota, which is one of the reasons why we were interested in the story ... We feel very much sort of a part of it, having some from that culture. That's another thing that sort of surprises us about the attitude of the outsider condescending to the yokels from Minnesota."

The brothers say the bad rap might come from their consistent effort to make characters more real by giving them regionally and ethnically specific traits.

"It puts you at risk of offending people because they're quick to think just because you're isolating these particular people in Minnesota that they're somehow representative of people in that culture at large," Joel says. "Which, again, is not the intention at all. They represent who they are in this specific story."

Ethan offers that someone like their determined and pregnant police chief might be "not cosmopolitan, but so what?"

And Joel notes that, just like the other characters in the movie, she's not particularly self-conscious. "She doesn't think what she's doing is any particular big deal. She's not your usual supercop that you would see in a movie. She's not Dirty Harry. And in a certain sense she's not even really Columbo, because it's very genuine - it's not an act."

Ethan sees "Fargo" as "pretty conventional" filmmaking - and a possible answer to critics who contend the Coens emphasize style over substance.

Joel Coen was born in 1955, followed by Ethan three years later, in St. Louis Park, where they grew up.

The quirky authors, who typically make up their stories and atmospherics, glommed onto the 1987 true-crime story that serves as the framework for "Fargo" when a friend told them about it.

Joel says it interested them to make a movie about characters acting in a way people really behave in a crime story - "which is usually in a sort of lunk-headed fashion," he notes.

By now, it's part of the Coen brothers' lore that they collaborate on virtually every facet of their films. Joel gets the directing credit and Ethan the producing credit, while both share the writers' billing. Actually, though, they do roughly equal amounts of each job - and then some.


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