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May 2, 2014

Fargo: The Film That Inspired the Show

by Jonn Holland

ImageFor a film that was made nearly twenty years ago, about an incident that occurred in nineteen eighty-seven; close to thirty years ago, Fargo still holds up as much as any classic film from the golden age of Hollywood does. This is in part to the approach of the Joel and Ethan Coen, that director/writier tag team responsible for such films as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou and No Country For Old Men.

Primarily, the directors allow the story to tell itself, beginning with the set up, where Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) meets with Steve Bucsemi’s Carl Showalter and Peter Stormare’s Gaear Grimsrud hiring them to abduct his wife Jean; to the climax of the film where Police officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) confronts Grimsrud.

By allowing events to unfold linearly instead of using flashbacks or clever plot twists, the audience is given a sense of being a “fly on the wall” from scene to scene. This approach is effective because we are never left to wonder what will happen next and there is no need to explain why a specific event took place. The only questions the viewer might possibly ask are: “Could this situation get any worse?” or “How will this finally end?”

In answer to the former question, things do unravel rather quickly due to the bungling of Showalter and most especially Grimsrud, both of whom find themselves going from a supposedly effortless kidnapping, to multiple homicides and Lundegaard is forced to watch his perfectly formed plan to use his wife as a means of getting money go to absolute caca.

Another portion of the Coen’s approach that works well, is that they keep things simple, because the events themselves are complicated enough. To achieve this apparent simplicity, we are really only given three points of view: that of Lundergaard, Showalter/Grimsrud and Gunderson. We watch as Lundergaard must deal with his plan becoming increasingly complicated and dangerous, the abductors as they make one mistake after another and Marge as she follows the bread crumbs.

When the treatment of the story is combined with the beautiful cinematography and performances that are realistic rather than over the top and dramatic, the result is a film that is instantly timeless and iconic. So much so, that the film has inspired a television series based on it. Truly worth the effort to create it as well as the awards it earned.

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