No Star Wars was Sean Witzke’s attempt to countdown his 100 favourite films. A really wonderful series of posts. Got me thinking about all sorts of things.

Like the Coen Bros. I’m not sure I entirely agree with Sean when he posits that their films are on some level about the inexplicable. I see where he’s coming from, but that’s not how I’d choose to phrase it because inexplicability has strong connotations of the supernatural, and while the supernatural is certainly present in their films, I think they’re getting at a number of less reductive things, most obviously an epistemological gap between the world as it is and what it’s possible for people to know or understand. Historically that gap has been filled by God, supernatural agencies, etc… but as students of philosophy (as well as having a Jewish heritage, and therefore likely to have some religious issues to work through – see A Serious Man) the Coen’s will be well aware of other more down to Earth attempts to do away with the problem, hence a number of their films taking, however implicitly, less overtly fantastical views on the subject. For example, unpredictability, incompleteness of information and psychological dissonance all feature heavily in the Big Lebowski as serious obstacles to a fuller comprehension of the world, but God isn’t in the picture, although the idea of the omnipresent narrator is affectionately played with.

But to go back to Sean’s point, watching Fargo last night I was struck by the fact that, while nothing about the film seemed to require supernatural explanation, it worked hard to paint the disconnect between the characters’ worldviews and the messy, unpredictable reality they faced – an epistemological gap that manifests as a persistent incompleteness of knowledge – as in some way mysterious and sinister. The entire context of the film (a thriller) pushes for that kind of atmosphere, but the movie’s snowy landscapes and pitch black nights, with their suggestion of hidden things, and form from formlessness – echoed in the silence of the film’s most sinister killer – layer in a feeling that while the film’s events might ultimately be explicable, there is still a fantasmal otherness to them.

What’s interesting is that while Marge could discover all the salient facts, and while she demonstrates time and time again that she has the ability to assemble them in a way that makes sense and lines up with reality, even if she did so (and I guess we’re supposed to think that she will given her role as police chief), we have to wonder whether she would be left any less disturbed or perplexed? The problem here is less epistemological, in that it isn’t necessarily tied to the extent of one’s knowledge or what is knowable, and more existential, at least it is if you take the view that existentialism is more about description than factual content, which it would be hard not to do given that existentialism doesn’t deal in quantifiable facts. Looking at Fargo one is tempted to argue that the film is saying that while its plot can be *entirely* explained by mundane causal processes, and that those processes are at least potentially knowable, this point of view is in some strange, fundamental way inadequate. It fails to account for the awfulness of death and murder and the sheer bloody absurdity of it all. The why not the how. The problem is that why might not be answerable. It might not even be a proper question.

Or something.

One Response to “Notcomics: Half formed musings on the Coens, Fargo, and inexplicability”

  1. Lobby Talk: Blood Simple | Attack Ships on Fire Says:

    [...] sometimes.  Like they’re setting out to prove that god does play dice with the universe or whatever.  Blood Simple is a good example of this – most of the action doesn’t happen for the [...]

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