Fargo is a critically acclaimed dark comedy from 1996, written and directed by The Coen Brothers. It stars Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Peter Stormare as "the guy who stuffs someone in a wood chipper." Taking place in the Upper Midwest circa 1987, the plot concerns Jerry Lundegaard (Macy), a bankrupt car salesman who stages the kidnapping of his wife in order to cheat the ransom out of her wealthy father. But then things go wrong.McDormand won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson.Famous for having almost none of the plot take place in Fargo. It instead largely takes place in Brainerd, Minnesota, but apparently that wouldn't make as good a title for the film. Popularised, (or demonised) the Minnesota accent, with its sing song Scandinavian influences and northern twang. Super. Pronounced SOOPER.Also famous for the urban legend about a Japanese tourist freezing to death while searching for the treasure that Buscemi's character hides in the film. You betcha.note Said tourist was in fact suicidal, and deliberately went there to die. She did make a crack about Fargo, but the state troopers misunderstood it, ya?The FX network has inked a deal for a 12-episode miniseries that will expand on the film. It'll be exec-produced by the Coens and air in 2014.
This film contains examples of:
Action Mom: Marge is a pregnant example, who will presumably become the more typical variety.
American Accents: This, ya, is where most of America gets their stereotype of the Upper Midwest, ya. Ya? Y-aaaa. There's a very strange case where a Japanese man shows a mixture of this and a somewhat heavy Japanese accent, having been raised in Brainerd with Marge.
Anti-Villain: Jerry. He's not a villain, he's just kind of stupid. He doesn't even consider how his wife being kidnapped will affect his teenage son.
Artistic License - Law: Since it involved the death of a state trooper, the Minnesota State Police should have been investigating the murdersnote Though the State Police do get involved, as it's implied Marge and Lou are simply first responders - though they're mostly out of the picture until the later half of the film. For that matter, the trooper's car was unsecured, which could have been tampered with by anyone who happened to pass by.
Bad Liar: Jerry Lundegaard is terrible at making up excuses on the spot, and flees from Marge the second time she tries to question him.
Bat Deduction: One that isn't very obvious at first viewing (or even the second or third). Marge meeting with Mike Yamagita and being told that his sob story of his "wife" dying of cancer turned out to be a coverup for him stalking his "wife" until she moved away makes her suspect that Jerry wasn't telling the truth about any missing cars from his dealership.
Based on a Great Big Lie: In theatres, and on the original versions of the DVD, the movie was preceded by a statement that the story was true, with names changed to protect those still alive. Yet the typical "all names and events are fictious" disclaimer appears in the end credits. When asked, the Coens stated this was a device to encourage people to suspend disbelief. Apparently someone complained, because later pressings of the DVD are missing the pre-movie statement. Since the first bars of the opening theme played over the statement, it's replaced with a black screen during that time for those discs missing the statement.
Though the Region 1 Blu-ray DVD still maintains this statement, so Your DVD May Vary.
Bittersweet Ending: The bad guys are either caught or dead, but they killed lots of people in the process, the money is lost forever, Jerry's son now has no parents, and nobody really learned from their mistakes. However, Margie, her husband, and their future child supposedly live Happily Ever After.
Black and White Morality: Despite the very ambiguous tale, the motivations of the characters are pretty clear cut throughout.
Credits Gag: Musician and Minnesotan Prince was credited as "Victim in Field." In reality, the victim was played by one of the film's sound guys. Promotional materials for the film were eager to mislead audiences into thinking that a famous person would make a cameo because the Coens' last film had nearly killed their career and they thought this one would flop.
Carl as well though being played by Steve Buscemi tends to involve this.
Defective Detective: Averted. Marge is a Happily Married, generally well-adjusted person in addition to being an excellent cop. In fact, she's the only major character in the movie who is good at what they do.
Determinator: For a pregnant policewoman Marge certainly does take a lot of risks, doggedly persuing every option and never giving up the hope of finding another clue.
Dramatic Sit-Down: Jerry sits down and stares off into space when he comes back from having seen Wade's corpse and the money missing.
