Watch: ‘Fargo’: The Cross-References and the Reshaping

Watch: ‘Fargo’: The Cross-References and the Reshaping

When I first learned of the existence of ‘Fargo,’ I’ll have to admit I was a bit skeptical. I’ve never been one for TV spin-offs of any kind, probably since I was traumatized by ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ as a child. There are some ideas that are self-contained, and would best remain so. ‘Fargo,’ though, as has oft been said, is both a noble expansion of the Coen Brothers’ original film and, really, its own creation. The show runners took a world, created for the original, with its own prim, hospitable rules which dug in against violent animuses swooping in from the depths of the midwest–and expanded on it. What they have now is edgy, trans-generational, and wholly unpredictable. Arnau Orengo has created a video essay on ‘Fargo’ that both defeats and satisfies viewers’ expectations of the series, or the film.

Watch: Why The Coen Brothers’ ‘A Serious Man’ Is Their Most Profound Film To Date

Watch: Why The Coen Brothers’ ‘A Serious Man’ Is Their Most Profound Film To Date

There can be no doubt that ‘A Serious Man‘ is the Coen Brothers’ most profound film. It’s not their funniest film (that honor goes to ‘The Big Lebowski’). It’s not their most complicated film (see ‘Miller’s Crossing’–scratch that, memorize ‘Miller’s Crossing’). And it’s not their most outlandish film (hello, ‘Raising Arizona’). But it is the film that grapples most extensively and most compellingly with huge, near-imponderable questions, most notably one we ask all the time, but rarely have a conclusive answer to: What’s going on? Also addressed: What is the meaning of existence? What unifies all events on Earth? And, last but not least, or easiest: Why are we here? Evan Puschak, or "The Nerdwriter," as he calls himself on YouTube, has been making a remarkable series of video essays for quite some time now, on a range of subjects: his latest discusses the crucial question at the heart of the Coens’ most understated, but also most gravitas-infused, movie. For anyone who wants to know more about the Coens’ work–or, in fact, how to close-read a film–this piece is invaluable.

Watch: A Video Essay on the Coen Brothers’ Search for Truth

Watch: A Video Essay on the Coen Brothers’ Search for Truth

At one point in this intensely clever video essay, Jeff Bridges, as The Big Lebowski’s "The Dude," says, "I am not Mr. Lebowski." Immediately, William H. Macy, as Fargo‘s Jerry Lundegaard, responds, blankly but nervously, "Yeah?" The two carry on a brief rapport, and then the piece moves on. Steven Benedict looks at the ways the Coen brothers’ films "talk" to each other, by presenting the lines from disparate films as parts of an actual dialogue. The effect is hypnotic, and the message is clear. In the films of the Coen brothers, little is certain–except for one thing: the search for whatever certainty there might be. Benedict has offered up films from across the brothers’ career. Barton Fink (often). O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Hudsucker Proxy. A Serious Man. Miller’s Crossing. Inside Llewyn Davis. And the list goes on! Benedict’s arrangement succinctly and beautifully orchestrates the gleeful discombulation of these films into a harmonious whole.

Watch: LEBOWSKI DRIVE, A Mix of The Coen Brothers’ THE BIG LEBOWSKI and David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DR.


There are few American directors whose work has not been touched, in one way or another, by the work of David Lynch, and the team of Joel and Ethan Coen is no exception. The surreal touches. The ersatz humor. The pristine cinematography. The recurring dream sequences. And the plots. Vimeo users Jae et Gail have construed a similarity between the Coens’ mixed-up-identity drama The Big Lebowski and Lynch’s famously warped tale of two identities which are swirled together and spat out, Mulholland Dr.–and they have made a small and at times decidedly NSFW film out of it. Is it a video essay? Sure. Is it a collage? Sure. A mash-up? That too. A supercut? Maybe. Its own entity? Definitely.

VIDEO ESSAY: The Coen Brothers: Men of Constant Sorrow

VIDEO ESSAY: The Coen Brothers: Men of Constant Sorrow

Woe be to you if you should be so unlucky as to be a male
character in a Coen Brothers film. You will be punched. You will be yanked off
moving trains. You will frequently be plagued either by melancholy or by
ethical torment. Things won’t go well for you. And often, you won’t be terribly
likable. Take the plight of Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo.
Could a terrible kidnapping plan have possibly gone any more poorly than this
one? But, at the same time, could there be a less amiable character? The
simpering, the crying, the sneakiness, the stammering–who could stand it? Or think of Tom Reagan of
Millers Crossing. He
perpetually tries to take control—of people, of his job, of his existence—and yet perpetually gets his
come-uppance, in grand style, sometimes quite bluntly. His moment of mercy
shown to Bernie Bernbaum in the forest, when he could take a shot, and doesn’t,
is repaid by punishment, like all the best good deeds. Does he invite this bad
luck? Sure, but don’t we all, sort of? Or consider Jeff Lebowski. Just consider
him, for a moment. The peeing on the rug? The ferret in the bathtub? The blow
to the head? All wholly unasked for, and yet delivered with a vengeance. But,
and this is the million-dollar (literally) question, by who? Or what? It’s been
tossed out that the Coen Brothers are, in some sense, religious—that,
especially as shown in A Serious Man, their films are about how we humans are,
in a sense, little more than plastic cowboy and soldier figurines being moved
around in someone or something’s deranged, Old-Testament-Style shadowbox, open to whatever hurricane or other unexpected blow from above might descend upon them. But
the opposite could also be asserted, that their films show what it is like to
live in a world without a G-d, without mercy—and that what might pass for
punishment in another view is simply the business of everyday life. How the men
of these films transact that business is entirely up to them. One would think
that Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old
was wholly in control of his destiny, being as he is a reptilian
sociopath—but even he likes a coin toss every now and then. True Grit? Same
story, in a sense: though the men in this film have intentionality, they’re wandering
through a terrain—the West—which is famously unpredictable, famously wild. And
they’re being led by a young woman a quarter their age. And, beyond that, the
Coens have constructed the script in such a way, with such faith to the
original dialogue, that one sometimes feels the characters, male and female
both, are at the mercy of the words coming out of their mouths. Leigh Singer’s beautiful piece places us right in the middle of the Coen dilemma, in a form so exhilarating you might forget how much despair is being depicted.–Max Winter

