Fargo, Directed by Joel Coen
Polygram Filmed Entertainment in association with Working Title Films, March 8, 1996 (US)
Screenplay: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare
The following are true stories. No one granted permission to drop his name, but I do so anyway because we are all guilty and innocent at one point or another. Any mistakes in accuracy are purely coincidental and defame only the omitted.
My first trip to New York kicked off in haute style and bustling surprise. I flew a red-eye to JFK, arriving in the early dawn hours one September. I waited on line for a taxi, which shot me into Manhattan across the Queensboro Bridge. After leaving my luggage with the hotel front desk—it was too early for a formal check-in—I left the lobby of The Regency on Park Avenue and headed west on 61st to 5th. The schlep up 5th to 89th ended in front of my destination, The Guggenheim, which opened a half hour later. While waiting, I gazed up and down the magnificent avenue and across into Central Park, admiring the uptown scene, whereupon Woody Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi, walked past me hand-in-hand. I was astonished by my luck; I stood face-to-face with the quintessential New Yorker within two hours of landing. The rest of the trip … fugettaboutit.
At Crunch in L.A., where I routinely hit the gym, I kick boxed with Jennifer Beals, the chick from Flashdance. Was I stoked! We were partnered by full-on chance. Most guys, who saw her in the movie a hundred years ago, developed a killer crush. She was once, like, the hottest babe on the planet. So, standing there, holding the bag, while Jennifer Freakin’ Beals took some serious jabs, blew my mind. This was no ordinary celebrity sighting. Truth is, the movie poster with Jen in a loose gray sweatshirt falling off her naked shoulder has been hanging on my bedroom wall, ever since the movie came out. Pretty rad, huh? Our red carpet affair was in the making for almost two decades, and I’m pleased to report she’s totally awesome with a strong right hook. She left me worked that night, dude, and because of the encounter, her poster is staying up for at least another twenty!
Oh, yah! On a trip through the Midwest, I stopped in Fargo, North Dakota and toured on with stops in Brainerd, Minnesota and Minneapolis. It was the dead of winter. I met lots of nice people. Everyone wore big smiles. Yah. Well, almost everyone. There was one funny lookin’ little fella who gave me attitude, dontcha know. We kinda accidentally bumped into each other near the pool table at a bar called the King of Clubs. I figured he had too much to drink at first, but later suspected sumthin’ else was makin’ him skittish. It wasn’t until I sat at a buffet a few days later, eatin’ chicken fricassee, that I saw the little guy, the angry funny lookin’ one, was wanted for triple homicide. The TV said so. To know a killer was downright spooky. I lost my appetite and grabbed my red down jacket to get outta there in a jiff!
Okey-dokey. I’ve gone and stretched the truth a bit. I could try and squirm out of the fib, in the way this guy I once knew, Jerry Lundergaard, would do, but that’d be disingenuous. My deal is that I am going to be square with you like I have never been with anyone before. Thing is, I was never in Fargo during the winter. It was probably more like early spring. Or even closer to the Fourth of July. Whatever! Details just don’t matter. Besides, even if I were never physically in North Dakota or Minnesota, I feel as though I visited. Calling me a liar isn’t fair. A good movie can do that, you know … transport one to places unknown. At least, that’s my line of defense.
Details apparently do make a difference with their power to blur the line between reality and fiction. Confusion is a byproduct, when words, phrases, sights and sounds are so acutely portrayed that inauthentic representations become adopted as genuine. Getting duped is a kicker, I know, and it makes one wonder whether or not imitation is mockery or mimicry. Or both.
You know the answer. Don’t forget. You were there, too. You heard the locals speak in their distinct intonations and phrases, until your big city superiority complex got in the way, and you released your frustrations on the sunny airport parking attendant in Minnesota. Remember him? The young guy, the one who you gave an earful because he was doing his job, requesting a four dollar parking fee that you didn’t want to pay. I mean, you intentionally drove the car into the garage on up to the top of its desolate rooftop for a few minutes to hock a license plate for your stolen vehicle, which you were driving because of your involvement in greedy a ransom plot that was expected to net about forty thousand dollars, yet, upon exiting the structure, you ranted uncontrollably, based on your twisted logic that a short time behind the gate was somehow supposed to be an exception and unworthy of four measly bucks. Hotshots like you shouldn’t have to pay backwards towns a dime. Hell, they should’ve paid you to visit!
Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi): I guess you think you’re, uh, ya know, like an authority figure, with that stupid, fuckin’ uniform, huh, buddy? King Clip-on Tie there, big fuckin’ man, huh? You know, these are the limits of your life, man. Rules of your little fucking gate here. Here. Here’s your four dollars, you pathetic piece of shit!
Carl: What’s with you people? You fucking imbeciles!
Meanwhile, you end up with a gunshot wound to your jaw moments later in stroke of genius. Real slick, brainiac! And who called whom an imbecile? You’ll get yours, though, little fella. Two words for ya: wood chipper. Yah. . . . Perhaps being quiet for a moment is exactly what you should have done. Regardless, what I am really gettin’ at is that everyone is mimicked and mocked at some point. The joke is on anyone wearing a real or imagined uniform of authority. We are all little men.
Imbalances of power and intellect are a fact of life, of course. Nevertheless, intelligence doesn’t correspond to exterior factors like the way one pronounces vowels, where one resides, or the clothes on one’s back. It’s the trap of the inexperienced journeyman to think there’s a correlation, which is why outsiders peer from such a dangerous vantage point. One misstep and it’s a tumble over the edge into stereotype.
Self-awareness goes a long way toward side stepping caricature. Consider how the Chief of Police in Brainerd, behind the wheel of her Prowler in her badge and uniform, speaks to you, her Deputy. You inhale with a sense of pride, prior to proudly stating that you have done your duty, followed your leads, even though you are gently told in the next breath that you failed to connect the dots.
Lou (Bruce Bohne): So, I got the State looking for a Ciera with a tag startin’ DLR. They don’t got no match yet.
Marge (Frances McDormand): I’m not sure that I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou.
Marge: Yah. I think that vehicle there probably had dealer plates. DLR?
Lou: Oh …
An additional icebreaker, a joke about vanity plates, told by your boss further diffuses any discomfort. No one is left feeling like a clown, and, you, the supporting player, avoid ridicule. An implicit reality takes further shape in the humanity of the interaction. Life isn’t so backwards outside the cosmopolitan bubble.
People and places comprise existence at its most fundamental. We are conditioned to treat the largest personalities in high-profile locals as commodities, but rural communities have their own tales to tell. Sometimes we lose sight and neglect, in undeserving dishonor, the contributions of the less visible and perpetuate the impression that living in a small town means being small. People in the background, however, with their distinct idioms and mannerisms, communicate a considerable amount about us, which is why greater attention is required to the little guy, whose friendly face isn’t a joke. Return to Fargo for a reality check. See what and who we’ve been missing, while globetrotting those glitzy places populated by poseurs, pretending to be the real deal. You may even see some recognizable characters, and that’s no lie.