comfort movie part 2, fargo
Last year I wrote an article about my comfort movie, Step Brothers. A comfort movie’s one you watch to make yourself feel better, one to distract you from everyday life, one you watch when you feel overwhelmed. It’s not a requirement that the movie be considered critically or technically good, it just needs to comfort you.
Yesterday amidst some long and hard yard work in muggy overcast weather, I thought to myself, “ I can’t wait to have a shower, lay on top of a freshly made bed, and watch Fargo.” I stopped and questioned myself, wondering why of all things that movie came to mind. It’s a great movie, certainly one of my favorites, but why is this what immediately came to mind when I thought about decompressing from my day? Is this also my comfort movie?
The strange thing about Fargo as opposed to any of my other favorite movies is that I can vividly recall the times and places I’ve ever watched it. The first time was on my parents boat in La Conner Washington on a grey a windy evening. No one else understood what or why the film was what it was but I loved it. The second time I watched it was a number of years later by myself during Christmas break in High School. The third time was a number of years after that when my wife (then girlfriend) and I rented it on a hot Summer afternoon in 2007. I saw it again just a week after moving to Los Angeles when as a gift my parents gave us a cable subscription.
I watched it again amidst a freak late May snowstorm in Mt. Shasta City, holed up in the honeymoon suite of a Best Western. There were a few other times but you get the idea, I can clearly remember each viewing right up until last night. That’s when I asked myself if this is another comfort movie, albeit an unexpected one? I had always thought of comfort movies as something escapist, funny, or possibly on the shallow side. None of these particularly describes Fargo; a dark, violent, stressful film that follows the incompetence of a man trying to extort his father in law by having his wife kidnapped, and the criminals hired to do the job who fail at every step.
When I wrote about Step Brothers I analyzed just what I felt made this my comfort movie. I didn’t have to delve too deep before I realized that Step Brothers is about two 40 year old men who still live with their parents and refuse to grow up and take responsibility for themselves. Their social relationships and aspirations are childish, their goal being to create a world wide entertainment company called, Prestige World Wide. It’s easy to fantasize about a time in my life when my days were spent eating microwaved nachos on the couch watching Shark Week in a Chewbacca mask.
Does Fargo defy the logic of the comfort movie? At first I thought it did. Until I considered what I love about the film. For the main character Jerry Lundegaard (WIlliam H. Macy) things go awry right from the very beginning, and it is clear that he’s in way over his head. Script writing 101 tells the writer to find a way out of this predicament, but not here, Jerry just digs his hole deeper and deeper until there’s no possible way out, and he never gets out. This story doesn’t belong to Jerry, it belongs to Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) the police officer investigating the trail of carnage left by the hit men Jerry hired. It plays like a pulp novel set in a flat and frozen midwest landscape.
Our sometimes contributor Eric Stolze who happens to be a Coen brothers mega fan could talk on a much deeper level about this film, but I am attempting to understand just why after a hard day did I want to settle in with this film. And here’s why. I love the movie, but also I love the idea that I can sit back on my bed and watch as Jerry Lundegaard gets into seriously deep shit and know that he never get’s out of it. Meanwhile I’m sitting there relaxed knowing that despite whatever might be going on in my own life it’ll never reach those lows.
This isn’t such a weird idea I suppose. Why do most people watch those ridiculous reality shows? If you probed just beneath the surface it’s probably because it makes them feel better about themselves. Fargo from the viewpoint of Jerry is a sad story on a truly sadistic level, up until he’s arrested while desperately trying to crawl through the bathroom window. Everything about Jerry and his story is truly tragic. Juxtaposed with the mundane everyday life of Marge and her husband, it’s almost funny.
I’m not even touching on the films most iconic scene, the one that caused a generation of wives to forbid their husbands from every buying a wood-chipper.
Perhaps what I realized the most was that my definition of a comfort movie had to change, it wasn’t just pure escapism, sometimes it could simply be a film that makes you feel better for yourself. My wife for instance has two comfort movies Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring, obvious escapism. Her other is A Few Good Men, which is just a compellingly simple story with incredible, classic Hollywood acting.
I asked this question a year ago, but that was before I’d truly come to understand what a comfort movie could be, so I’ll ask it again. What’s your comfort movie, what movie makes you feel better, relaxes you, or just plain comforts you?