Creator / The Coen Brothers
Joel David Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957) have been making films and thumbing their noses at traditional genre boundaries since 1984. Bouncing from Film Noir
to screwball comedy, from quirky indies to big-budget studio pieces, they function as a two-man writer-director-producer-editor Sibling Team
The brothers are known for their meticulous planning, not least the incredibly detailed storyboards they create for every shot of every film. This saves time during production (as they can show their cinematographer exactly what they want done) and makes the films look unbelievably cool.
Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand
- whom he met on the set of their first film Blood Simple.
- since 1984. She's appeared in seven of their films, including Fargo
for which she won the Academy Award
for Best Actress. She said of the event "After all these years sleeping with the director, it's finally paid off." Ethan has been married to Tricia Cooke since 1990, who worked as an editor on several of the brothers' films.
All of their films are scored by Carter Burwell
. All of their films are edited by Roderick Jaynes. He doesn't exist. He is a pseudonym for the brothers themselves. They like to have creative control on their films. Yeah.
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Films written and directed by the Coens:
Notable tropes in the Coen Brothers' films include:
- Adaptation Distillation: No Country for Old Men, and widely regarded as superior because of it.
- The Anti-Nihilist: The most readily apparent philosophy underlying all of their works, though they do on occasion toy with spirituality, fate, and the possible existence of God.
- Associated Composer: Carter Burwell has scored every one of their films.
- Auteur License: They've actually managed to have final cut on every film they've made.
- Black Comedy: We're talking black-hole, no-light-escaping black comedy. And they are masters of it.
- Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Man Who Wasn't There, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man
- Subverted in The Big Lebowski: They never had the fucking'' girl.
- Brainless Beauty: They often cast very good-looking actors to play very stupid people.
- Broken Record: Another trademark. Many of their films feature characters repeating the same line of dialogue many times in a row.
- Call-Back: The Coens often reference past films in their works.
- The mysterious blue Volkswagen in Blood Simple. returns fourteen years later in The Big Lebowski.
- In the same film, Walter's "This is what happens, Larry!" rant echoes "I will show you the life of the mind!".
- John Goodman's voice-only cameo in The Hudsucker Proxy is credited as "Karl Mundt."
- The company that HI works for in Raising Arizona is Hudsucker Industries.
- The law firm Tuckman Marsh is brought up in both Burn After Reading and A Serious Man.
- In Raising Arizona Gale Snoats uses Fop pomade. In O' Brother, Where Art Thou? when Ulysses stops to try and pick up his pomade (Dapper Dan) the store owner tells him that they don't have Dapper Dan, but they have Fop.
- Crapsack World: Pretty much every movie they make.
- Downer Ending: Several of their films feature these.
- Dream Sequence: Blood Simple., Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn't There, A Serious Man.
- Eagleland: Each of their movies so far is about a particular time and place in America, or in some respects The American Dream.
- Easter Egg: They occasionally hide jokes in the credits; for example, No Country for Old Men has a credit for "the one right tool" (referencing a line from one of Chigurh's Hannibal Lectures during the film), and A Serious Man has a disclaimer at the end of the credits assuring the audience that "No Jews were harmed during the making of this film.", True Grit credits Ethan Coen's son Buster as Mr. Damon's Abs Double" and Burn After Reading'' credits "The Walrus".
- Film Noir: Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, and The Man Who Wasn't There are based on the classic potboilers of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. Respectively, with Hammett getting the first two.
- Genre-Busting: Several of their films are simply indescribable in terms of genre.
- The Big Lebowski is arguably the most prominent example in all of film. Just about every character seems to belong to a completely different genre, and none of them seem to understand which one they're in currently. It's part stoner film, part film noir, part political satire, part musical, and the narrator is convinced that it's a western.
- Barton Fink is a close successor, as it has been variously described as a Hollywood satire, a crime drama, a mystery, a dark comedy, a buddy film, a Film Noir, and a horror film.
- No Country For Old Men is essentially three different genres for the three protagonists: Llewellyn Moss is the Anti-Hero of a gritty crime drama, Ed Bell is in a modern Western, and Anton Chigurh is the unstoppable killer of a Slasher Movie.
- They don't just bend genres, but dissect 'em.
- Greed: A major part of their work concerns the destruction money can do to a person's life(s).
- Hanlon's Razor: One of the main themes in all their films is human stupidity and its horrible consequences
- Humans Are Flawed: Certainly not cynical about human nature but they also don’t think we’re the greatest thing ever.
- The Hyena: The two of them have what's been referred to as a "collective laugh" and often get the other going when one of them starts it. According to Joel's wife Frances McDormand it's genetic, since their father has it as well and her son with Joel has also picked it up.
- Idiot Ball: Their "selfish and unrealistic" characters are notoriously known for carrying this, to the extent of pushing things to an Idiot Plot. This is however a prime example of Tropes Are Not Bad, though, because their work is actually better for it.
- I Have Your Wife:
- Subverted in Raising Arizona (I have your baby, simply because I want a baby.), Fargo (I have your wife, just like we planned.), and The Big Lebowski (I know your wife's missing and I'm strapped for cash.)
