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Joel and Ethan Coen: Searching for a Way Out; Alienation and Intimacy in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

  • M. Gail Hamner
Chapter
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Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)

Abstract

Born in the period of Kurosawa’s rise to fame and Kiarostami’s university education, Joel and Ethan Coen produce films for a completely different cultural world. These two Midwestern American Jewish boys were bred on long winters and boredom, and they grew up with both the existential companionship of Hollywood film and the cultural dynamics of postmodernism. Almost all of the Coen films align with the postmodernism penchant for disruption, parody, and perversion of borders, as evidenced by the playful genre transgressions of their films but also by their split distribution between Hollywood and “real” independent theaters. The brothers are known for early production contract with Circle Films, a savvy contract that allowed them to make three films precisely as they envisioned. They were thus able to thumb their noses at big studio productions,2 and yet still secure a wide crossover reception for their films.3 The brothers’ ability to straddle elite, “art-house “ theatres and mall megaplexes demonstrates that though they sully the surface of categories, genres, cinematic codes, and audience expectations, they also keep their films light-hearted enough (or gory enough) to please broad audiences. Cineastes adore their relentless interfilm citations and insider jokes, while the wo/man-on-the-street savors their vulgarity and apparent disdain for the respectable bourgeoisie.

Keywords

Space Ship Silent Partner Medium Shot Transcendent Realm Audience Expectation 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Adriana Cavarero, Relating Narrative: Storytelling and Selfhood, trans. Paul A. Kottman (New York: Routledge, 1997), 1.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Mark Bould, Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City, Short Cut series (New York: Wallflower, 2005), 96.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    R. Barton Palmer, “The New Sincerity of Neo-Noir: The Example of The Man Who Wasn’t There,” in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, ed. Mark T. Conard (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2007), 151 — 166.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1989), 12.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    See R. Barton Palmer, ed., “Uncertainty Principle: The Man Who Wasn’t There,” in Joel and Ethan Coen (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 62–79.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    See Richard Gaughran, “‘What Kind of Man Are You?’: The Coen Brothers and Existential Role Playing,” in The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, ed. Mark T. Conard (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Steven Carter, “‘Flare to White’: Fargo and the Postmodern Turn,” Literature Film Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1999): 238–244.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Compare, in Lacan, that woman doesn’t have the phallus but is the phallus, that is, woman embodies the desire for fullness, wholeness, completeness of which simply having the phallus falls short. Birdy is to Ed precisely this site of projection and wish-fulfillment. See Jacques Lacan, “The Signification of the Phallus,” in Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 575–584.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    George Bataille, A Theory of Religion, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 17–26.Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin, 1990), 253.Google Scholar

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© M. Gail Hamner 2011

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  • M. Gail Hamner

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