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

VIDEO ESSAY: The Coen Canon

VIDEO ESSAY: The Coen Canon

Simply put, fear is funny. More clearly put, fear is at the root of much of what we consider humorous in films, even though we might not recognize it as such. We call it by different names—confusion, precariousness, coincidence—but the fear that something, whether it’s a job, a relationship, or some larger dramatic situation, might go wrong is always present in cinematic humor. This tendency goes back to the earliest comic films. In one famous scene in Modern Times, Chaplin’s factory worker is supplied with an eating machine intended to feed him while he works, but he can’t eat and work at the same time, and so he’s bombarded by hot dogs and corn on the cob. We laugh a lot at this—not only because of Chaplin’s droll presentation, but because we fear the machine might never stop. In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, we laugh at Alvy Singer’s caustic observations on his surroundings partially because of Allen’s cleverness but also partially because it spooks us, momentarily, that someone noticed the same thing about other humans that we did. In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, we laugh because we envision a future in which Steve Martin and John Candy might never return home, but also because we know they will eventually return, in one form or another. When we watch Groundhog Day, we fear that Bill Murray will never wake up—but we also, in some small, quiet part of ourselves know that he will, so it’s okay to laugh. Fear and comedy are linked in the Coen brothers’ films as well—and more directly. This connection is a large part of what gives the films their power: we come to expect humor borne out of despair from these two minds, and we wonder what variation will arise next.

From their earliest films onwards, the Coens have used and exploited varying shapes and forms of the horrific for their comic potential. In Barton Fink, our first glimpse of the titular character (John Turturrro) shows him with a mortified expression on his face. Why is he mortified? Because, while watching his play being performed, he is scared of becoming second-rate. It would be easy enough, as well, to read the film’s conclusion, resounding with Charlie Meadows’ (John Goodman) near-immortal “I’ll show you the life of the mind,” as a suggestion that to truly look into the mind would be more terrifying than any of Fink’s visions of mediocrity; even so, the tone of the statement has a slightly leering quality to it, as if the very idea were a joke.  In Raising Arizona, what do H.I.’s escaped con pals (John Goodman and William Forsythe) do when they realize they’ve lost Nathan, Jr,? They scream, loudly and comically. Why? Because they’re scared of what the baby might be feeling, the baby’s sense of terror being as far from their experience as they can imagine. This exploration continues as the Coens’ films progress. Fargo is memorable not so much as a crime story as for its interweaving of the violent and the comic. When silent, brooding Gaer Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) blows a police officer’s head off from his car seat, the action is horrifying but also delivered with semi-comic timing; when Grimsrud feeds Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) into a wood chipper, we’re repulsed, of course, but we also giggle, a little, as we do when Jean Lundegaard, after being tied up in a kidnapping staged by her husband and having a hood thrown over her head, rolls helplessly around in the snow. The comedy here is a strong mix of terror and slapstick, made all the more dramatic by the flat, relaxed quality of its characters’ Midwestern accents. The Big Lebowski balances its share of fear and comedy, as well—the precariousness we witness here is the upending of the daily assumptions by which The Dude (Jeff Bridges) lives, on a daily basis. First his rug is stolen, then he’s attacked, then he’s drugged by a porn king—the obvious question, and the big question, is: what next? And the tumbleweed at the end of the film provides an answer, of sorts: because we don’t know, the best answer is to drift, and to take things lightly if we can. There are many darkly comic moments in No Country for Old Men, which flash by us like bullets, but the brothers slow down to present us with one scene which is pure Coeniana, as well as comic, as well as connected, one one level, to fear: a scene in which a black dog chases Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin). The dog runs after him, leaps after him, and, perhaps most memorably, swims after him, through rapids and waterfalls, across fields, over fences. Moss runs, of course, because, despite his courage in some ways, he is in some way scared of the dog, and beyond that, scared of being pinned down. Fear is all over A Serious Man, primarily fear of the future, and what grim events it might hold—and yet the Coens, by their own testimony, considered the torture of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) to be central to its comedy, right up to the tornado in its conclusion. Fear lurks in Inside Llewyn Davis too, when viewed from the right perspective. There’s the much-chronicled runaway cat scene, in which Davis could be said to be scared of losing a part of himself, maudlin as the chase might be; but there’s also the fear that goes into any sort of performance, the fear that accompanies any launch of self into the void of an audience’s ears or eyes or minds, a fear empowered and increased by the great, great risk of failure. or rejection.

This is not to say that this is the only thing driving the Coen brothers’ movies. It’s certainly not. Their love of interiors, of drowning us in a certain period, along with the mood of that period; or their love of language (from Miller’s Crossing’s “What’s the rumpus?” to “He’s givin’ me the high hat!” to the outlandishly long sentences of True Grit, largely taken from Charles Portis’s book but doubtless part of what attracted them to the project; or their fascination with dream logic, cf. the progress of Barton Fink from a stiff stage play to a burning hotel—all of these things are part of the mixture as well. But without their humor, and without its (ironically) fearless push to the brink of disaster, their work might not be as compelling. The blazing, wild humor in their films serves as the mystery factor, the invisible keystone in an arch of energized idiosyncrasy. — Max Winter

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content
creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually
contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the
London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW
which boasts the tagline: “Liberating Independent Film And Video From A
Prehistoric Value System.” You can follow Nelson on Twitter

Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.

CANNES 2013: Joel and Ethan Coen’s INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

CANNES 2013: Joel and Ethan Coen’s INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

nullPlenty of films exist about struggling young artists trying to be great and failing in the process. But Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis is unique in focusing on a great struggling young artist resigned to the idea of his own impending failure. Not surprisingly, sadness is one of the film’s strongest and most resonant themes, expressed primarily through Llewyn’s (Oscar Isaac) searching eyes, which convey yearning and defeat simultaneously. Yet the Coens match the character’s extended melancholy with a sense of narrative openness, especially in the random events that allow the meandering stream-of-consciousness story to exude hopeful qualities along the way.

