Friday, May 7, 2010

The Collection Project: It's Here

You're on your way home from work, or maybe to a bar to unwind. .

A guy comes running into the mostly empty street, a haggard-looking guy who forces you to stop your truck. He throws open your passenger door and gets in.
.He wants you to just drive. He has a gun, but he says he won't hurt you. Why'd you have to drive this way tonight? You don't want trouble.

You don't know what to say to this guy. Then:

You don't know what happened, but you're gone. You can't have any time to think, because there is no time. If you could, you might wonder why the guy with the gun sitting next to you gets to home tonight, but you don't.

The Coen brothers are often accused of not liking their characters, or mocking them, or any number of other related things. So why, in No Country for Old Men, when this nameless truck driver gets shredded by shotgun blasts simply because he stopped driving for a few seconds, do I feel it so deeply? In a way I can't define or describe, the Coens make these random killings in their films -- of which there are plenty -- truly hurt. Perhaps its because the worlds they create are so precisely realized that nobody you see feels like an extra, even if you never hear them speak.

If we laugh at this stuff (but who laughs at this man's death? Anyone?), as the Coens are often reprimanded for forcing us to do, whose fault is it? In Fargo, when Carl Showalter is peeling out of the parking garage after his ransom drop with Wade Gustafson has gone horribly wrong, we see the parking lot attendant asking for Carl's ticket, and we laugh. Why? Because in the midst of this monstrous behavior, this idiot is actually being polite? Because we think he's goofy looking, and we're secretly all bullies?

When Jerry Lundegaard drives by that attendant's post later in the film, and we see that the man is dead, that Carl has shot him, nobody laughs. We didn't know him, didn't even know his name, but Carl shot him, for no good reason. Whatever's wrong with us, whatever it is that makes us laugh at people who don't deserve it, the Coens have a way of bringing that out of us, and then cutting right through it.


At least half the work that went into this post was done by Greg Ferrara, of the currently, but hopefully not permanently, idle Cinema Styles. Thanks for the screengrabs, pardner.


Tony Dayoub said...

Thank you for cutting right through the bullshit argument most of the Coens' detractors always trot out. You DO care when something happens to even the most random extra in their films. In NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, I even feel for the poor unseen sucker who has his car blown up by Chigurh outside of the pharmacy. What other director can get you to think about that?

bill r. said...

The thing is, I can't really say HOW they do it, and part of me wonders if it's not something I'm bringing to the film myself, but that's how I feel watching these films, and it's how I've always felt watching them, and it's not something I necessarily feel with other films tackling similar material. So I have to give the Coens all the credit, and wonder why so many others don't see it.

I said "it" and "that" a lot in the above paragraph. Thank God you'll know what I'm referring to.

Greg said...

You can change the generous credit you gave me to "Greg Ferrara of Cinema Styles" since it is now back up and running. Woohoo!

Arbogast said...

You almost did a "The One You Might Have Saved" and then you pulled back at the last second. You choked, son.

Shakes head, tucks clipboard under arm, walks away sadly but is really thinking about barbecue.

bill r. said...

Arbogast, if you don't think that I haven't already realized that I had a ONE YOU MIGHT HAVE SAVED post in my hands, and I let it go, and if you don't think I haven't been kicking myself for it ever since, then you, sir, are very much mistaken.