This mash-up of character moments from Coen Brothers movies is absolutely genius. Brilliant and joyous. Unlike some video essays – even the best ones – which end up airy and broad while exploring a singular theme, with “Coen Country” editor Steven Benedict has crafted a pinpoint look at comic and dramatic misunderstandings by placing Coen characters into direct (baffling) conversation with one another.
The result offers outstanding proof that a Who’s On First?-like style pervades everything the Coens direct, whether in small or large measure. With The Dude talking to Anton Chiguhr and a serious man conversing with the man who wasn’t there, we get a sense of the depths of confusion inherent in every film. The plot is extended typically by people (read: men) pretending to know what they’re talking about, pretending to understand what someone else is talking about, or pretending to have information that they don’t have. Then, gunfire.
The other element is the affirmation or reassertion of identity – specifically what each character thinks he’s made of. Here’s what I’m trying to be, maybe I’m failing at it, but here’s what I’m trying. The typical Coen lead is a flawed man seeking redemption or simply trying to hold what’s left of his life together. Ulysses escapes prison to get back to his wife before she can marry another man in O Brother; Larry Gopnik watches his job and family slowly dissolve with Job-like patience in A Serious Man; Jerry Lundegaard fails at juggling the complications that come with requesting his wife be kidnapped in Fargo; and so on.
Naturally, a lot of these ers, ums and miscommunication met with bravado stem directly from screwball comedies and Wrong Man crime capers. It would be a great follow-up for Benedict to make a similar video from movies like North By Northwest and His Girl Friday. Hell, it could feature Cary Grant exclusively. In fact, this Coen video is impressive in how it magically avoids having the same actors talking to themselves. I’m looking forward to the second installment, “Coen Country: Steve Buscemi Edition.”