The Coens for Lent – Intolerable Cruelty

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

As we approach the midpoint of the lenten season, we just surpass the midpoint of our series. Intolerable Cruelty is the tenth film in the Coens’ 18-film career, and the tenth of our 19 reflections (we have an upcoming reflection on one of their short films.)

Being halfway through Lent, halfway through this series, halfway through a 40 day wandering in wilderness, it evokes a feeling of exhaustion. To know that everything you’ve done you still have yet to do in equal measure, that to turn back would be equally as tiresome as to press on. I must admit that this (and the next) are my least favorite Coen brothers films by far, and I felt similar thoughts about whether to surrender to the series and just skip the ones I didn’t like. The halfway point of any long endeavor will do that to you, and this series proves to be no exception. (I can’t prove it, but I bet that when Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil showed up on day 20 with all those temptations, not day 2 or day 39.)

Lent is just like that. Growing up practicing Lent was an exercise is perseverance: having felt pressure to give up something I liked “for God” as a teenager meant that around the halfway point I was looking for a way out, some asterisk or exclusionary clause in the Lent rulebook that would allow me to indulge the thing I wanted without technically breaking my vows.

Intolerable Cruelty is about the breaking of vows, and the reasons you enter them in the first place. Not unlike Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Marylin, as a teenager I entered the vows of Lent for the wrong reasons, a gold-digging religious acolyte hoping to cash in, and by this time hoping someone would give me a way out.

I’m able to laugh at this all now, and see the foolishness of how I was taught to practice it. And like Clooney’s Miles, I am now, older and wiser, won over by the beauty of the institution as it’s supposed to be. And I may be even willing to be made a fool for its sake.

We hold out hope, then, that God’s covenant of Love is as airtight, impenetrable, and lasting as the Massey Prenup.

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

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