A few posts ago, I wrote about my favorite films that I watched over the summer. Out of nearly 600 films owned, the film that I watched this summer that will go down as one of my favorites is Fargo. Pretty much anything by the Cohen Brothers is great like Big Lebowski, Serious Man, or Raising Arizona, but Fargo takes the cake as their prime work!
Fargo is about a greedy car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard, that has aspirations of “hitting it big” in the industry. When his business plan foils, he organzines a kidnapping of his wife with two inexperienced criminals so his extremely wealthy father-in-law, can pay the ransom, which ultimately goes to Jerry. A trail of deadly crimes between the two incompetent criminals began to add up, which leads to Marge Gunderson, the keenly aware small-town cop, to solve the murders that eventually solve the kidnapping.
While watching the film, the Cohen Brothers manage to grapple with many intense topics that surely ignited my mind.
Firstly, Jerry Lundegaard demonstrates the wicked heart of mankind in a fabulous way. Here’s a guy that’s a car salesman, a profession that swindles and cheats about making deals. He falsifies legal documents, and even goes as far as plotting his wife’s kidnapping all on the basis of greed. He’s hungry for success and money so much that he plans an elaborate scheme to trick his wealthy father-in-law out of nearly a million dollars. Lundegaard’s actions point to, truly, the great lengths someone can go to to fulfill a passion that’s disordered.
People often say “Money is the root of all evil” but that’s not what St. Paul says in 1st Timothy 6:10 but popular culture’s rendering of the verse definitely applies to Lundegaard. Because he planned this kidnapping, evil festers throughout the film. In the beginning, three innocent people are murdered, the wealthy father-in-law is murdered during the drop off by one of the kidnappers, and even the wife that’s held for ransom is murdered.
All of this shedding of blood shows the spread of sin and how it violates our relationship with others. Similar to the Fall, once sin entered the world, the first ten chapters of Genesis record how damaging sin affected the relationship between mankind. Within those pages, there too innocent blood was shed.
Secondly, something that caught my attention was the protagonist, Marge Gunderson. She portrays the unlikely hero that nobody expects to be observant. From the beginning of the film, you get the impression that she’s some small-town middle of nowhere cop, but actually, she’s a swift and critical thinker about the initial murder, the missing car from Lundegaard’s dealership, and the kidnapping situation.
Throughout the entire movie, piece by piece, she patches together the tapestry of the case. Later, she finds the culprit and brings about justice. Marge is the one who traps evil and ends the cycle of wickedness and you feel a sense of relief from her triumph over moral corruption! Because she is an unusual hero, she is the Christ-like figure in the film.
You might be asking, “Jesus Christ, the unusual hero?”
Yes and let me explain how the Gospels depict this aspect of Jesus.
Remember that Jesus came and was largely either ridiculed or mocked by his claims of being the Son of Man. Some claimed he couldn’t be the messiah because of his parents and some even scoffed at the idea of him being foreshadowed in the Old Testament. His closest followers continually stumbled at his overall messianic mission. I find it humorous (but this is prejudiced) when Phillip told the news of Jesus to Nathanael, he asks can anything good come from Nazareth.
Despite the unfair attacks and his low profile nature, he rose to the occasion as the new Passover lamb by his institution of the Eucharist and his death. As one of the Roman guards said at the moment of his death: Surely this man was the Son of God!
After his resurrection, it’s clear that many start to notice who Jesus really was. The two on Emmaus discover Jesus in the breaking of the bread, the women identify him at the tomb, even the disciples become more understanding.
To me, the Cohen Brothers expose what it means to be human and to wrestle with vices that are pleasurable but leave us wounding others and ourselves. Despite conveying the deadly aspect of sin, Fargo presents an image of the triumphant victor who conquers all wrongdoing. That’s sort of a contrast between Lundegaard and Gunderson, the path of righteousness and death. In the end, we all have to be one of these figures.