Dumb Blonde: The prostitutes Marge talks to, arguably one of the best scenes in the film. All any of them can say about Showalter and Grimsrud is that Showalter was "funny lookin'" and that Grimsrud was Swedish. And after some prodding, that Showalter was uncircumcised.
One of the prostitutes was Frances McDormand's accent coach for this movie. Think she did a pretty good job? Oh, you betcha, yaaa.
Dissonant Serenity: Practically everything that Grimsrud does. It's as if nothing can shock him. Averted when he's watching a soap opera on TV, when one of the characters dramatically (and acting rather badly) proclaims to be pregnant and having the other character's baby he drops his fork in shock, but when Showalter comes crashing in through the door bleeding from a gunshot wound in his mouth, he's completely unfazed.
Dying Moment of Awesome: Jean's father adamantly refuses to hand over the money if he doesn't get his daughter back first; he gets shot in the stomach for trying to be a hero, but before dying, squeezes off a shot that grazes Carl's cheek, leaving him whining, bleeding all over the place, and screaming like a bitch.
Fake Nationality: Despite the Japanese name, the guy who plays Mike Yanagita is Steve Park—a Korean-American.
Fawlty Towers Plot: Deconstructed. Jerry heaps so many falsehoods together, and involves so many people in his scheme, it's actually surprising he managed to keep it going as long as he did. However, true to the trope, it all spirals wildly out of control, and by the time the body count starts coming into play, Jerry knows he's done for.
Follow the Leader: Stolen Heart, a quirky, Coen-esque film that's also about kidnappers going after someone's grown daughter that devolves into a giant, murderous mess in the general area around Fargo, was renamed "North of Fargo".
Great Detective: Margie. For all her small town charm, she's quite a badass. Within seconds of suveying the second crime scene and using only the bare facts of the first, she correctly surmises what had happened (i.e. a large man is pulled over, shoots the trooper, the couple passes by and sees this, he chases them, they crash, he kills them). Then upon surveying the first crime scene, she notes the lights were turned off and the footprints around the trooper's body were different and smaller (meaning the large man who killed the couple had an accomplice that noved the trooper's body off the road, then waited in the patrol car - and turned off the lights - until his buddy returned). She then sees right through Jerry's lies, figures out what's been going on, and discovers where the kidnappers are hiding, nonfatally wounds the fleeing Grimsrud - with a low powered, snub nosed revolver - and arrests him.
Greed: Everyone. Showalter argues with his partner over a couple of hundred bucks when he's already stolen a million, and it gets him an axe to the head. Even Wade haggles over the price on his daughter's head.
Happily Married: Marge and Norm "Son-of-a" Gunderson. Sure, they're a bit boring, but they most certainly love each other.
Hide Your Pregnancy: Averted. Frances McDormand was pregnant at the time of filming, but her pregnancy was instead written into the story.
Idiot Ball: Like any good Coen Brothers movie, a lot of characters rely on this.
Marge of all people holds it when she first interviews Jerry. It should be obvious to any competent investigator that he's hiding something, but she apparently needed to have a scene with a compulsively-lying Japanese man to figure out that sometimes people lie.
An Alternate Interperetation here is that Marge was distracted by the idea of meeting an old flame when she first met with Jerry. When Mike turned out to first come on too strong and then be revealed as a liar as well, she was able to clear her head and focus once more on the case.
In Medias Res: A variation. The movie opens with Jerry bringing the tan Ciera to Fargo, North Dakota which sets off the chain of events we see in the movie. Why exactly he is resorting to the measures he's currently taking is never spoken of and we never find out just what kind of trouble he was in before his trip to Fargo.
Likely averted with the two motorists that Grimsrud chases down and kills. The driver frees himself and tries to run, but is shot in the back. Most likely, his cause of death would be a combination of blood loss and severe hypothermia. So would the driver's passenger.
Jerk Ass: Wade Gustafson. Even rubbing in Jerry's face that his wife and son won't have to worry about their future. Not Jerry.
Karmic Death: Lesson One: Trust your son-in-law. You are not John Wayne. Lesson Two: It's generally prudent not to piss off a guy who rarely speaks, and has shot four people that you know of (Jean, the trooper, and the two motorists who witnessed them after the trooper shooting).
