Saturday, August 25, 2007


BLOOD SIMPLE (1984, USA, Joel & Ethan Coen)
Thought you were dead. You goin' home?
No. I'm staying right here in hell.
Kind of a bleak point of view there, isn't it, Marty?

This film is scary. And funny, and arty, and brilliant. But mostly scary. I remember seeing the trailer in the theatres, all shovels and desperation and dark country roads, and knowing this was a movie I didn't need to see. Who needs to sit through two hours of bungled, grisly violence and sustained fear and dread?

Eventually it ended up on my video screen, and I'm glad it did. It's as tense and terrifying as an extreme theme park ride, but also funny, smart, audaciously arty (in the best cheap-first-feature post-film-school tradition) and – here's the surprising part – profoundly Truthful.

The Coens are at their best when they're showing us the mundanity, the desperation, the tumbling-out-of-control consequences of crime. They can be almost Elizabethan in their portrayal of murder and its consequences: when the order of things is violated, when the great chain of being is compromised by the horror, the unnaturalness, of taking a human life (and for the most venal and banal of reasons), it's nothing but a bloody, frightening mess. Their criminals are stupid, inept, and selfish, and once they've spilt blood, there's no going back. BLOOD SIMPLE is not so very far from Macbeth, though the characters are more pathetic. "Tragedy And The Common Man," without Willie Loman's weak, sad dignity, or a trace of his desperate self-sacrifice. These all-too-recognizable monsters' only sacrifice is their victim, and the crimes and their consequences are dreadfully ugly. They transcend nothing.

In this, their first film, and in their other great serious film, FARGO, The Coens portray evil as frightening, to be sure: I do find moments in these films chilling, troubling, unshakeable, violating. But they do not make the mistake of calling evil good and good evil: they identify it as a small-minded, weak and contemptible thing, and there's something right about that.

Available at Videomatica

No comments: