You wake up with a start and your hands instinctively go to your hair. Breakfast is week-old horse stew with a young nipper. Speaking of which, you’ve got a great idea for a toy; you proudly show off your design and are greeted by blank stares. You hold your invention closer to the faces of the men around you, adding helpfully “You know, for kids!” Congratulations, you're living in a world of Coen Brothers movie tropes.
You've unexpectedly turned a corner in life and are living the things that happen in all Coen Brothers films? How is it working out for you? All things considered, it's probably better than suddenly finding yourself living in Tarantino movie. Or the world of David Lynch. But how can you really tell you're living in a Coen Brothers movie and not just having a silly day? How can you recognize patterns in Coen Brothers movies? Check out this list of things in every Coen Brothers movie to determine whether you've suddenly left reality and entered a demented cinematic universe.
Have you suddenly found yourself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy that may or may not have anything to do with you and seems as much a haphazard accident as a well-conceived scheme? If so, you may be a hapless rube Coen protagonsit.
From Blood Simple through 2017's Hail Caesar!, 11 of 17 Coen Brothers movies involve a criminal plot tied into a nebulous conspiracy of some kind. The characters involved are almost always in way over their heads, barely scratching the surface of the cruelty and violence of the world.
The Coen Brothers love them some fools. From Brad Pitt’s sidesplitting turn as Chad the fitness oaf in Burn After Reading to Tim Blake Nelson’s compassionate portrayal of Delmar O'Donnell in O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, the writing-directing-producing-editing duo love to pepper their films with colorful dunces.
And it’s not just side characters who get the dummy treatment. Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski, duh) and H.I. McDunnough (Raising Arizona) don’t seem like they keep their wits about them any better than the dopes they run up against. If you find yourself spending time with lug-headed personal trainers who are trying to blackmail the CIA, you might just be living in a Coen Brothers movie.
Do people around you misuse words?Do they pick up other people’s phrases and reuse them in unexpected contexts? The Dude of The Big Lebowski is a major offender as far as this is concerned, borrowing from everyone from Maude the painter (“in the parlance of our times”) to President George H.W. Bush (“This aggression will not stand”).
Is there bizarre and hilarious wordplay going on around you? In The Hudsucker Proxy, Norville Barnes’s examination of Waring Hudsucker’s leads him to confuse “fail” and “fall” to comedic effect. In Hail, Caesar!, Hobie Doyle continuously mispronounces Laurence Laurentz’s last name (lau-RENTZ), and when he finally gets it right, Laurentz tells Doyle can call him Laurence.
Does this exchange from Burn After Reading seem too familiar to you?
"Linda: You should put a note up in the ladies' locker room.
Chad: Put a note up? 'Highly classified sh*t found, Signals Intelligence sh*t, CIA sh*t? Hello? Did you lose your secret CIA sh*t?'"
If you answered yes to any or all of the above, chances are you're living in a Coen Brothers movie. Interestingly, the brothers themselves have a surprisingly difficult explaining where this quick wit comes from.
Is someone narrating your life? Is that person articulate, deliberate, and in possession heightened observational skills? If your life isn't Stranger Than Fiction, it might be a Coen Brothers picture.
“Way out west there was this fella I wanna tell you about.” Sam Elliott’s deep western drawl intones at the beginning of The Big Lebowski, setting up our most unlikely hero. H. I. McDonough’s (Nicolas Cage) dream narration shows Leonard Smalls, AKA The Angel of Death, and his mean motorcycle ride through the desert in Raising Arizona. Ed Crane’s (Billy Bob Thornton) voiceover in comedic noir The Man Who Wasn't There helps the audience understand a laconic character. Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) gives a few monologues in No Country For Old Men that serve as a form of voiceover, spreading thick themes over substantive images like butter on toast.