Set in early 1960s Greenwich Village at the dawn of the folk music revolution, the film opens with the bearded Llewyn performing in medium shot in a smoky beatnik bar. From the outset, his raspy musical voice is honest and vulnerable, two traits that seem to vanish the second he must deal with the real world in any discernible way. Even more interesting, the audience in the film doesn’t quite jive with Llewyn’s brooding and inclusive musical persona. The crowd’s lethargic faces look on in jest, proving the lack of connection between performer and patron. Much of Inside Llewyn Davis is about the often-futile attempts at translating original artistry into mass emotional consumption.

From the dimly lit stage to the only slightly brighter streets, jobless Llewyn aimlessly breezes from one NYC borough to the next, crashing on different friends’ couches and dealing with the wake of conflicts he’s helped to cause. Time passes by slowly, and deceptively minor scenes involving Llewyn’s agent and family quickly build on each other both thematically and emotionally, adding to the film’s fluid and whimsical pace. Music is always in the air, with the Coens’ sprinkling of full performances by Llewyn and other folk personalities throughout the film. But often it appears only the film’s audience can hear their genius (and absurdity). They are all truly ahead of their time in one way or another.

An unexpected pregnancy involving the girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) of a close friend and the non-impact of his unsuccessful debut solo record prove to be small ripples in Llewyn’s life. Hilariously, what most films would construe as “major” melodramatic conflicts become dwarfed by a small inconvenience involving a friend’s cat that turns into a sublime romp through the city streets. Holding the feline tightly after its near escape, Llewyn sits noticeably out of place on the subway. In an amazing moment, the Coens show the cat’s face inquisitively peering out the window, awake to the kinetic world rushing by. Whether the animal is transfixed by its own reflection or the passing terminal signs remains one of the film’s great wonders.

If Inside Llewyn Davis shares the deceptively shapeless and wandering trajectory of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, it feels profoundly breezy in a completely different way. This can be greatly attributed to Oscar Isaac’s heartbreaking performance, which gives even the smallest moment palpable weight. He even manages to convey an entire generation’s frustration and malaise in a single spoken farewell without the hint of indulgence. Llewyn understands that aside from bits of bad luck and potentially a few cultural circumstances, his life has been defined by missed opportunities involving love, family, success, and artistic creation. He may seem at peace with these failures on the surface, grooving with disappointment as if were his permanent dance partner. But those lovely eyes are all hurt. What’s inside Llewyn Davis is pure regret. 

Glenn Heath Jr. is a film critic for Slant Magazine, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, The L Magazine, and
The House Next Door. Glenn is also a full-time Lecturer of Film Studies
at Platt College and National University in San Diego, CA.

Nobody Gets Out of Life Alive: THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

Nobody Gets Out of Life Alive: THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE


“Nobody gets out of life alive. The world’s so full of
crap a man’s going to get into it sooner or later, whether he’s careful or

Originally an advertisement for professional bloodletting
services, the red stripes of barber poles still remain today, despite the fact
that hair is the only thing modern barbers remove from their clients’ bodies.
The Man Who Wasn’t There begins with a languorous opening shot of a spinning
barber’s pole. Since the film is a Coen brothers neo-noir, it’s safe
to assume there will be a different kind of bloodletting before the film
is over. 

The year is 1949, and the barber we are about to meet is Ed
Crane, played with a perfectly calibrated laconic calm by Billy Bob Thornton.
He is an existentialist anti-hero, as if Bartleby the Scrivener had chosen an
alternate career path and became tragically enmeshed in a blackmailing scheme
gone wrong. 

Ed is an absence punched into the fabric of the film, a
black hole around which it orbits. His primary response to the world is one of
violent underreaction. He is inert with passivity, an American buddha, beatific
with a placid glow of naivete and repression. He’s like an unspoken thought.
This film chronicles his unfortunate late-blooming experiments with taking
action and his resulting demise. The process of his destruction commences the
moment he goes from being an unexpressed thought to an utterance, the moment he enters the world through
activity and decision. And his destruction is also the vehicle by which he
realizes himself.

In the noir cosmos, it is normal for a timid character to be
lured out of a safe but unsatisfying zone of normalcy by mirages of wealth and romance. This is what happens to Ed when
he gets suckered into a swindle that involves becoming a silent partner in a dry
cleaning business. He acquires the money for this by blackmailing his wife’s
boss, with whom she is having an affair. The plan appears to have a perfect
symmetry. He would seem to be able to enter his dream of wealth while getting
revenge against his rival with a single action. He wants to reach goals he has
unthinkingly and hastily stumbled upon in a manner that involves little to no
effort. We know it is not going to end well.

Like many of the Coen brothers’ characters, at no point does
Ed gain an understanding of how he works. The one aspect of his revolt against
his life is his inappropriate attachment to the gamine Birdy, played with a
compelling subdued clarity by Scarlett Johansson. Their
relation is one of genuine friendship, but Ed himself has no idea that his
intentions are also amorous.

This is because he can’t see himself. No learning curve is
possible in this world, only the transformation of circumstances. The rules of
the film’s universe dictate that the ultimate sacrifice must be paid for the
crime of wanting to be a dry cleaner. He mutely picks his moment to enter the
stream of phenomena from the suspended animation of seemingly prosperous, happy
post-WWII America, and he is briskly swept away in the acrid waters of brutal
existential comedy. It isn’t that he is dispatched following a
naively lazy attempt to escape from his life, but that his existence doesn’t
begin until the elaborate process of his undoing has commenced.

Some people find it disturbing that in Coen brothers films,
the characters don’t often have clear realistic referents and appear at first
glance to be stereotypes, playthings created only to be sadistically ground
up in the gears of a machine in which unfortunate patterns of human behavior, bad
decisions, bad luck, and stupidity converge to mete out a punishment so
arbitrary and so astronomically out of proportion to the crime that one can
only laugh. I’ve never understood this objection. Placing doltish,
unrealistically drawn, powerless
characters in an uncertain, comically brutal universe is what the Coen brothers
do best, and it’s what makes their films so entertaining, thought provoking,
and appealing.

