Joel and Ethan Coen, known by many as The Coen brothers, are two filmmakers who through their unique vision as artists have avoided banality and triteness, ultimately cementing their status as premier filmmakers.
When the Coen brothers were asked in an NPR interview what influenced them the most, they responded by saying, “who knows, we don’t think about it.”
Personally, I would like to call B.S. on this statement since everybody is influenced greatly by someone or something when it comes to finding a passion, but the Coen brothers ambiguity is something that I have learned to take in stride. At the same time, I do find some truth with this quote in the sense that I believe great artists observe the world carefully but focus most on that inner idiosyncratic voice when creating. The elements that are so famously synonymous with Coen brother’s films include dark/black humor, brutal violence, situational irony, as well as unforeseeable plots.
“No Country For Old Men” is a prime example of a Coen brothers film telling a story in their signature dark and gritty fashion. The plot, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, revolves around a man in Texas who unintentionally stumbles upon a multitude of corpses and more than $2,000,000 as a result of a drug deal gone wrong. His decision to run with the money and the impending consequences of this action reflect on the inner struggle to make a decision and the exterior world’s effect on that decision.
“The Big Lebowski”, one of the Coen brothers most admired films, is a comedy centered around a Los Angeles stoner, Jeffrey Lebowski, also nicknamed the dude. The dude seeks to acquire a new rug after two hired men ruin his home rug via urination due to them mistaking him for another Jeffrey Lebowski who owes their employer money. These events lead to an even grander line of events that involve personalities and agendas from all ends of the spectrum.
“The Big Lebowski “ to me is a two hour representation of the cliché quote: “it’s not about the destination, but rather the journey.” The continuous plot twists, character depth, and comedic realism embodied in the dude’s personality engaged me as a viewer and also had me parsing some possible underlying meaning.
I personally think the comedic realism that the dude approaches life with serves as a symbol for one word: nihilism. Nihilism ideology revolves around the idea that life is meaningless. The word nihilism is muttered and yelled throughout the movie, mostly by the spry and vibrant character Walter, but the stoner persona of the dude gives the audience a glimpse through the lens of nihilism and acts as a platform for the movie to employ those trademark Coen Brothers elements such as wry humor.
In 2010, I was first exposed to the Coen brothers when my dad took me to see “True Grit“, a remake of the classic western starring John Wayne (released in 1969). My dad is a dedicated fan of the Coen brothers’ work as he has seen 15 of their films.
My dad took a few moments to gather his thoughts and then spoke carefully by saying, “I’d describe their dramas as often neo-noir, with a dark treatment. The mix of black comedy and drama is such an interesting combination of elements as sometimes I am unsure whether or not I should laugh. In addition to that, their films are often well cast.”
The Coen brothers, in my eyes, are the greatest filmmakers around today. Their ability to write, direct, produce, and market films that are seen as arcane and esoteric by Hollywood executives and moviegoers is unprecedented. I appreciate the Coen Brothers’ movies because they take me outside the platitudinous box to bestow their unique and special films upon me.