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.
You Have No Idea What's Going On At Any Given Moment, But Suspect There's A Conspiracy At Play
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.
You're Surrounded By Over-The-Top Nimrods
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.
Your Life Has A Narrator
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.
There Are Familiar Faces Everywhere
Do you keep seeing the same people over and over, in different outfits, with different hair styles, performing different jobs? Is there a continuity in the faces and voices of the people populating your life, even if they seem slightly different each time you see them? If so, guess what? Yeah, it's true. You're probably living in a Coen Brothers movie.
When the Coen Brothers have a good relationship with an actor, they milk it for all its worth. John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, George Clooney, John Polito, and Frances McDormand (whose husband is Joel Coen, fyi, in case you didn't know) all make regular appearances in Coen Brothers movies.
And you won't just see familiar names in front of the camera. The Coens frequently collaborate with crew members. They’ve worked with composer Carter Burwell for every movie save two (O’ Brother and Inside Llewyn Davis) and director of photography Roger Deakins has framed all but five of their films. Sound editor Skip Lievsay and sound mixer Peter Kurland have helped define how a Coen Brothers movie sounds from the very beginning. When the Coen Brothers find someone they like to work with, they work with them every chance they can.