The fact that the brothers were faculty brats who went
respectively to NYU and Princeton and sometimes make cartoonish movies about
dim-witted people has led some to the misguided conclusion that they are
condescending to their characters. Dave Kehr, writing about Raising Arizona, opined that “the distinction between satire and sincerity doesn`t mean much to the
Coen brothers, who treat everything that passes before their camera with
the same smarmy condescension…. The elaborate, self-conscious stylistics serve only to proclaim how much
more sophisticated the Coens are than the bumpkins they have chosen to
populate their movie. At the same time, the empty technique invites the
audience to share the Coens` sense of superiority….” Coming to this conclusion requires ignoring the glaringly burlesque fable-like atmosphere that permeates their
films, and falling into the trap of looking in vain for realistic characters
and settings to emotionally identify with, when the films are working with
totally different dynamics and materials. The Coen brothers clearly have a real
affection for their stylistically rendered characters, and this is reinforced by
the degree to which other people love these characters as well. The Coens
create the characters not to be mocked, but to be destroyed with extreme prejudice. The brothers
seem to be poking fun at creations they love. In the process of
humiliating, damaging and annihilating these figures, they render them in an extremely vivid
and often hilarious way.

Though today the Coens are widely critically lauded and
their films are usually discussed in a way that comprehends the spirit in which
they were meant,  their work is still polarizing.
It seems that gleefully subverting conventions never seems to lose its power to
piss people off. Some critics found their first films grating and insincere,
especially critics at the more genteel publications which might not have been
ready for the Coen dynamic, which usually incorporates slapstick, noir, brutal
violence, and wry humor into an entertaining but disorienting mélange. Even the
inordinately perspicacious Pauline Kael held up the first two Coen films beside a template of expectations which rendered them somewhat
illegible to her. On Blood Simple: “[T]he reason the camera whoop-de-do is so noticeable is that there’s
nothing else going on. The movie doesn’t even seem meant to have any
rhythmic flow; the Coens just want us to respond to a bunch of ‘touches’
on routine themes. (These art touches are their jokes.) Blood Simple
comes on as self-mocking, but it has no self to mock.” Critics might be able to accept stylized
wry brutality and black humor, but to be accepted it must be served with a large
side order of transcendence, and that is a dish that is not usually available
on the Coen menu.

When filmmakers don’t
leave clear markers as to how sincere or sarcastic they are, critical anxiety is generated, and this can cause us to miss how much obvious joy is being taken in playing with genres and dynamics.
This has sometimes resulted in a pattern of priggish critical harrumphing that
continues in some quarters even to this day. Rather than letting the sincere
and sarcastic elements work together in a thought-provoking manner as a kind of
essay, the ambiguity is sometimes mistaken for ridicule. Some critics have assumed
that the tradition of realistically drawn, emotionally relatable characters and
settings is being smugly dismissed. After all, it’s the critic’s job to provide
a grading system to determine how well filmmakers provide this traditional

The Man Who Wasn’t There might prove off-putting if
approached with this conventional set of expectations. But it’s funny,
thought-provoking, and mesmerizing if you let its themes and questions, and its
gorgeous, silky black-and-white cinematography work more in the spirit in which
they seem to have been created: as a wry, poetic thought experiment within a
technically impressive formal genre structure. The Man Who Wasn’t There offers
the stability of being one genre rather than several at the same time, but it
doesn’t offer a stable railing of seeming emotional truth. It works by keeping
the viewer continually off balance, so the only stability is to be found by
continuing to ask questions.

The Coen brothers’ warmer, more wildly entertaining films
like Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo do provide opportunities for
the traditional dynamic of emotional identification. But even their sweetest
and most uproarious films also contain their trademark opposite pole of
punishing nastiness. Allowing these contradictory polarities to work
simultaneously to some degree is a large part of what gives their films a
unique sense of tension and unpredictability.

There are many things that critics agree the Coens do well,
including themes of friendship, theatrically arresting violence, 
humor, suspense, elaborately complex, perfectly choreographed set
pieces, perfectionist music editing and overall technical panache. Not least
among the things they’re known for is unforgettable dialogue, often done with
in a comically inappropriate literary style. They’re fond of voiceovers,
usually from unreliable narrators such as H.I. in Raising Arizona. Their films
use a contrast between the narrators’ blinkered perspective and the
considerably broader perspective accorded to the camera. The voiceovers are
dramatic monologues competing with the images rather than explaining them. Ed’s
voiceover in The Man Who Wasn’t There is eventually revealed to be a men’s
magazine article about his journey to the electric chair. It is, literally, an essay.

nullThe movie begins with Ed talking about how little he talks.
“I just cut the hair.” Disparities between subjective narratives and
the gaps of knowledge between characters fuel some of the tensest scenes of
conversation in the film, as when Ed is first speaking to the menacing Big Dave Brewster,
played by James
Gandolfini, with his trademark Tony Soprano blend of menace and
affability. We are not sure how much Big Dave knows or what he’s capable of, as
he is speaking to Ed as though in confidence about some other blackmailer. He
slowly reveals how much he does know, which is everything, and then asks him in
mounting rage, “What kind of man are you?” before attempting to beat
him to death. Ed semi-accidentally kills him in self-defense with a lucky jab
of Big Dave’s cigar cutting knife straight into the jugular. The shot of Ed
being strangled by Big Dave is done from outside the room, behind glass he is
being pressed against. The glass, our view of the scene,  cracks joltingly during the struggle, and
this marks the first start of the machine of Ed’s fate. The scene
ends with the ticking of a clock.

Not all the verbal narratives in the film are unreliable.
The Coens are not nihilists. Several pieces of information are framed as if they were
objectively the case. The first comes from Ed’s lawyer’s private detective, who
reveals that Big Joe was faking his war hero resume. He turns out to have been
just a bar room brawler with an anger management problem. The other comes from
the piano tutor Ed contacts to evaluate Birdy’s level of talent, and whose evaluation is unusually
frank. Neither piece of truthful information is particularly important in the

The film’s basic dynamic involves simple reversal of the passive
and the active. Instead of shaving his wife’s legs for her and cutting other
people’s hair, at the end of the movie Ed is the one being shaved, with
orderlies scraping away the hair on his leg to ensure a good contact for the electric chair. He is not even being
executed for any crime he committed, but he doesn’t mind. He’s in the driver’s

Drew Gardner’s books include Chomp Away (Combo, 2010), and Petroleum
Hat (Roof Books, 2005). He tweets at @chompaway and lives in New York

The Big Lebowski a Masterpiece? That’s Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man

THE BIG LEBOWSKI a Masterpiece? That’s Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man


Without question, The Big Lebowski is the most popular movie the Coen brothers ever made. I’m not talking about box office receipts—Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou had higher domestic grosses—but in terms of ubiquity and fandom, the 1998 stoner comedy has no equal. Louisville, Kentucky hosted its tenth annual Lebowski Fest last year, wherein diehard fans celebrated all things Dude. They quoted lines from the movie, dressed as their favorite characters, and drank more White Russians than they probably should have. What’s missing from the conversation, however, is not how the movie has become an underground pop culture phenomenon, but how The Big Lebowski stacks up as a movie. Quite simply, The Big Lebowski does not belong among the canon of the Coens’ best films, no matter how much the fans and urban achievers protest.

Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but whenever I bring the topic up with friends, I’m invariably met with, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” Indeed, repeating your favorite lines is part of the fun, especially when presented with the appropriate context. But there are other Coen comedies, too, and their meticulous consistency is what makes them better films. In terms of full-on kookiness, the introduction of Intolerable Cruelty’s Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy lands better and harder than the introduction of Jesus, the bowling pederast. With a mix of broad and focused diction, the central trio of O Brother, Where Art Thou has more consistent comic chemistry than uneven Lebowski heroes; Donny (Steve Buscemi) amounts to a one-note joke, drilled into the ground by the Coens. Come to think of it, Raising Arizona’s stolen baby is more a useful conceit than Donny is: when Ed (Holly Hunter) sobs with joy, it’s a captivatingly funny character moment. “Shut the fuck up, Donny” is merely a dismissive statement, repeated too much.

I don’t mean to imply that I think The Big Lebowski is a bad movie, or a bad comedy. As Sam Elliott’s character would say, “Far from it.” The Big Lebowski is a good comedy because it features smart lines for stupid characters. The Stranger (Elliott) introduces The Dude (Jeff Bridges) as the laziest man in all of Los Angeles County, but he’s also a quick wit. Other characters don’t reward his jokes—Maude’s (Julianne Moore) “Don’t be fatuous, Jeffrey” is the warmest response he gets—so the audience has an instinctive sympathy for The Dude. Nobody else but the viewers notice the sharp mind at work underneath the fog of weed, vodka, and sunglasses. Walter (John Goodman) is The Dude’s opposite and equal: while Walter’s broad gestures initially define him, it’s the smaller lines (e.g. “You mean beyond pacifism?”) that push him beyond caricature into something unique. And with a tapestry of odd secondary characters, The Big Lebowski ambles along without much fuss.

“Ambles” is the key word here. The weakness of The Big Lebowski—and the reason it does not deserve mention among the Coens’ best—is that it amounts to little more than a well-written shaggy dog story. First and foremost, meticulously tight plotting define the best films by the Coen Brothers. Blood Simple and Fargo, for example, are examples of pure cinematic storytelling, and they deal with the repercussions of murder in an inexorable, brutally logical way. Ardent Lebowski fans like to say the meandering plot and zany asides are deliberate, reflecting The Dude’s abiding nature. I’ve heard other defenses which claim that the movie has an airtight plot, and it’s The Dude’s stoner fog that makes it all appear so hazy. The problem with both theories is that they ignore how the Coens consistently put their characters in a narrative fog, even without the White Russians or pot. Fargo’s Jerry Lundegaard and even No Country’s Llewelyn Moss could not make their way through a dense narrative from the Coens, yet the directors’ command of plot is held to a higher standard than the flawed, imperfect information their characters are given. Put another way, the Coens fall into the trap of the Dude’s laziness in The Big Lebowski, and the Coens are at their best when they’re being very un-Dude.

Look, celebrating The Big Lebowski is not beneath me. Back in 2009 I went to a mini-Lebowski party at my friend’s apartment. In the email chain leading up to the party, I dropped multiple references to lines in the movie, including a couple that are in this article. I know what it is to be a fan, but it is important to separate fandom from analysis. The former can obfuscate the latter, which is a shame since some scrutiny might illuminate the secret of The Big Lebowksi’s unlikely endurance. Our answer is more than a throwaway line, or an annual festival. Say what you like about the tenets of actual criticism, Lebowski fans, at least it’s an ethos.

Alan Zilberman is the film editor of Brightest Young Things, as well as a contributor to Tiny Mix Tapes, Washington City Paper, and The Atlantic. Follow him on Twitter here.

O Coen Brothers, Where Art God? A Conversation Between Matt Zoller Seitz and Jeffrey Overstreet

O Coen Brothers, Where Art God? A Conversation Between Matt Zoller Seitz and Jeffrey Overstreet


Editor’s note: So, I was watching Raising Arizona for the 400th time the other night, and laughing at the sheer Freudian-Jungian comic bookish-ness of having the lone biker of the apocalypse appear in conjunction with the hero, H.I. McDonough, having a dream. It’s almost as if he was summoned by the hero’s dream—as if he’s a metaphor made flesh. You can see the biker as a physicalization of the hero’s internal struggle to put down the outlaw within, and become domesticated. The biker is an id creature erupting from inside of H.I.—the return of the repressed, I guess Freud might say—only he’s riding a giant Harley and he’s got shotguns and grenades.
And then I started to fixate on something else: the sense that there’s an equally strong religious or spiritual dimension to that scene. It’s as if the biker is a demon being summoned like a supernatural creature from a horror movie or an ancient folktale. Ed doesn’t call him a “warthog from Hell” for nothing.

And this in turn got me thinking about all the other instances in Joel and Ethan Coen’s filmography where it seems as though supernatural forces, or at least nonrational or uncanny forces, are at play—where what you’re seeing doesn’t quite seem to be metaphorical, if you know what I mean. There’s an angel and a guardian angel in The Hudsucker Proxy, and the actual stoppage of time. The villain in No Country for Old Men seems like Satan himself, or a demon from hell, not unlike that biker from Raising Arizona. The bad guy in The Ladykillers is basically Satan, doing battle with an old widow, and their dynamic recalls Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish in The Night of the Hunter, which was a Manichean story that quoted the Bible and from folktales and fairytales rather liberally. A Serious Man draws on Jewish theology and folktales quite pointedly, and it ends with what looks rather like a miracle, or maybe a curse, or the apocalypse; and in any event, the film seems to connect with No Country for Old Men, which also has a fire-and-brimstone, or Revelation, kind of vibe.