Leave No Witnesses: After Grimsrud shoots the trooper, he tells the dumbstruck Showalter to drag the body off the road. Unfortunately, while Showalter is doing that, a car comes up from the other direction and slows down, the motorists having obviously noticed the dead cop's body. Grimsrud puts the Ciera in drive and chases down the two motorists, who overturn someways down the road. When he gets there, the driver starts to flee but is shot in the back by Grimsrud, who then steps up to the car, and shoots the female passenger.
Mood Whiplash: The movie turns on a dime between small-town quirkiness that's played for laughs and coldly brutal violence that decidedly isn't - and even then, it's a comical amount of blood with film-isms thrown in. Just watch this scene. (Warning for mild spoilers).
"I don't have to talk, either, man! See how you like it. Just total givlomfricassee'n silence. Two can play at that game, smart guy. We'll just see how you like it. Total silence.
This led to an in-joke, with Steve Buscemi constantly being told to shut up in his later film with the Coens, The Big Lebowski.
Nice Girl: Marge is friendly kind and respectful to everyone she comes across. In a twist, her easy manner just makes her more awesome and helps her a lot when investigating. Many police investigators in real life use the same tactic to get people to open up to them. It's not only her attitude towards interviewees and suspects. She basically tells a police officer his blunder of thinking "DLR" was the first part of a license number (when officers use that to indicate dealer plates), but does it in the nicest way possible, then cracks a joke to make him laugh and relax. The only time this veneer gets close to shattering is when she meets with an old classmate who unsubtly hits on her and is obviously trying to get a date with her - and even when he puts her arms around her and she tells him off (gently), she apologizes.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Given to Showalter by Shep Proudfoot after Marge interviews him about phone calls made from a hotel the perpetrators stayed at. Since Shep doesn't want to go back to Stillwater Prison, it's obvious he had motives.
No Kill Like Overkill: Showalter shoots Wade about eight times at the parking garage after getting nailed in the cheek.
Nonindicative Name: There is a grand total of one scene in Fargo - and that's the beginning. Most of the action takes place in the town of Brainerd, Minnesota, which is over 150 miles away.
Noodle Incident: The $325,000 GMAC loan for which Jerry forged the VIN numbers of nonexistent cars. The viewer never finds out for what purpose Jerry got the money, or how he (presumably) lost it. Arguably, Jerry likely intended that part of the ransom money would be used to pay back the loan and get the persistent Reilly Diefenbach off his neck.
Oh Crap: Grimsrud's reaction to Marge catching him in the process of "destroying evidence" in the woodchipper.
Earlier, Showalter finally realizing Grimsrud is about to chop him.
Earlier than that, Showalter and Grimsrud being stopped by the state trooper, and Showalter most likely about to be arrested.
Obnoxious In-Laws: Wade is a textbook example. Refuses to lend his son-in-law any money at all (even backhandedly mocking him for it), screws him over on an investment.
Parking Garage: Where Gustafson goes to drop off the ransom money. It doesn't end well for him, the parking attendant, or for Showalter's right cheek.
One Drink Will Kill the Baby: A variation of this is averted. Marge Gunderson drinks a lot of coffee, though nobody pulls her up for being seven months pregnant at any point. Hell, people buy it for her...
Phrase Catcher: Carl Showalter is remembered by witnesses like this: "Oh, he was a little guy... Kinda funny lookin'."
(Marge bends over while looking at the woman shot in the car)
Lou: You see somethin', Marge?
Marge: No, I think I'm gonna barf!
Precision F-Strike: When Jerry must deal with an angry customer who is furious at having protective paint on his car applied despite Jerry's promise not to do so, he curses. Jerry's customer (and his wife) is visibly shocked at himself, and Jerry literally hangs his head in shame.
Irate Customer: You lied to me, Mr. Lundegaard. You're a bald-faced liar, a... a fucking liar!
Pride: Perhaps the driving force behind everything a certain Mr. Lundegaard does. His father-in-law, a certain Mr. Gustafson, is similar.
