Willis 1 Chris Willis Daniel Anderson ENGL 128 19 November 2008 Coen Brothers’ Unrelenting Use of Repetition and In Medias Res The Coen brothers are well-known in the movie industry for their unique styles and wide variety of films. They have dabbled in several genres that run the gamut from comedy (The Big Lebowski) to action thrillers (No Country for Old Men). The Coen brothers’ styles can be seen in two of their most famous works No Country for Old Men and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. In these movies two styles they use in particular can be seen: repetition and in medias res. Repetition, whether auditory or visual, help the viewer gain insights into the characters within the movies. The Coen brothers also have a knack for starting a movie in what seems to be the climax of another movie, or in medias res. The use of repetition and in medias res allow the viewer to pick up information piece by piece to build a better picture of the character; a picture that can not be put together simply with descriptive dialogues or narratives. The Coen brothers use repetition in several instances in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The most notable use of repetition is the film’s main song “Man of Constant Sorrow.” On the exterior, the song seems to be one that reflects Everett’s struggles. However, this song is heard four times. Clearly, the Coen brothers wanted the audience to remember it. Reverting back to the song in several instances seems to be indicating that throughout the journey that the three main characters have embarked on, they are still men of constant sorrow. The song hints at the inevitability, or foreshadowing, of constant sorrow. In essence, it seems that the Coen brothers are making a deeper point; they will continue to be men of constant sorrow until they finally put Willis 2 their priorities in the correct order. The events that occur right before the song is played each time are all scenes that seduce the travelers into making poor decisions. However, at the end of the film, they seem to have finally found what they were looking for. The audience is shown that to avoid their constant sorrows, the travelers need perseverance and strong will to avoid those tempting situations and focus only on the important things in life. The song is a constant reminder of their shortcomings and at the end of the film it shows the audience how they have grown as characters. A subtler repetition is the constant reference to the pomade, Dapper Dan, which Everett is constantly using and searching for. To most viewers, it seems as if he just loves that particular pomade, but why did the Coen brothers make it such a vital part to Everett’s character? It’s possible that we are finding an insight into how Everett thinks. Pomade is a hair styling product that makes the hair look slick and shiny. In one scene he makes a very big deal about a convenience store not carrying his favorite pomade – “I’m a Dapper Dan man!” Dapper Dan is what he believes makes him look dapper and smart. Throughout the movie, Everett has a somewhat arrogant attitude. He is constantly using his own logic to confidently explain events that are occurring around the three main characters. The audience is now able to see that this is where Everett believes some of his power and leadership is originating. Without Dapper Dan to make him look sophisticated, how will anyone listen to him? The Coen brothers also used visual repetitions. The best use of this is in No Country for Old Men. Three scenes in particular were strikingly similar and for obvious reasons. In the beginning of the movie we see Moss and his wife sitting on the couch in their home. When Chigurh is in search of Moss later on in the movie, we see him on the same sofa. Willis 3 Once again, the similarities are subtle, but upon closer inspection, one can easily see that this repetition touches on some of the hidden meanings in the movie. While the motives of the two characters differ greatly, the repetition of scenes poses an interesting question: Are the two men that different? They both are inherently concerned with money, as is most of society. However, they both were well within their rights to bail out on their respective situations; Moss could have turned the money into Sheriff Bell or Chigurh could have simply not taken the job to search for the money. They are also similar in another respect. In going along with the ideology of Chigurh, the men are merely products of fate. From the day they were born, their destinies were already planned out. As far as Chigurh is concerned, they are all pawns in the game of life and they do Willis 4 not have control over what happens. So, in these two separate scenes, there are two men on the same couch in the same house only at different points in time. In the same scene with Chigurh, the Coen brothers have him look into the television to see his reflection. And here, while repetition is connecting Chigurh and Moss together, the Coen brothers extend the connection to the other main character, Sheriff Bell. And, in Coen-like fashion, only a few scenes later we see Sheriff Bell looking into the same television and peering at his reflection. Here, the alignment of these two characters is brought to the forefront. Once again, the Coen brothers seem to suggest Willis 5 that they share similarities. So, these three men are products of fate and are there in search of