So, here's my take on Fargo, at last. For those of you eager to read this, sorry for the delay. Despite my previous facetious post, Fargo is actually one of my favorite films of all time. I love the characters and the dialog and the moral simplicity and the beautiful photography by Roger Deacons, but I also feel that this is a film with many layers and only multiple viewings could ever do it justice.
In his post, Travis mentions the term, "Minnesota nice" and gives some examples of local vernacular. I'd like to take this a step further by saying that the upper mid-western culture represented in Fargo is actually a main character in the film - weird, quirky, and nice. Bloody nice.
The "niceness" of the culture is passive-aggressive, setting the tone for every single action taken by every single character. "Minnesota nice" represents the status quo and the criminals represent the underbelly of "polite" cultures. Often times, overly polite cultures tend to be more oppressive, more intolerant, and more violent. Fargo is not only a great morality play, but a commentary on cultures and societies that alienate large portions of their citizenry through arbitrary customs like being overly polite. Jerry and his accomplices are citizens on the fringe of that culture, unable to connect; alienated by smiling faces and winterly landscapes.
What's scary about Fargo is that Jerry is such a schmuck. Yet, he's an every-man, and we identify with his predicament. He's caught in a system created by his locality (including his family and his inability to stand up for himself) and he feels trapped. People do really stupid things when they feel trapped. In this way, the real villain of Fargo, is the culture of upper mid-western America. Ignorance breeds sin and Jerry illustrates this very clearly. He's been insulated by his culture and is totally unfamiliar with real crime, even ignorant of his actions. Jerry commits his crimes without a clear sense of reality and because he lives in a "polite" culture, Jerry is virtually unfamiliar with criminality.
As Jerry's plan keeps getting fouled up by "nice" people, you begin to sense the doom that awaits him. This sense of dread is also a product of "Minnesota nice." There is something quite eerie about people who smile and act polite all the time in such a dreary environment. Their behavior has a "big brother" feel. As a result, the only characters in Fargo that feel real to audiences unfamiliar with the culture of upper mid-western America are the criminals. Audiences feel alienated by the politeness of the culture and laugh uncomfortably when Jerry and the two criminals don't play along.
I guess every town in America has its criminals. What's interesting is that the criminal behavior in Fargo actually says more about "Minnesota nice" than all of the smiles and accents. Fargo brilliantly uses criminal behavior as a kind of cultural analysis. The Cohens appear to be saying that "Minnesota nice" is actually kind of bloody. In this sense, I guess one could argue that the violence represents tensions in the culture that have been masked by the niceness.
I could say more, but I'm getting tired.