And at a certain point I just thought, “I need to get Jeffrey Overstreet to talk to me about this, and see what he thinks.” Jeffrey is a novelist and one of my favorite film critics. He writes with great lucidity and compassion about all sorts of movies, from all sorts of angles, but what I value most about his work is the theological-moral perspective he takes on things. He’s not a dogmatic scold, sifting through popular art looking for work that fits a rigid world view; he’s more interested in Looking Closer, as his blog title suggests, to discover what, if anything, the work is saying. That’s what I think he does in this conversation.—Matt Zoller Seitz 

nullMatt Zoller Seitz: Do the Coens believe in God? Can we even say that for sure? Do they believe in the non-rational, the supernatural? Or are they just pranksters pulling our chains and hoping to spark conversation pieces like this one, while they sit there snickering? What do you think?

Jeffrey Overstreet: As Emily Dickinson says, “Success in Circuit
lies….” So, forgive me, but I’ll get to that question about God in a circuitous

I think it’s great that the scene
that started your engine for this conversation is “The Emergence of the Lone
Biker.” I think it’s one of the most intriguing in the Coen brothers’ whole repertoire.
(I can’t say “repertoire” in this conversation without giving it an exaggerated
Southern pronunciation, just as a Coen brothers character would say it.) Anyway,
that scene is not only resonant with apocalyptic, supernatural implications —
it’s intriguing in that it serves as one of several portals into their other
films. It’s one of those recurring motifs, those strands of thread that stitch
the Coens’ whole body of work together.

Raising Arizona’s H.I. has the
Lone Biker, who greatly resembles Sheriff Bell’s nemesis in No Country for Old Men —Anton Chigurh.
Both are lone figures of chaos, wrath, death, and judgment, prone to blasting
“the little things” (bunnies, birds) and the innocents. In fact, there are
shots of H.I.’s troubled sleep, in which he dreams of apocalyptic things, that
mirror Llewelyn’s troubled sleep after he brings the money home in No Country. There are strong connections
between H.I. and Llewlyn, fools-in-arms right down to the way that their stolen
goods drag them down into much darker and more frightful trouble. The allure of
“what other people have” — money, a family, power, fame — is the pathway to
hell for so many Coen characters.

But there are a variety of crooks in
the Coens’ world. There are boneheads like H.I. and Llewelyn, who take what
doesn’t belong to them and regret it. There are power-mad figureheads and CEOs
and “Men Behind Desks” like Waring Hudsucker in The Hudsucker Proxy and the Big Lebowski in the film that bears his
name, and the Hollywood studio execs in Barton
, and Leo in Miller’s Crossing
crooks who are insulated and egomaniacal, corrupt and rotten to the core. There
are flimsy fools of apathy and inaction, like Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man and Ed Crane in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Those who
insist on forcing the world into order through the power of law  —Sheriff Bell in No Country, Tom Reagan in Miller’s
, Rooster Cogburn in True
— end up despairing, unless they act in allegiance to some kind of
higher law, embracing mercy and mystery.

In fact, the only characters I can
think of who aren’t seriously messed up are Marge Gunderson in Fargo and Mattie Ross in True Grit.

So, back to your question
about God: I think the Coens suggest him via
. They show the incompleteness and insufficiency of a vision that
leaves God out. There are clearly human evils at work —evils of foolishness,
carelessness, folly, and evils of greed and deliberate violence. But there are
also evils of apocalyptic, seemingly supernatural proportions. As No Country demonstrates, good deeds and
the power of law are not enough to save the world. Ultimately, the best we can
do is seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in the presence of something
greater than ourselves. 

The whole “white hats versus black hats” view of the world
MZS: It’s very elusive, very tricky, very coy, I guess you could say — the way they deal with these issues, or don’t deal with them.

From Blood Simple onward, the Coens have offered up plot after plot after plot wherein good and evil square off, but both good and evil are as comical as they are formidable. Good is noble but rather dull, or conventional and predictable. Evil—or corruption—is more exciting, I suppose, or at least superficially sexier than good, but kind of pathetic in the long run. Anton Chigurh is distinguished by his isolation and his grotesqueness. The crooks in Fargo bang prostitutes in hotel rooms after a Jose Feliciano concert, and seem to last all of ten minutes before Johnny Carson comes on; meanwhile, Marge Gunderson and her husband seem truly satisfied in their “boring” suburban home, in their shared bed.

In the Coens’ work, the settled, slightly boring but essentially satisfied “good” collides with the evil, the chaotic. And the fate of the world, or at least these characters’ own little world, is at stake.

nullBut here’s the really interesting part for me: in a Coen brothers film, you can never be entirely sure if good really defeated evil or if evil destroyed itself, through overconfidence or inattention or just plain bad luck.

Luck is such a huge factor in the Coens’ work. Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, Barton Fink, Burn After Reading and so many other Coen brothers films have plots that seem driven by mysterious clockwork forces that could either be weighted in favor of “good” or not . . . . But then again, you kind of can’t tell. And while I think I know what the Coens think of their bad guys, I can’t be entirely sure if what I’m seeing onscreen is a condemnation, however comic, or merely a presentation.

Are they moralists, or are they anthropologists?

JO: I think they’re out to subvert the
whole “white hats versus black hats” view of the world. I think they
do believe in good and evil, but they seem to see all of humanity as having one
foot planted in both camps. Their character cannot be “the Good,” but the more
they “lean in” toward love, the more peace and hope and goodness they

Think of H.I.’s final dream, the one
about growing old with a family and feasting. Think of Marge and Norm
celebrating the 3-cent stamp and the upcoming baby. Think of how the most moving
and inspiring moment in True Grit
comes not when Cogburn blasts the bad guys, but when he carries Mattie across
miles and miles trying to save her. The more these characters try and crush
evil, or to diagnose it with the intellect, or try to make themselves better
through the sheer force of will, the more hopeless and sick at heart they


Think of poor Barton Fink, who rants
and rants about intellectuals who want “to insulate themselves from the
common man, from where they live…” And what is Barton doing? He’s
recoiling from his neighbor, trying to insulate himself from a “common man.”
But the wallpaper keeps peeling away, and he will eventually have to deal with
the ugliness, the corruption, that is common to everyone. His only hope for
relief, it seems, comes when he learns to carry his “box of
corruption” with him, rest, and look around at what beauty he can find in
the midst of the world’s seeming-absurdity. (And what is that diving pelican in
the final moment but an affirmation that there is something absurd in the
sublime, and something sublime in absurdity?)

