The Coen Brothers and their Exquisite Cinematography

Nicholas Slay grew up 45 minutes outside of New Orleans in Madisonville, Louisiana. Nicholas is pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering and is on the STEM path to an MBA. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities.

From a young age whether I knew it or not, I have been a huge fan of the Coen brothers. When I read that in his Day Lecture Prof. Elijah Siegler from The University of Charleston would discuss the Coen brothers and the religious elements in their films, I became ecstatic. Before I ever knew who the Coen brothers are, O Brother, Where Art Thou was easily my favorite movie. My southern heritage made the film especially strike a chord with me and still does to this day. I am not sure how old I was when I first watched the movie, but I know I wasn’t very old and I know the soundtrack is what really drew me in. An aspect of the movie I was not able to enjoy until much later on is the loose retelling of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey. I translated much of the Odyssey in my high school ancient Greek class and the film’s characters based on the characters in the epic were an aspect I greatly enjoyed. The sirens depicted as women washing clothes in the river, John Goodman playing the cyclops, and the blind prophet riding along the railroad tracks were more nuanced parts of the movie that made it far better for the audience. If you look at my family’s iTunes library some of our first purchases were songs from the soundtrack of that movie and to this day if you play “Constant Sorrow” I can sing along to every word. The next Coen brothers movie that I fell in love with was The Big Lebowski. Initially, I was not aware it was a Coen brothers film, but it makes perfect sense. The emphasis on nihilism, communism, as well as the opposing team’s bowler being named Jesus instead of Jésus are some of the many signs which give it away. The Big Lebowski is a more obvious example of how the Coen brothers are able to work humor into their movies but still keep underlying serious themes. In addition to the movies I previously named, I’ve watched and loved a number of Coen brothers films such as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, True Grit, and Hail Ceasar!.

I have often had discussions about the religious themes and allusions dispersed throughout their films. I attended a Jesuit high school and as Pat Conroy so lovingly put it the Jesuits are the “rottweilers” of education. Pat Conroy was completely right in this claim and my religion teachers made sure we found religious values in every movie we ever watched. My senior year of high school my religion teacher was a huge cinema fan and also a Jesuit priest. In class that year we watched several Coen brothers movies and had to write extensive papers on religious metaphors and analogies in the film. The movie I enjoyed the most from this class was True Grit and our extended discussions of this movie explained a lot of the religious implications. The differences between my Jesuit teaching, Professor Siegler’s, and other analyses of the Coen Brothers lie mostly in the emphasis on Catholic points. The Jesuits obviously emphasized the more Catholic points of the Coen brothers films; others emphasized different topics and themes, such as revenge, gender, mortality, among others. Professor Siegler mentioned that the Coen brothers will never admit an underlying meaning to any of their films which makes me appreciate the films that much more. Movies are a great form of artwork in the sense that different scenes are able to stand out to different people and the Coen brothers’ unwillingness to define a theme allow people to interpret for themselves.

It amazes me the Coen brothers are able to pack so many themes into their movies, which I believe is due to their extreme focus on dialogue. In any of the Coen Brothers films the watcher needs to listen closely to the dialogue between characters. I realize in any movie the dialogue is extremely important, but in the Coen Brothers films there is intense scrutiny on the specific words an actor says to convey meaning in the film. Another aspect of the Coen brothers’ films that makes me enjoy them so much is the fact that their movies can’t be put into a single category. Their films feature so much comedy, but also have so many other facets that they seem to create their own genre. Excellent choices in the casts along with other aspects of their craft, such as elaborate scenes, exquisite comedy, and great plots, make the films of the Coen Brothers so great.

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