Dear Ethan and Joel Coen,

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Those of us who have followed you both through the decades have left the cinema scratching our heads, delighted with the incongruous blending of bizarre characters saying ordinary things (or ordinary characters saying antiquated things) which sound funny at the time.  Within the dark plots, you make the insane situation plausible. When I think about it, you two are modern Minnesota Jewish Greek tragedians.

Coen-Brothers-600x399[1]Joel and Ethan Coen

Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides must surely be smiling down with approval. Greek drama focused on dialogue, contrasts and theatrical effects. Greek drama dramatized conflict. In your films, random events seem to drop from the sky into the lives of the hero who wanders around distressed and muddled. Getting out of life-threatening situations is your primary theme.

Fargo (1996)  Marge Gunderson: Hon? Prowler needs a jump.

Your poor tragic heroes.  They aren’t the Type–A personality. They aren’t gorgeous. They are misfits in their universe, living on the fringes of normalcy, in and out of jobs and relationships.

Inside Llewyn Davis(2013) Roland Turner: Folk singer with a cat. You queer?

They are dreamers who try to stay true to their personal convictions. They aren’t despicable—just heroes driven to desperate acts. Females in their world bring insecurities and irrational impulses and aggravate an already fragile situation.

Raising Arizona(1987) H.I.: Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Ulysses Everett McGill: I am a man of constant sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my days. I bid farewell to old Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised. For six long years I’ve been in trouble, no pleasure here on Earth I’ve found. For in this world I’m bound to ramble, I have no friends to help me out. Maybe your friends think I’m just a stranger, my face you never will see no more. But there is one promise that is given, I’ll meet you on God’s golden shore.

True Grit (2010)  Mattie Ross: You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.

By the way, not only was True Grit probably my favorite film of yours, it’s my favorite Western. Jeff Bridges was as good as The Duke, but it was Hailee Steinfeld who made the film. What a character!

No Country for Old Men (2007) Boy on Bike #2: Mister? You got a bone stickin’ out of your arm.

Your actors have a lot of fun in your films. Actors have the freedom to pursue unusual characters. They explore deep caverns where their hidden talents shine. John Goodman has been in six of your films playing quite funny and scary characters throughout. Javier Bardem was one of the best villains ever. Who knew George Clooney or Brad Pitt could be funny?

Ethan and Joel, your films follow the Greek Tragedy formula perfectly. Your foolish heroes are victims at the whims of the Gods and in perfect harmony, their dark worlds birth dark comedy.


Tragic events are often funny after the fact; when it happens to someone else, we all laugh while crying for them on the inside. You two consistently weave tragedy and comedy together in every film. When other directors seem to lose their touch, you two keep on evolving. Who knows how deep is your creative well? You two abide.


Your Favorite Fan

P.S. Looking forward to the FX series you are executive producers for, Fargo.

23 thoughts on “Dear Ethan and Joel Coen,

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  1. “Ethan and Joel, your films follow the Greek tragedy formula perfectly …”

    Amen with that and everything that came before it. Could not agree more. Including with the premise that True Grit is their best film and my favorite western. 🙂


  2. I love these guys so much! Even if their films don’t quite hit the spot for me, they’re always worthy of considered thought, which you can’t say about many filmmakers. True Grit is a unique choice for fave film of theirs! (I’d go with No Country for Old Men with Barton Fink not far behind)


    1. It was very hard to select a favorite–Raising AZ was so quirky and fun. No Country certainly worthy. Gosh, they all are. I think that’s why I went with True Grit. Mattie was so unique and the history behind True Grit–it took a lot of courage for the Coen’s to try a remake. They nailed the Western.


  3. Great post Cindy. Quite simply two of the best and most consistent filmmakers out there. I just love these guys. You highlight some fantastic characters here too but I always find that it’s their supporting character actors that really bring out the best of their writing. They don’t ever seem to waste a bit of dialogue and all their characters always serve some purpose. Even if it’s just for a spot of comedic or surreal value.


    1. Hi Mark, you brought up a fine point that I missed. Their supporting characters. The ensemble group surrounding the principal actor is another way their movies are unique and entertaining (like Tarrentino). I think of John Goodman’s contribution to Coen films. I liked him as a cyclops, the Dude’s best friend–I really enjoyed him as the heroine addict in the back of the car in Inside Llewyn Davis.


  4. I’d find it hard to chose a favourite because I’ve only watched two Coen films. No Country for Old Men,and True Grit which I watched for the first time a couple of weeks ago, thanks to your recommendation.
    Both films were outstanding, and I’m now inspired to start with Blood Simple and work through their filmography in chronological order.


    1. What a great idea! There are still a few of theirs that I missed from their early years–busy raising kids, I reckon. I haven’t seen Barton Fink or Miller’s Crossing. The Big Lebowski is a cult classic–just too funny. I love dark comedies, so I can’t get enough of them. They are best to watch late at night–after a couple of drinks in the dark, the audience, can jump right into the story and have a great time.


  5. Love your article Cindy, although I might argue that I’m their biggest fan! 🙂

    No Country is my favorite film of all time (by a slim margin, but when I’m asked it usually holds strong at #1). But I love everything they’ve done. Llewyn Davis was incredible.


    1. Sweet! You can claim to be top fan if you want. I admire the hell out of them. They always produce original, artistic compositions. Yes, I was truly touched by Llewyn Davis. I just learned it was loosely based on folk singer Van Ronk and think, like True Grit, they are great for the remake. I loved the music in Llewyn Davis. No Country is outstanding; it doesn’t warm the cockles of my heart like The Big Lebowski or True Grit but I can sure appreciate its greatness. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Chris. You said it! Really? A lot of people don’t like the Coen Brothers? Well, they aren’t commercial or rely on CGI. Their stories involve a small ensemble and they swear a lot. So yeah, I guess that would exclude some. 😉


  6. Lovely post, Cindy! The Coens are filmmakers I respect and appreciate, though not necessarily love. I like some of their films but some leave me cold or scratching my head. Still they are a force to be reckoned with. I’m curious to see that FARGO series too, interesting casting w/ Martin Freeman!


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