something. Sheriff Bell is in search of Chigurh and Moss, Chigurh is in search of Moss and the money, and Moss is in search of freedom. These instances of repetition present the three characters in a different light for the audience. It almost binds them together in a way by putting them in similar scenes. The audience is always in search of an antagonist and a protagonist in any film, and in this one it is no different. But, when the audience sees these scenes, it becomes less clear as to who exactly the protagonist and antagonist are. If a traditional style would have been used, Chigurh would have been the antagonist while Moss and Sheriff Bell would have been the protagonist, but this isn’t the case. Chigurh, while clearly inflicting harm on several people, has plenty of interesting dialogues that reveal how he merely operates on fate – it is out of his hands. In many scenes he initiates a coin toss to let fate decide if the person should be killed or not. According to him, he “got here the same way the coin did.” It almost makes the audience empathize with him; in essence, he is not the one that makes the decision to kill people - it is his predetermined fate. At this point in the movie, the audience does not know what part each of the characters has in the movie. Ergo, they are more are less the same types of characters – three men that are simply pawns in the game of fate. The repetitive dialogues and visuals throughout these films provide insights into the character’s minds that the audience is almost required to piece together for themselves. The Coen brothers also use a technique commonly referred to as in medias res. In the more traditional style of film-making, the film slowly builds on the characters and events as they happen. In these films the events seem to have already been built without the audience’s knowledge. In O Brother, Where Art Thou? the story begins with three members of a chain gang escaping. How, exactly, did they get away without the guards seeing them? How do they know Willis 6 each other? What crimes did they commit? Why are they in a chain gang? The audience is asking themselves these questions from the very beginning. And, the Coen brothers make sure not to include any predetermined feelings about the characters. It is certainly an interesting way to start the movie, for instead of starting from a beginning and picking up on information chronologically, the audience is left to interpret and pick up clues piece by piece. This technique is even more apparent in No Country for Old Men. The audience is literally dropped into the middle of what seems to be the climax of a murder mystery. This technique, although very peculiar, does present an interesting idea – maybe there is more to the film than what seems to be an obvious, standard plot. When critically analyzed, the film doesn’t seem to have that much of a plot – yes, Chigurh is trying to find and presumably kill Moss and get the money, but why? What sequence of events led Chigurh to become involved in the first place? The plot is never fully revealed, but that’s how the Coen brothers wanted to present it. Clearly, if key plot points are left out, there must be a reason. The reason is to make the audience look deeper into the characters. The movie is not concerned with why certain events are happening and a resolution to those events, but who the events are happening to. The movie lacks a desirable ending in that the Coen brothers provide no solution to the events in the movie. While Moss is killed in the movie, the audience is still left wondering what will become of Chigurh and Sheriff Bell. Not having a conclusive ending, yet again, has the audience questioning the characters. A lot of “what if’s” are thrown in the air. What if Chigurh goes back and kills Sheriff Bell or what if Sheriff Bell finds Chigurh? The Coen brothers want these questions to be asked so it the audience is forced to make their own decisions about the characters. The Coen brothers are refusing to hold anyone’s hand throughout this movie – it’s entirely up to the audience to make their own interpretations. Willis 7 Throughout their directing careers, the Coen brothers have certainly gone against the grain as far as traditional directing techniques are concerned. Their particular styles force the audience to change the ways in which they watch films. The directors leave room for the audience to formulate its own opinions about the characters. For Everett, his Dapper Dan shows his concern for traditional ideas and his wanting to appear dapper, neat, trim, slick, and above all, to be the backbone of rational thinking. The repetition of scenes in No Country for Old Men binds the characters together in a similar light. It begs the answer to the question “how different are these men, really?” Starting in what seems to be the middle of the story, or in medias res, is also an intriguing technique. Purposely leaving out information in the beginning keeps the audience searching for clues, but not through events that are laid out chronologically. The audience must delve further into the characters’ minds to find out information and decide, for themselves, what the characters’ actions are really representing. The Coen brothers’ techniques of repetition and in medias res entice the audience to look deeper into the films. Without the use of these styles, the Coen brothers would simply be just another set of traditional directors.