In the same way, Sheriff Bell in No Country, for all of his efforts, must
sit at the table with his wife, confess to a sense of hopelessness and
futility, and “lean in” to a dream, to a sense that maybe there is a
glimmer of hope, but it exists beyond our control.

nullThat is why I think there is
profundity in Delmar’s baptism in O
Brother, Where Art Thou
? It’s grace. A fool like Delmar, and maybe even a
fool like Ulysses, can “be saved” when he accepts grace. When these
characters have a sort of Damascus-road encounter with something greater than
themselves, and allow the gravity of that to draw them away from their wicked
ways. “Well,” he tells his friends, “as soon as we get ourselves
cleaned up and we get a little smellum in our hair, why, we’re gonna feel 100%
better about ourselves and about life in general.” That doesn’t work. But
he will begin to feel better about
himself when grace inspires him back toward the straight and narrow, when love
“cleans him up.”

Even Mattie Ross, for all of her
righteous anger, pays a heavy price for trying to fix the world by force. After
she is “disarmed,” she seems to realize that the greatest reward of
her adventure was not justice achieved by violence, but the mysterious bond that
formed between her and Cogburn, who strove so mightily to help her.

The Coens’ paint a picture of a world
botched beyond belief, and beyond humanity’s capacity to repair. But there is
something transcendent about what those characters who know love enjoy. They
touch something that operates in, through, and beyond the human sphere.

Hey, even Private Detective Visser in
Blood Simple has a sense of it. He’s
preoccupied with Russia, where “everyone pulls for everyone else.”
But in Texas… “you’re on your own.”  


Just drifting through, like the tumbling tumbleweeds

MZS: I want to dig into this a bit more, this sense that bedrock Judeo-Christian concepts inform the Coen brothers’ filmography. I think it’s self-evidently true to say this, like saying that David Cronenberg is fascinated by the fragility of flesh and its overlap with technology, or that Steven Spielberg has daddy issues. But at the same time, it’s an observation that conflicts with the popular perception of the Coens as being cold or disinterested moral relativists—or at the very least, film school pranksters, guys who are all about homage, and who don’t believe in anything, really.

They certainly do hold their cards pretty close to their vests in that regard. But maybe not as close as detractors might say?

They’re essentially comic storytellers, even when they’re making supposed dramas, but after watching their work for nearly thirty years, I’ve concluded that deep down, they’re among the most moral, even moralistic, filmmakers working in the Hollywood mainstream. Good and evil aren’t metaphorical to them, even though they take on overtly symbolic guises at times. There is a right way and a wrong way to live. They do judge the corrupt, the weak, the impulsive and the greedy in very unflattering terms. When the bad guys in The Ladykillers get foiled, they seem to be struck down—smitten as if by God himself, then dumped onto a garbage barge like, well, human garbage, I guess. And then there’s that line in the police car near the end of Fargo: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.” 

What you say about surrendering to a higher power, or to the possibility of enlightenment or even “rapture,” as a Christian might put it, runs throughout Joel and Ethan Coen’s filmography—that sense that you have to let go, to surrender to cosmic forces rather than fight them, and let the universe sort itself out. That’s not to say that the outcome will necessarily favor Good, or even favor you personally—just that, as the films tell their stories, the universe has a way, and we don’t necessarily know what That Way is, and ultimately we’re all just drifting through, like the tumbling tumbleweeds in The Big Lebowski.

Do the Coens want to try to make sense of any of this? I don’t know . . . There are times when they seem as baffled as the rest of us. They certainly have a fondness for narrator characters who try to put everything in perspective and fail miserably and very amusingly. The narrator Moses—what a name!—in The Hudsucker Proxy, or Sam Elliott’s cowboy in Lebowski, kind of lose their places as they’re trying to put a frame around things. The Coens seem to get a kick out of tantalizing us with answers while laughing at the very idea that there could be answers. 

JO: Well . . . they sure don’t seem to think we’ll know answers on this side of Sheriff Bell’s dream. But there is something out there. There is somebody running the clock.

I’m uncomfortable with the term “moralists” when it comes to the Coens. Mere moralism isn’t enough. Moralism is just arithmetic: A fool plus his money are bound for hell. That’s not an accurate summation of their sensibility, because look at how the loving and the righteous and the innocent die miserably in their films. Exhibit A: Lana, from No Country. “Karma” is far too narrow a concept for the Coens.

Furthermore, there is too much
respect for mystery in these films
for the storytellers to be mere moralists.


Now, I don’t think the answer is to
start trying to pin a religion on them. A
Serious Man
makes it painfully clear that religion can become like Arthur Gopnick’s
book “The Mentaculus” … a labyrinth of laws and reasoning that ends
up making as much sense as the absurd, self-contradicting legal defense of Ed
Crane in The Man Who Wasn’t There.
Religion, while it binds communities and brings meaning through ritual, is
ultimately not enough. I’m not willing to brand the Coens as “covert
Christians.” And even if I did, the word “Christian” is about as
meaningful anymore as the word “conservative” or “Democrat”,
or the term “the American way.” It means a million things to a
million people. 
But they are definitely drawn to a
vision of the cosmos that resonates with my understanding of Christ’s
teachings. That is to say that “righteousness,” the ways of religion, and the
law-focused method of an “Old Testament” worldview, are ultimately insufficient.
We cannot earn our way to heaven by being good. We cannot save ourselves.

