Individuals’ actions are driven by motives under a multitude of circumstances. Some are propelled by altruism, fame, loyalty, or an incessant desire with underlying greed. To achieve a perceived selfish need, others’ well-being and safety may even be compromised. Greed often breaks the trust of those presumptively held close, destroying relationships and potentially leading to the greatest depths of isolation. The incredible 1996 film “Fargo” directed by the Coen Brothers explores this premise to significant extremes. The initial betrayal and slimy deal setting the film’s plot in motion takes place in the dead of winter in the title city – Fargo, North Dakota.
The pathetic character Jerry Lundegaard (Academy Award nominated William H. Macy) works at a Minneapolis Oldsmobile dealership owned by his wealthy father-in-law, Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnall). Jerry has embezzled $320,000 and is in some trouble, to say the least. In a not-so brilliant idea, he orchestrates the kidnapping of his wife (Kristin Rudrud) to extort money from his father-in-law. He has hired the nearly silent sociopath Gaear Grismsrund (Peter Stormare) and the “funny lookin’ fella” Carl Showalter (one of my favourites, Steve Buscemi) to carry out the task. This seemingly straightforward kidnapping dismantles and becomes extremely complex. In steps the likeable and pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand), stringing the pieces of the complicated, plot-twisting kidnapping puzzle together.
This film combines so many crucial yet distinct elements to create a perfectly balanced work of art. The minor key folk music sets a sombre tone, and the setting of the film in a harsh winter climate serves to enhance that tone. The vast distance and sense of semi-isolation can create frustration in terms of resources needed to solve such a convoluted case. As well, violent crimes are not habitual in rural areas. This in addition to the portrayal of graphic violence heightens the shock factor of the film, reminding viewers of the unfortunate dark side of humanity. In spite of this, I feel that the positive side of human nature is quite evident in the film. Many of the characters are decent individuals, living their lives and wanting to help the police solve heinous crimes. The distinct accents, conversational yet memorable dialogue (Academy Award-winning screenplay), and the raw environment elevates the film’s timelessness. Without giving away any spoilers, the ending creates a sense of normalcy and hope. I feel that the message conveyed indicates that most humans at their core are driven by altruism, loyalty, and a sense of decency.
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