A Coen brothers miscellany

Buster rides into town

The trailer for latest Coen brothers movie, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, dropped last night. While it had been announced as a miniseries to premier on Netflix (that’s our second Netflix-distributed film this week, incidentally), it’s apparently been retooled as a single film, an anthology telling six separate but apparently interrelated western stories.

The Coens have had an clear affinity for the West and westerns since the beginning of their careers. True Grit and No Country for Old Men are the obvious examples, but Blood Simple, despite its modern setting, spends a lot of its runtime on lonely Texas roads and in a saloon; Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski have plenty of cowboy elements, including a bank robbery by bandits in dusters and the great Sam Elliott himself as the semi-divine Stranger; and, not accidentally, the ultimate hero of Hail, Caesar!—the man most aligned with his telos, the man least comfortable in the corrupt world of Hollywood, and the man who helps Eddie Mannix recover his own teleological role in the world—is a singing cowboy. Whenever a man in a cowboy hat appears in a Coen brothers movie, you can bet something big is about to happen.

The film has a stellar cast. Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson, two of my favorite actors, pop up in the trailer, along with Coen veterans Stephen Root and Tim Blake Nelson, who so wonderfully played Delmar in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Also interested to see Ralph Ineson, the weak but determined father in The Witch. I could do without James Franco, but I trust the Coens to do something good with him.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs looks appropriately weird for the Coens: a combination of humor, violence, surrealism, and glimpses of beauty that no one else can blend.


Here’s an interesting video essay on the Coens I watched recently. To cut through the clickbaity titles, “The Theme of Every Coens Movie” or “How Every Coen Brothers Movie is Connected” is money. Or, to be more precise, greed.

I’m sure I’m not the only person to notice an identical black briefcase full of money as a plot element of both Fargo and No Country for Old Men, or a similar briefcase (and one ringer) in The Big Lebowski, or Linda’s this-wordly striving for cash for elective cosmetic surgeries as the driving force behind Burn After Reading, or the obvious greed of Paul Newman and M. Emmett Walsh in The Hudsucker Proxy and Blood Simple. You can grab examples from every Coen brothers film, which this video essay does. It’s thorough and very well done.

My one quibble is that with the essay’s language about the Coens critiquing “capitalism.” That’s just too ideological for the Coens. It’s the kind of language the Commies use in Hail, Caesar!, a bunch of Marxist neckbeards who ignore the one working class person they encounter, their cleaning lady (remind you of anyone else?). They’re the targets of none-too-subtle ridicule, something I think the essayist should have taken into consideration. While the Coens show a deep concern with greed, I don’t think their problem is with money generally or capitalism specifically.

You might be in a Coen brothers movie if…

One more video tidbit, a YouTube listicle about some of the recurring tropes, plot elements, and themes running through the Coens’ films. This touches on a few of the other things I’ve mentioned above—especially the corruption wrought by the love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil—and also examines the morality of the Coens’ stories. It’s a fun watch, and worth the fifteen minutes.

The Coens and personality

I have a theory that, with now eighteen films under the Coens’ belts, you could create a pretty comprehensive personality test just by having a person pick their favorite—or two of three favorites—from the Coens’ filmography.

My own favorite is Barton Fink, while my wife’s is Raising Arizona, my brother’s is Burn After Reading, and I have friends who swear by Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and others. Their films are so varied in subject matter and tone that there’s something in there for everyone, and with a proper method of analysis you could use a list of favorites to learn a lot about a person.

Somebody jump on that.