Psycho for Hire: Gaear Grimsrud and his slightly less fuckin' crazy "buddy", Showalter.
The Quiet One: Grimsrud, though for good reason. To the point that when Peter Stormare first saw the script he almost couldn't find his part! Native American Gus also counts, responding in a similar manner as Grimsrud to Marge's questions, except for when he's beating Showalter for blowing his involvement.
Rape as Drama: It's heavily implied Grimsrud raped and killed Mrs. Lundegaard, foreshadowed by his lustful gazes at her earlier in the film.
How Mrs. Lundegaard was killed is unclear - based on arterial blood spray on the opposite wall, it could be argued that her throat was cut or she was bludgeoned, or likely even shot with the pistol Grimsrud had used to kill the trooper.
Reality Subtext: Frances McDormand was actually pregnant during the filming.
Marge: So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't understand it.
Roger Ebert Great Movies List: Often mentioned Fargo many times as one of the best movies he'd ever seen. And considering how many movies he watched, that was saying a lot.
Scenery Porn: You'd be surprised how beautiful a frozen wasteland can be.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: For Jerry, at least. His attempt at trying to fund his business deal results in his wife most likely murdered, his wife's father definitely murdered, and him in jail - and before that, the business deal was going to fail, anyway - and if it hadn't, he'd have been sued for another bad loan. And if the deal had gone through, Showalter would have buried the rest of the money instead of splitting it.
A Simple Plan: The plan was simple. Jerry hired Showalter and Grimsrud to kidnap Jean and extort money from her father so he could support himself. Unfortunately, it unravels after the hired men kill a state trooper who pulls them over for not having temporary vehicle tags (and also sees Jean in the backseat) and two witnesses to this shooting, leading to Jerry having problems from his accomplices demanding more money, as well as trouble from Marge.
Smarter Than You Look: Marge may come across as a dumb country hick, but she's a very gifted detective and easily the smartest character in the movie.
Snow Means Death: Occasionally, said snow is covered in blood. Look at the snow while Grimsrud is feeding Carl through the woodchipper.
Spoiled Sweet: Jerry's wife comes from an exorbitantly wealthy family, but she still acted like the sweetest passive mother ever, complete with pink sweater.
Stalker with a Crush: Mike Yanagita stalked a girl so much she had to move away, and he invented a story that he married her and she died - and uses that lie to try and get with a pregnant, married police officer, blatantly hitting on her, because he needs a new "object of affection".
Stealth Pun: One of the movie's taglines is "A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere." What does Jerry propose to Wade as a business deal?
Stupid Crooks: Jerry's scheme to stage his wife's kidnapping in order to swindle money from his wealthy father-in-law go horribly awry once the two criminals he hired for the job are pulled over by a state trooper shortly after the kidnapping, who ends up getting killed along with two witnesses, which only complicates things and calls more attention to their actions. Then more things happen that don't go according to plan, and more people die as a consequence to this, including Jerry's wife., which also leads us to...
Stupid Evil: Both kidnappers, but especially Showalter, who antagonizes Grimsrud over a few hundred dollars when leaving quietly would have landed him almost a million. Also setting off the entire Plethora of Mistakes by not putting the correct tags on the car.
Jerry has one when he's finally tracked down and arrested in Bismarck, making pathetic baby-man squealing noises as he tries to escape from the troopers.
Jerry also has several minor ones over the course of the movie, culminating in the final one when he's arrested. It demonstrates what an ultimately pathetic and inadequate man he is, and how far out of his depth he's gotten himself.
Vomiting Cop: Averted and subverted. When Marge inspects the overturned car with the dead woman inside, she squats, about to vomit... from morning sickness. It passes quickly.
Wacky Cravings: Averted. Marge eats pretty normal food (and fast food on top of it). She just eats a lot of it.
What Happened to the Mouse?: After all this drama over "a little bit of money," a big chunk of the money itself is never recovered. The only person who knows where it's hidden is dead.
Xanatos Speed Chess: Jerry isn't very good at it, but that doesn't stop him from giving it the old college try.