The Coen Brothers: ‘Pranksters’ of cinema

Story from To the Best of Our Knowledge. Listen to audio above for full report.

A playwright with writer’s block. A lazy hero who prefers White Russians and bowling over sharpshooting and whiskey. A pregnant sheriff.  The characters that populate Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies reflect a playful duality. Masters of the delightfully macabre, the Coen brothers not only make movies that entertain but also question the status quo.

Such is one of the many ideas discussed in Erica Rowell’s book “The Brothers Grim: The Films of Joel and Ethan Coen.”

“I’ll watch a Coen brothers movie and things look so familiar yet so different,” Rowell said. “I wanted to know what they were doing to make seeming opposities to coexist in their stories.”

Rowell’s fascination led her to analyze the Coens’ body of work as if it were made by a pair of “prankster mythmakers.” From their earliest films like “Barton Fink,” all the way to more recent work like “A Serious Man,” the Coen brothers reveal hidden truths about humanity as they poke fun at our darker sides.

In her book, Rowell relates the Coens’ method of storytelling to “trickster god” folklore where the deity inserts a little chaos by presenting multiple, opposite truths. She relays one myth of a West African god who walked through a village wearing a hat that was both blue and red. One villager swore the hat was red, another was certain the hat was blue. Mayhem ensued.

“I think that’s what the Coen brothers do.” Rowell said. “In that way they bring the viewer in to the job of interpreting what they’re seeing.”

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“To the Best of Our Knowledge” is an audio magazine of ideas – two hours of smart, entertaining radio for people with curious minds. More “To the Best of Our Knowledge”
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