- Played straight in No Country for Old Men ( I'm planning on murdering your wife after you're dead because I gave my word .)
- Played with twice in Burn After Reading: Chad and Linda try to pull this on Osbourne, whereupon Hilarity Ensues. Later, Linda tries to invoke this with the Russians to secure Chad's release not realizing that he's already been killed by Harry.
- Knight Of Cerberus: A few of Their films have serious characters who are plated seriously and bring drama to otherwise light-hearted films. Gaear Grimsrud from Fargo is a perfect example.
- Mood Whiplash: Both in their films and their career in general.
- Motor Mouth: Many of their characters have this trait.
- The Muse: Frances McDormand to Joel seems to have elements of this.
- Narrator: Visser in Blood Simple., Hi in Raising Arizona, Moses in The Hudsucker Proxy, The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, Ed in The Man Who Wasn't There, Bell in No Country for Old Men, 40-Year-Old Mattie in True Grit.
- New Old West: Blood Simple., Raising Arizona, and No Country for Old Men. The Big Lebowski is mistaken for one by the narrator.
- Nice Guys: In addition to Their talent, They're known for being very pleasant and good to work with, which is one of the reasons why Their films are able to retain so many cast and crew members.
- No Ending: Another one of their favorite tropes, used in several films.
- Period Piece: All of their films except Blood Simple., Raising Arizona, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers and Burn After Reading are set in the past, usually between the 40s and 60s, although some are set in the relatively recent past (Fargo (1996) is set in 1987 and The Big Lebowski (1998) is set in 1991.)
- The Perfectionist: They're known for wanting to keep Their visions intact, especially in relation to dialogue. It doesn't make Them any less pleasant to work with though.
- Psycho for Hire: Gaear Grimsrud and his spiritual successor, Anton Chigurh. Also Leonard Smalls. Eddie Dane too. Heck, even Wheezy Joe.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Often and successfully averted. The dialogue is as meticulous as the cinematography.
- Perhaps the best example of this comes from Fargo. All of the jas and jeezes, as well as all of Jerry's stutters, were specifically written. Also, Peter Stormare first read the line "Where is pancakes house?" as "Where's the pancake house?", thinking it was a typo. The Coens put him in his place, saying "We don't make typos."
- Played extremely and intentionally straight in True Grit; the diction itself (for instance, the lack of contractions) is in fact authentic, but the dialogue itself is practically Shakespearean.
- Running Gag:
- The commemorative DVD releases of several of their films (such as Blood Simple. and The Big Lebowski) contain introductions (and, in the case of Blood Simple, an entire commentary) by "Forever Young Films", a fictional organization dedicated to preserving "classic" films (but really the Coens' way of poking fun at self-important cinephiles and pretentious film critics).
- The Coens like to make it seem like Roderick Jaynes, the credited editor on all their films, is a real person. It's really just the pseudonym they use due to guild restrictions on shared editing credit.
- Sadist Show: One of their trademarks is things going horribly wrong for their characters, usually through unfortunate coincidences or small details. The most egregious examples are probably A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis and Burn After Reading, but most of their films have it to an extent.
- Scenery Porn
- Screwball Comedy: Many of their films are inspired by this genre. The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty could even be considered throwbacks.
- Self-Deprecation: A collection of their scripts had an introduction written by their "editor," Roderick Jaynes, which basically slagged off the brothers as incompetent film-makers. Roderick Jaynes is actually a pseudonym for the brothers themselves.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Combined with Shoot the Shaggy Dog, if the Coens are feeling cruel enough.
- A Simple Plan: Pretty much all their movies start with a simple plan.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: All of their films are extremely cynical, with the jarring exceptions of Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy. There's something to be said for the strong underlying sense of morality that permeates their films, though.
- Stupid Crooks: The brothers tend to include criminal characters in a lot of their stories, including a few bumbling crooks who usually, but not always, appear in their comedies.
- The 'Verse: Several of their films seem to take place in the same universe. The hotel fire from Barton Fink is referenced in a newspaper article in Miller's Crossing (Crossing was produced first, but the films were written simultaneously) and the law firm "Whitehall and Marsh" is mentioned in both Burn After Reading and A Serious Man. The mysterious blue Volkswagen from Blood Simple. reappears in The Big Lebowski. Fargo eventually made it explicit it takes place in the same universe as Fargo, too.
- Too Dumb to Live: Many of Their characters fit this trope perfectly and it always comes back to hurt Them.
- Troll: Nathan Rabin once described Them by saying that They'd heckle Their own funerals if They could.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
- Their film Inside Llewyn Davis is based partially on the life of folk musician Dave van Ronk.
- Fargo is not, as it claims, a true story, though it was inspired by a real incident in which a man murdered his wife and disposed of her in a wood chipper.
- The Walrus Was Paul: Several of their films (most obviously The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, and A Serious Man) contain imagery, dialogue, etc. that appears to be significant, but has no discernible meaning. Not that this has stopped people from trying to find one.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: