The Coen ConundrumPosted: September 21, 2008
I think I’ve got the Coen brothers pretty much figured out, except for one thing. I’ve deduced that their m.o. is to fashion stories around dumb people who think they’re smart, and smart people who aren’t as smart as they think they are. What I don’t know is whether the vision behind the formula is a compassionate one, or a misanthropic one. Are they saying, “We are all fools, even the smartest among us, and there’s nothing to do but accept that, and accept ourselves,” or are they saying, “People are stupid except for us, and, as the only smart guys in the room, we are in a position to mock the fools”? Are they laughing with us, or at us? Their movies give off the latter aroma, but I’m not sure. Not that it would be wrong if they were misanthropes, because their contempt (if such it is) has yielded a series of interesting, idiosyncratic (if somewhat like each other) movies. And compassion is no virtue in a filmmaker if it produces boring movies. A healthy dose of vitriol didn’t do the comedies of Preston Sturges any harm. (And if the Coens cited any influence on their comedy, I’d be willing to bet a wad of cash on Sturges.) So I’m good with the Coens no matter what. But I’m still curious. Being the empathic, compassionate soul that I am, I reserve the possibility that empathy and compassion are what drive the Coens.