Like any girl who goes to a university, I took a class on women's literature. It's wasn't really a real women's lit class. We studied fairy tales and the roles women played in them, and read weird revisions of them. It was interesting, and it dealt a lot with women in the media. We were asked one day to talk about what women we admired in movies. My first thought was Clarice from The Silence of the Lambs, but someone said it before me, since she is always the first character to come to mind when you are asked these questions. No one took the one I thought of next - Marge Gunderson, from Fargo. "Why?" they implored. When most people think of The Coen Brother's 1996 small-town-murder-movie, they think of Minnesota accents and Steve Buscemi. "Marge was...the cop, right?" Right. I swear, my love of Marge has nothing to do with my unnatural feelings for the Coen Brothers. I even named two of my angelfish Joel and Ethan (only one is surviving today, and they were identical, so I just call him JoelEthan). There is something so great and new about her character. I love it. I love all parts of this movie, from the bumbling criminals and the weird tonal shifts from comedy to violence, sometimes coexisting in the same scene.

All good movies are about character. It's the only thing that really drives plot. You can have a horrible, thin, plot, and have amazing characters and you will wind up with an amazing movie. If you aren't interested in the characters or don;t buy them as real people, the movie will fall really flat. The Coens are incredible at creating very rich characters. They all are very unique and well-crafted, feeling very real. The dialogue they write is memorable and realistic, and it's so easy to get lost in the films. Fargo is similar to their other films in this regard. You can easily relate to these characters. You buy them as real, three dimensional people. It's just so human and and it feels so true. Like the moment where the camera pans over the house, messy after Jerry's wife is kidnapped. We hear him speaking to the police. No, wait. He's just practicing. He's not a good criminal or a good liar - just like how normal people actually are.

I want to talk about Marge since I don't often hear that many people talk about her. I love her character. She's really the only good person in the movie, and really the only character with any sort of intelligence in the film. I love that she is a woman, but it isn't what defines her role. She's not overly emotional about things, despite being both a woman and pregnant. She eats a lot and throws up, but that's about the extent of how much of pregnancy effects her. She is not only pregnant but brave, approaching the kidnappers with only a little hesitation. She is focused on her job, and determined. She is smart but not condescending in her intelligence. When Lou stupidly assumes that the notation of "DLR" means that the kidnapper's license plate's start with, literally, DLR, she simply says, "I don't think I agree a hundred percent with your police work there, Lou." She just does her job, takes things as they come. Doesn't let things get to her too much. Most of all, she is realistic, which is sometimes a rarity for women. I feel like I sound so "WYMN" when I talk about stuff like this, but it's odd to find movies where women are actually...role models, I guess. At least it has been for me, so this always sticks out in my head as being different.

I thought it was interesting reading Ebert's essay. He mentions the infamous scene where Marge goes to visit an old friend from high school, Mike. It's sort of creepy and awkward. I've always heard about how much of a misstep that this scene is. Why does it happen? It's out of the blue and it feels weird to watch it. It doesn't feel like it fits. Many critics (and professors I have had) feel it shouldn't be in the film at all. Ebert disagrees. He writes, "I think Mike works as a mirror of Jerry, and that the dinner scene acts as the link between Marge's first and second interviews with him. The next morning, she is preparing to return to Brainerd when a high school girlfriend tells her that everything Mike said was a lie. That's the wake-up call that leads back to Jerry's desk at the dealership" (The Great Movies, 177-178). Ooooh. I get it. I'm so glad he addressed this scene. I've heard so much of how awful it is that I never thought of looking at it in a different light. I don't think I would have gained this understanding, had I not been able to return to the film with an open mind and fresh eyes.

If you haven't seen this movie, somehow, you need to. It's really incredible. and one of the best movies I've seen. I never gets old. I'm always happy to watch it, like Pam on The Office (she says if she could only watch three movies for the rest of her life, Fargo would be one of them, because it's always great). If it's been a while, you should watch it again, at least to watch the dinner scene with Mike in a new light, to look at Marge with a little more seriousness. This movie is just a joy to watch, and it's always worth watching it again.

Have any thoughts on Fargo? Share them with me in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Fargo


Floating Weeds

The Exterminating Angel