The Coens for Lent – Fargo

The sixth of nineteen reflections on the Coen Brothers’ filmography and the season of Lent. [View Series]

by guest writer Rebekah Robison

Lent is a season of hunger. We follow Jesus – experiencing human frailty, need, and temptation – as he walked willingly into the void of fasting in the wilderness. 

Fargo begins as a void. There is the darkness that envelops us in the snowy landscape of North Dakota and Minnesota. A darkness underscored by shots with only black poles or lonely cars to break the monotony of snow.  And there is hunger. Carl and Gaear, at the beginning of their crime spree, bicker over whether to eat pancakes or steak, and Gaear angrily maintains, “I’m hungry!” At another point, Jerry’s family meal is marred by his son leaving the table early with his plate nearly untouched. And these are already rare moments of food for these characters. In other scenes, there is instead a conspicuous absence of food as they sit at empty tables with only mugs or bottles. 

I feel this film in my stomach each time I watch it. Marge says she cannot understand the evil, but I can. The silent boiling resentment and impulsive lack of integrity, the selfish forgetfulness of others and their wellbeing, the need to fix a problem in a way that will pass long and arduous work and the meanness to look someone in the face without mercy. Unlike Dostoevsky, the Coens may not connect me to their “bad guys,” but they certainly connect me to the bad in those guys. The darkness reaches its hand deep into my stomach and grabs forcefully. 

Right as Fargo begins pushing us into despair – Gaear shoots point blank a young woman trapped in an overturned car for the crime she commited of witnessing his crime – we meet Marge. Her face peacefully sleeping in the dark of the night is already a picture free from hunger. It is the face of someone fulfilled by sleep. And when she is abruptly awakened by the news of the murders we just witnessed, she does not grow literally hungry either, for her groggy husband, Norm, wakes up and repeats, “I’ll fix you some eggs” and “you gotta eat” in response to her attempts to coax him back to bed: “You can sleep. It’s early yet.” 

Norm and Marge eat across from each other in the yellow light of their kitchen lamp. For every scene that presents Marge investigating the murders and muttering, “oh jeez,” on seeing horrors, there is another of her eating. The nourishment is in some moments a communal event as when she finds Norm in her office, and he greets her with, “I brought you some lunch, Margie” or when they pile a superfluity of food onto their plates at a buffet. But at other times, it is a solo meal; she picks up a burger at a drive-thru, and we watch her eat in her car alone. But in either case, Marge gets the nourishment she needs. 

Marge is not eating for herself alone. She is also feeding her growing fetus. She is feeding hope. When she finally speaks to the murderer she has been chasing down and asks him with incredulity, “Don’t you know there is more to life than money?” we have had the opportunity to taste through Marge and her growing belly that there is in fact more. 

After fasting for forty days, Jesus reclined at a table and ate with those he loved. He invited them to eat the bread that is his body broken. And he invites us as well – to eat as heartily as Marge and to see in a barren winter landscape “a beautiful day.”

[See all entries in “The Coens for Lent” series]

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