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Friday, December 13, 2013

Fargo: Film Analysis

Fargo film Poster

Film noir, exactly black film, appeared as a genre in the early 1940s and lasted through the 1950s. In these movies, an anxious protagonist is driven by fate to commit acts of murder and exploitation in the mysterious, rain-slicked highways of the town and sexually powerful. An unrelenting force in film noir, takes control of the action, provides unexpected twists in the plot, and doesn't let up until everyone is thoroughly disillusioned or dead. Films with similar qualities have appeared since the 1950s, but film noir was the unique product of a specific period in history.

Fargo” (1996) is one movie that has film noir qualities; however, I wouldn't consider it to be a full-fledged member of the genre. The strongest element of Fargo is the stark whiteness of the snow on which all action is played out. At first this seems to contradict the dark scene of film noir, but this snow is so blinding at times that it limits vision, and even awareness, to the focus of the scene. Fargo also has its moments of light and shadow. When the kidnappers/killers are driving in the Sierra at night, a band of light crosses the little guy's face, virtually eliminating the rest of the scene. Also, when the big guy is chasing after the people who caught sight of the dead trooper, the world is reduced to only what was visible in his headlights. Throughout the film periods of transition are marked with an all-black screen.

The characters in Fargo don't fit perfectly with typical inhabitants of film noir. Jerry Lundegaard, a car salesman, gets caught up in financial corruption and fall victim to his own greed. This, and some really bad luck, sets off the rest of the action in the movie. He hires two incompetent guys to kidnap his wife so that his father-in-law will pay a sizable ransom, half of which Jerry intends to use to pay off his debts. The hired kidnappers have the lowest moral standards in the movie. The little guy has an insatiable appetite for sex, and doesn't think twice about killing anyone out of rage or for the right price. The big guy chain smokes and is always hungry, and he doesn't give killing a second thought either. Together they murder a State trooper (after trying to bribe him), two innocent bystanders, two parking garage attendants, Jerry's father-in-law (after taking the ransom money), and Jerry's wife (after kidnapping her). In the end the big guy kills the little guy with an axe and chops him up in the wood chipper.

In contrast to these morally corrupt individuals is Marge, a pregnant local cop covering the triple homicide. She doesn't seem to have a place in the world of film noir. She's not the femme fatale and she isn't a bumbling cop like the rest of her colleagues. She stands as the voice of reason, saying at the end, "There's more to life than a little money ya know."

Fargo is a movie about simple people with complex problems that spiral in a fate-driven world. Greed, corruption, kidnapping and murder are all film noir elements that tempt the characters and propel the action in the movie. In the end good triumphs over evil and life goes on with most of the participants dead or under arrest. The morally questionable actions of the characters of the film noir genre fascinate viewers and sell movie tickets, so they will continue to appear in noir movies such as Fargo. 

Schrader, Paul (2003) “Notes on Film Noir”, in Barry Keith Grant, ed, Film Genre Reader III, Austin: University of Texas Press, 229-242.

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