Fargo: A True Coen Brothers’ Story

By Jack Salvadori

Let me begin by saying that I will not hide my initial prejudices about Fargo, the 2014 TV series. If you did not watch it because you thought it is outrageous not only to remake one of the Coen brothers’ best films, but to worsen the situation, turning it into a mere product to be streamed online, I used to agree. In the catastrophic age of remakes and reboots, where Hollywood is a bland factory only capable of producing already-chewed ideas, you would be more than justified to think that. However, following the high-ratings and critical acclaim, I decided to give it a go… and I realised how wrong I was.

In fact, Fargo does not retell the misadventures of Jerry Lundegaard and Marge Gunderson, from the 1996 movie, nor it functions as a sequel/prequel. It is an anthology, where the Coen’s original film constitutes just a chapter of an intricate, slightly-connected collection of crimes committed in the American Mid-West. Yet, the series’ greatest achievement does not just reside in telling captivating and spine-chilling tales, but rather in masterfully respecting the authority of the Coen brothers’ exclusive style.

Indeed, the series, now broadcasting its third season, takes place in the same universe originated by the creative minds of two of the most talented filmmakers of our generation. It deals with homespun murders and mistaken identities, depicting unexpected graphic violence in a rural setting, whitened by the immaculate and ubiquitous snow. Moreover, it has nuanced ‘Minnesotian language’ and goofy parka-wearing characters, accompanied by operatic music to make it all increasingly ironic, just like the original Fargo. Broadly, the same themes and typology of characters are shared, and repeated as a formula in all three seasons, opening each episode with the fictional quote: ‘This is a true story’. Then, the anti-heroic protagonist’s down-on-his-luck life irremediably degenerates in a domino effect, facing righteous cops, femme-fatales – and a bunch of assholes. But Noah Whitley, series creator, transcends Fargo’s borders, paying homage and linking the TV production to the entire Coen’s filmography. This is what turns the series into an amazing pastiche of movies, that a Coen’s devotees could appreciate even more, enjoying all the tasteful references to other films. From the archetype of the ‘unstoppable killer’ present in Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men, to the The Big Lebowski’s character obsessed with meaningless Vietnam recall; from the motel setting of Barton Fink, to the variety of actors that are part of the Coen’s casting repertory. The infinite homages to the Coen-verse do not only focus on physical elements, but successfully manage to embody the Coen’s stylistic storytelling, such as with the digressive tales told as pointless Biblical parables from A Serious Man to the inexplicable sci-fi glimpse brought by the UFO, just as in The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Therefore, if you have de-ja-vu whilst watching the Fargo series, it is really not a coincidence, but there is no need to be an eagle-eyed Coen fan to enjoy its immersive storyline.


Jack Salvadori

Image courtesy of FX

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