Coen Brothers Universe Fan Theories That Just Might Be True

Voting Rules
Vote up the most plausible fan theories about the universe of Joel and Ethan Coen that could actually be true.

If you like Coen brothers fan theories, here's a list to tuck away with the Creedence records, and share with whomever in your life is the equivalent of Donny and Walter. Ethan and Joel Coen have spent a few decades making deeply intelligent, wacky, and violent films that only they could make. In the process, they've attracted fan theories as unique as their work.   

From The Big Lebowski foreshadowing 9/11 to Llewyn Davis attending Marva Munson’s church in the ‘60s, Coen brothers movie fan theories are far from boring. Many Fargo theories have sprouted since the film's release in 1996, and again in the wake of the TV series premiere in 2014. Showrunner Noah Hawley and his writers love to embed Coen Easter eggs in the series.

 Making connections or nailing down symbolism in an original Coen brothers film can be a tough task. There’s merit to not believing what the Coens say about their own work. Many fans believe the filmmakers are unreliable narrators. Fans think, “That cat in Inside Llewyn has meaning, right?” The Coens shrug and say the cat is just a cat. But cat lover Marva Munson from The Ladykillers may have other ideas.  

This list brings together some of the more reasonable and plausible Coen brother fan theories. Vote for the ones you think could be true. Needless to say, SPOILERS ahead. 

  • 1
    24 VOTES

    The Symbolism of Tom Reagan’s Hat in "Miller’s Crossing"

    The Symbolism of Tom Reagan’s Hat in "Miller’s Crossing"
    Video: YouTube
    In the opening of the Miller's Crossing, a hat is blown off the head of protagonist Tom Reagan. He chases it, and so begins the plot. According to Redditor TempSpastic, the hat is a symbol of Reagan's desire to control every aspect of his life. And the fact that he can't control the hat speaks volumes of the film's philosophical message of the powerlessness and meaninglessness of one person in the whole of history. 
    Like the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis, is the hat just a hat, a repetition of imagery that has no real meaning? Let’s ask the character. Upon hearing his lover’s interpretation of a dream about his hat, Tom says, “No, it stayed a hat, and no, I didn’t chase it. Nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”  Classic Coen mindf*ck. 
    24 votes
  • 2
    30 VOTES

    The Cat in "Inside Llewyn Davis" Is Llewyn Davis

    The Cat in "Inside Llewyn Davis" Is Llewyn Davis
    Photo: CBS Films

    This popular theory suggests Llewyn Davis is the cat in the film, and vice versa. Not in a literal sense, but in terms of their parallel journeys. They represent one another. As the cat disappears, Llewyn finds a doppelganger feline, but it isn't the same animal. Just as Llewyn is not his real self in the wake of his musical partner's death. In the end, the real cat returns, and Llewyn abandons the impostor on the side of the road, having found himself/the original cat.

    So, what evidence is there to support this theory? Well, at one point, Professor Gorfein’s receptionist says, “Llewyn is the cat,” a seeming innocuous misunderstanding that may have deeper meaning. The Coens have said that the cat is just a cat, but it seems like, in this case, they're fibbing. 
    30 votes
  • 3
    48 VOTES

    Leonard Smalls Is H.I.’s Golem or Long Lost Brother

    Leonard Smalls Is H.I.’s Golem or Long Lost Brother
    Photo: 20th Century Fox

    Leonard Smalls is a Mad Max-esque bounty hunter in Raising Arizona, a man who rides a thick hog, brandishes shotguns in each hand, and sports a leather vest. Reddit provides all kinds of theories about the connection between the film's protagonist, H.I., and Smalls, many of which ideas stem from the fact that the two have the same tattoo. 

    According to one such theory, Smalls is a golem brought to life when H.I. kidnaps a child. Another Redditor suggests Smalls is H.I.'s long lost brother, from whom he was separated at birth.
    48 votes
  • 4
    31 VOTES

    "A Serious Man" - Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox and the Book of Job

    "A Serious Man" - Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox and the Book of Job
    Video: YouTube
    Larry, the protagonist in A Serious Man, is a physics professor who teaches the theory of uncertainty. Soon after we meet Larry, he denies God/science/the universe several times, setting off a series of tragedies mirroring the tribulation of Job. Larry seeks out three rabbis for advice, and is given Jefferson Airplane lyrics from the wisest one.   
    One Redditor points out the super-deep meaning behind Larry’s frequent denials, to a Columbia Record Club representative, that he’s a member of the club and ordered Santana’s Abraxas. This bizarre subplot ties into Larry's denial of religion, and the role of the abraxas is Gnosticism and Christianity. 
    The film ends with the viewer in the same position similar to that of the observer of a Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox; you don't know what happens to Larry, and as long as you don’t know what befalls him, he is both dead and alive. Schrödinger’s Cat ties back into principles of uncertainty, and the importance of quantum physics, in Larry's life. 
    31 votes
  • 5
    27 VOTES

    "Barton Fink" Is About the Dilemma of American Jews During the Holocaust

    "Barton Fink" Is About the Dilemma of American Jews During the Holocaust
    Photo: 20th Century Fox

    David Haglund watched every Coen brothers movie, presumably in a short span of time, for an article in Slate. In doing so, he came up with an interesting theory on Barton Fink, which extends beyond the explanation that it's based on the Book of Daniel.

    Haglund explains, "It's a nightmare vision of the Jewish writer who goes in bad faith to Hollywood to make some money at a time when millions are being slaughtered.” Sure, Barton Fink is about an existential dilemman, but Haglund would have you believe that dilemma is rooted in anguishing historical context. 
    27 votes
  • 6
    46 VOTES

    Bunny from "The Big Lebowski" Is from the "Fargo" Universe

    Bunny from "The Big Lebowski" Is from the "Fargo" Universe
    Photo: Gramercy Pictures/FX
    In The Big Lebowski, Bunny’s real name is Fawn Knudson. She was born in Moorhead, MN, and ran off to California to find fame and fortune. In Los Angeles, she landed big fish Jeffrey Lebowski, and became a world-class underachiever in the wife department.   
    In the Fargo TV series, Betty Solverson tells her husband, Lou, that he should remarry when she passes away from cancer. But, she adds, “So long as it isn't Rhonda Knudson.” Bill and Lester in Fargo also reference a teacher named Mrs. Knudson. Who is Rhonda Knudson? Is she the same person as Mrs. Knudson? Is one of them Fawn’s mother? Or sister? Or aunt? 
    46 votes