The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers (Philosophy Of Popular Culture)
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Even in lighter fare, such as Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, the comedy emerges from characters' journeys to the brink of an amoral abyss. However, the Coens often knowingly and gleefully subvert conventions and occasionally offer symbolic rebirths and other hopeful outcomes. At the end of The Big Lebowski, the Dude abides, his laziness has become a virtue, and the human comedy is perpetuating itself with the promised arrival of a newborn Lebowski.
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The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers sheds new light on these cinematic visionaries and their films' stirring philosophical insights. A select few of their protagonists find affirmation and redemption, but for many others, the quest for answers leads, at best, only to more questions.
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Mark T. Conard is assistant professor of philosophy at Marymount College. He lives in New York, New York. Acknowledgments vii Introduction Mark T. Douglass Jerry L. See All Customer Reviews.
The Philosophy of Neo-Noir : Mark T. Conard :
Shop Textbooks. Unlike Donny , the Coens always seem to be in their element.
Do the Coen brothers have a bad movie in their filmography? No -- which means this fine but flawed screwball comedy, about an arrogant divorce attorney George Clooney falling for his client's scheming wife Catherine Zeta-Jones , lands at the bottom of our list. Despite bits of divinely moronic dialogue, a deep supporting cast, and some clever third-act twists, the movie never comes together, due to a basic lack of chemistry between the leads.
Clooney's idiotic lawyer is too smug to make the central romance palpable, making the film feel like a cynical rom-com exercise. But, like watching a great basketball player take warm-up shots, it can be transcendent just watching these guys practice. The Coens' transplanting a British heist movie to a Southern-fried Mississippi town makes perfect sense.
Gospel music drifts through the air, blood is easily shed in flashes of the brothers' wry juxtaposition. It's the anti- Ocean's Eleven , until the antics takeover. Though the Coens never skimp on the artistry, this kooky caper paints it all on the surface. For a while there, it seemed like a Coen brothers TV series by way of Netflix was not the way. As with any anthology -- even one made by the Coens -- the results can be hit or miss.
There are no true duds in Buster Scruggs , but some segments pack more of a punch than others, making the experience somewhat disjointed. Naturally, the casts they've assembled are top notch: Tim Blake Nelson is the titular singing gunslinger, Tom Waits is an ornery gold hunter, Liam Neeson is a craggly traveling entertainer, Zoe Kazan is a naive traveler. Still, what's most appealing is the cynical eye they've turned on the blue sky idealism of a quintessentially American genre to talk about how death is coming for us all. The movie that reignited the bluegrass movement is also a wily, fantastical comedy in its own right.
Riffing on Homer's Odyssey , O Brother uncovers the soul of the South in its musical nooks and crannies. A screwball sensibility keeps the movie on its toes, but it's really music producer T Bone Burnett who assembled and recorded the iconic tracks and cinematographer Roger Deakins who used forward-thinking digital effects to give the movie its classic, golden-brown hue who own O Brother.
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The Coens are master filmmakers because, in the end, they're master collaborators. The Coens were destined to make a Western. By swapping out Wayne for a gruff, un-Dude-ish Jeff Bridges, the Coens signaled that this would be their own type of cowboy movie: darkly funny and loaded with profound melancholy.
With a sneaky, standout comic performance from Matt Damon and a star-making turn from Hailee Steinfeld, the movie has more than enough great acting, intense gun battles, and gorgeous vistas to keep you under its old-fashioned spell. It's hard to get that excited about a trip to the barber.
And yet, in The Man Who Wasn't There , Billy Bob Thornton makes the journey worth the trouble with his multi-layered portrayal of a cigarette-smoking, taciturn hair-cutter. With its dream-like tone, liberal use of Double Indemnity plot elements, and a finale involving a UFO, the film can be too slow and odd for some. But like the best Coen films, it has a sense of cosmic mystery that reveals itself with multiple viewings. Keep stopping by this one.
Sure, if you don't enjoy watching orange tomcats in peril particularly when employed as cryptic furry metaphors and you'd rather take a nail to the dome than listen to early Bob Dylan, then Inside Llewyn Davis won't be the film for you. But the Coens' meandering, melancholic musical expertly explores artistic failure and creative longing. Burn After Reading is absurd and acerbic, a political hoopla revolving around a prized MacGuffin -- a CD containing government secrets!
And because this is a Coen brothers movie, blood spills freely as everyone from personal trainers to CIA spies sink deeper and deeper into confusion. An ode to empowered idiocy, complete with a dildo chair. It was all there from the beginning: the droll dialogue, the noir references, the surprising plot twists, the swift violence, and Frances McDormand. This one is Blood Subtle. Before I continue: Writing about the Coens—and mining their oeuvre for Big Ideas—is a sure way of looking like an ass. At first, those found objects were movie conventions.
Dope creates disjunction by fracturing bogus harmony. Nothing flows together. Nothing is beyond deconstruction. But can disjunction be more than a source of easy yuks? They introduced an element of authenticity—realistic objects embedded in a surrealistic canvas. In O Brother , the Coens take a startlingly different tack. Cartoonish farce is now interwoven with authentic folk culture—period bluegrass so stirringly pure that the album, produced by T Bone Burnett, was a cultural event, far bigger than the movie.
The tension is even more extreme in the badly received remake of The Ladykillers , in which a snaggletoothed Tom Hanks leads a bumbling gang of thieves to a soundtrack heavy on southern spirituals—stylized buffoons juxtaposed with genuine African-American church choirs and worshippers in a small Mississippi town.
But how many mainstream filmmakers are so ambitiously mischievous?