The Coens know that “all have
sinned,” and they know that “the wages of sin is death.” Everybody is likely to
die miserably in their movies, whether as a result of their own evil or someone

But there is something out there,
some kind of offer of grace, and when we glimpse that, goodness happens
in us. We begin to love not for selfish reasons, but as a response, as a
reflection, as if we are instruments being tuned up by something greater than

No, I think that the clearest
summation of their worldview comes from Mattie in their True Grit remake: “You must pay for everything in this world,
one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”


The small and humble people of the world

JO: On a side note, while I don’t see
anything as simplistic as a “Christ figure” in the Coens’ films, I do
love the way some have speculated that “The Dude” himself is a
“holy fool” who acts as a sort of signpost toward Jesus. We see him
doing carpentry (badly). We see him “taking it easy for all us
sinners.” He walks around in a robe, and hangs out with all manner of
fools and crooks without an inclination toward judgment. He even bowls
alongside a “false Christ” (“The Jesus”). And what does he
drink at the grocery? Okay, I know, it’s a crazy stretch, probably a
coincidence, but I love the suggestion of “dual nature of Christ” in
the carton of half-and-half. (Cathleen Falsani has a whole book on this, by the
way: The Dude Abides: The Gospel According
to the Coen Brothers

The Coens love the fact that God uses
the small and humble people of the world to shame the greater. 

MZS: Well, I didn’t want to come at this head-on, because it seems very un-Coen-like, but you went there first: I take it you believe that the Coens believe in God?

JO: Accept the mystery.

Okay, more directly: I think they believe
in grace. I think that they’re likely to give the great mystery enough respect
that they won’t name him. They’d rather show than tell. Or, if you will — they
don’t believe in God, they believe in G-d. That’s my inclination.

But then again, many great artists
who profess to profound doubts, cynicism, agnosticism, have given us inspiring theological art. Listen to Woody Allen say he doesn’t believe in
right and wrong, or good and evil, or God. But then he tells stories about men
who, when they commit all manner of sins, are haunted, conflicted,

Perhaps the Coens’ films are another
case of the art knowing more than the artists. And that is what should matter
anyway. I don’t much care what the artist believes. I care to discern what the
art reveals.

Annie Dillard once wrote, “There
is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the
light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the
candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and
chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.” I love that. Give me
the work and its mystery. Don’t ask me what the artist believes.

nullMZS: Then what do you think the work reveals, about God, about faith, about the possibility of a moral code that can help us make sense of things? I feel like the Coens are very culturally conservative beneath it all, and not anything close to the snickering secular humanists you might think they are, considering their reputation as pranksters. I felt like the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski were the Coens’ playful mockery of critics who’ve called them Nihilists—”Ja, we are nihilists, we believe in nothing!” they repeat, chasing the hero through his dreams with huge castrating scissors. The Coens aren’t nihilists. They believe in something. And yet they don’t spell that something out. It emerges organically while you’re watching their films, maybe because they’re not entirely sure what “it” is, either. They can see the contours but not the details, maybe? It’s tricky and very subjective, what they’re doing, and what we’re doing as we watch they’re doing. It’s like looking for shapes in clouds. You see what you want to see, and maybe you’re right to see it, or maybe if you were a couple of miles in the other direction you’d see something else entirely. 

There’s an aspect to their work that reminds me of going to Sunday school as a kid, and I don’t mean that as a knock, not at all. It also reminds me of hearing my grandfather tell stories about his childhood by way of moral instruction. They’re illuminating the universe, or at least exploring it. But they’re not going about it in a didactic way. There’s something fundamentally humble about them, as visually and structurally and generically flamboyant as they sometimes are. I feel like they’re figuring things out, too—figuring themselves out, figuring the world out, and laughing at themselves, and the rest of us, for thinking there’s An Answer to anything.

JO: I get why it reminds you of Sunday School,
but I never get the sense that they’re lecturing. I get the sense that they’re
holding up a mirror to all of humanity, themselves included, and showing us
what a hilarious and pathetic mess we all — Coens included — make of things. I
think Barton Fink has self-critique
built into it — they’re making intellectual movies, but they know that even
ambitious art like that can only go so far. Their constant nods to Sullivan’s Travels, especially in Hudsucker and O Brother, tell us that they know that there is redemption in a
certain kind of self-effacing laughter. I suspect they see themselves as Larry Gopniks…
exasperated by the insanity in the people around them, but then capable of
perpetuating that same destruction with their own judgmentalism and compromise.

What many people perceive as
condescension, as “sneering at their characters” … I disagree with
that characterization. I tend to see that as a sign of their humility, maybe
even compassion, and above all… affection. We are deeply moved when Tom Reagan
shows mercy to Bernie in Miller’s
. We feel that something has died when he becomes the figure of
wrath later. Visceral responses like that are what we need in order to remember
what is really at stake in this world. And I love their films for triggering
those responses, and making me look for signs of beauty and grace in this
world. As Dylan sings – and I can’t wait to see them visit Dylan’s scene in
their next film! — “It’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there.”

nullChuck Jones clearly loved his Looney Toons characters. He loved their language, their exaggerated features, their cleverness, their vanity, their folly. But he loved those characters. And his depictions of human folly in the circus of those cartoons was a form of insightful humility, about all of us ridiculous human beings. So I think the Coens’ work disturbs audiences because it reminds us that, contrary to so many Hollywood messages, “being good” isn’t the answer. Being good is good, but—as Bill Murray says in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom—it isn’t enough to fix things. Their movies “ring true” when they remind us that there is a “wrath that’s about to set down,” as Rooster Cogburn says. If that wasn’t true, it wouldn’t strike such a resonant chord in audiences. The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in Raising Arizona is coming, and there’s something elemental and true about him. We ourselves have unleashed him, as H.I. declares. In No Country, we’re warned that we “can’t stop what’s comin’.” There is a moral code, yes, and we violate it in countless ways. We’re screwed.

But their work doesn’t stop there. It engages and encourages us by leaving us with moments that transcend all of that doom, all of that destruction. Their suggestion of the possibility of grace is not so much a sermon proclamation as a desperate hope.

And it wouldn’t move us so deeply if the anticipation of grace weren’t built into us somehow. It moves us because, on some level, we know it’s true.

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website,

Matt Zoller Seitz is the co-founder of Press Play. His book-length interview with Wes Anderson, The Wes Anderson Collection, will be published in October, 2013, by Abrams Books.