A video essay that illustrates how the films parallel and diverge from each other in the portrayals of their law(wo)men.
It certainly doesn't take a genius to notice the superficial similarities between the two films, but after teaching them back-to-back for several years as part of my unit on the Coen brothers, the connections seemed to go even deeper -- like they were talking to each other or something. It wasn't just about plot or character similarities, but how the films mirrored each other's movements in the structure and style of their opening sequences, for example.
The most interesting part to me was charting the films' deviations from each other as they reached their conclusions. Fargo, while certainly disturbing, has a restorative ending -- Marge lectures Gaear Grimsrud, the implacable representative of evil, in the back of her car, and one of our final images of him is how Marge sees him, behind the bars in her rearview mirror. The last scene of the film is Marge and Norm lying in bed, bathed in the comforting glow of the TV. They're enclosed in the frame together to reinforce their domestic bond, cocooned from the harshness of the world around them as they fall asleep talking about their impending parenthood. No Country for Old Men, meanwhile, has Ed Tom being lectured himself on his myopia. Our last image of Anton Chigurh is of him a free man, walking away from his car crash, and the ensuing dissolve to Ed Tom at home makes it look like he's looking at or thinking of Chigurh, which of course he is. (Here, I dissolved from Grimsrud into the Chigurh/Bell dissolve, trying for a kind of palimpsest effect to explicitly connect all the characters). As he describes his dream about his dead father to his wife, the Coens choose a shot-reverse shot structure so Ed Tom is continually isolated in the frame -- this is his dream alone, and his burden to bear alone. Although the only solace of a secure future offered by this dream does not seem to involve this world, Ed Tom seems to take comfort from it -- but he, as opposed to Marge and Norm drifting off into a happy slumber, wakes up. In the world of No Country for Old Men, this does not seem like an entirely desirable outcome.
You can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/timklobuchar