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First intermission: so are the Coen brothers religious filmmakers? Fargo between Christian moralism and post-modern irony


Amesbury, Richard (2016). First intermission: so are the Coen brothers religious filmmakers? Fargo between Christian moralism and post-modern irony. In: Siegler, Elijah. Coen: framing religion in amoral order. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 93-110.

Abstract

In this essay I consider and reject as inadequate two rival interpretations of the Coen brothers' film Fargo, which I characterize respectively as “moralistic” and “ironic.” Whereas the moralistic interpretation seeks to locate a moral within the film, the ironic interpretation (at least in its more extreme versions) denies that the film has an affirmative ethical point. I agree with the ironic reading that a moral cannot be found within the storyline, but I disagree that it follows that the film cannot be understood morally. Drawing for inspiration upon elements of ethical theory and the writings of Flannery O’Connor, I introduce a third way of understanding the movie -- namely, as a work of grotesque, in which even the good characters are represented as freakish versions of themselves. Each of these three readings implies a certain background hermeneutic -- a particular placement of the viewer in relation to the film. Each interpretation thus says something not merely about the movie, but about the interpreter. The interpretation I advance here depends upon the availability of a conception of wholeness or goodness which illuminates but which, of necessity, cannot appear within the storyline itself. The film, I argue, gestures beyond itself, toward a reality that appears only negatively in its characters.

Abstract

In this essay I consider and reject as inadequate two rival interpretations of the Coen brothers' film Fargo, which I characterize respectively as “moralistic” and “ironic.” Whereas the moralistic interpretation seeks to locate a moral within the film, the ironic interpretation (at least in its more extreme versions) denies that the film has an affirmative ethical point. I agree with the ironic reading that a moral cannot be found within the storyline, but I disagree that it follows that the film cannot be understood morally. Drawing for inspiration upon elements of ethical theory and the writings of Flannery O’Connor, I introduce a third way of understanding the movie -- namely, as a work of grotesque, in which even the good characters are represented as freakish versions of themselves. Each of these three readings implies a certain background hermeneutic -- a particular placement of the viewer in relation to the film. Each interpretation thus says something not merely about the movie, but about the interpreter. The interpretation I advance here depends upon the availability of a conception of wholeness or goodness which illuminates but which, of necessity, cannot appear within the storyline itself. The film, I argue, gestures beyond itself, toward a reality that appears only negatively in its characters.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology > Center for Ethics
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
Uncontrolled Keywords:Coen Brothers, religion and film, grotesque, Alasdair MacIntyre, Flannery O'Connor
Language:English
Date:2016
Deposited On:12 Dec 2016 09:31
Last Modified:12 Dec 2016 09:31
Publisher:Baylor University Press
ISBN:978-1-4813-0283-8
Related URLs:http://www.baylorpress.com/Book/471/Coen.html (Publisher)

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