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Film: Fargo
Ya... just another day in Brainerd, Margie.

"And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."

Fargo is a critically acclaimed dark comedy/crime movie 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 the 1996 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson, while the Coens won for Best Original Screenplay.

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.note 

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  It was enough to spawn a documentary about it - sadly more based on La Jetée than the Coen Brothers' film style.

A 2003 television pilot starred Edie Falco (pre-The Sopranos) as Marge, but despite its praise, it wasn't picked up. The FX network has inked a deal for a 12-episode miniseries that will expand on the film. It's exec-produced by the Coens and began airing in 2014.

This film contains examples of the following tropes, ja:

  • Action Mom: Marge is a pregnant example, who will presumably become the more typical variety.
  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Fargo is more widely known as "That movie where Steve Buscemi gets fed to a woodchipper."
  • Alone with the Psycho: Jean Lundegaard doesn't survive her time with Grimsrud.
  • 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.
  • An Aesop: In-Universe; Margie delivers one to Grimsrud, of all people, near the end of the film. It fits her dwindling (yet still prevalent) naivety of her character rather nicely.
  • 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  For that matter, the trooper's car was unsecured, which could have been tampered with by anyone who happened to pass by.
  • As You Know: Showalter has Jerry explain the entire scheme to him, for clarity's sake.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Shep Proudfoot. One of the cops has to clarify, "That's a name."
  • Ax-Crazy: Gaear Grimsrud, quite literally at one point.
  • Badass Longcoat: Grimsrud has one.
  • 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.
    • The only thing that may be based on reality would be the scene where Gaear is stuffing Carl's remains down the wood chipper. Such a method of disposing of a corpse had been done before as Richard Crafts of Newtown, Connecticut was convicted in 1989 of murdering his wife on November 19, 1986 and disposing of her body with a wood chipper.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Gaear Fucking Grimsrud.
    • Shep Proudfoot, too.
  • Beware the Minnesota Nice Ones: Marge, who proves to be a tenacious son-of-a-gun in tracking the murderers.
  • Big Eater: Marge is eating for two. Justified as she is pregnant.
  • 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.
    • It's also the point; to contrast and juxtapose the relative 'innocence' of the locals with the nighs-sociopathic brutality of the career criminals - mostly for a comedic effect.
  • Black Comedy
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Grimsrud certainly is.
  • Book Ends: The plot begins and ends with someone running across snow and getting shot.
  • Bribe Backfire: The exact moment when things go from bad to worse.
  • Broken Record: To accentuate the simplicity of the characters, a lot of the dialogue is formed with this trope in mind.
  • The Cameo: Bruce Campbell as the man in the soap opera Grimsrud watches.
    • Although it was not recorded for the film; that's an actual regional soap that Bruce did indeed appear in.
  • Catch Phrase: "Aw, jeez."
    • To a lesser extent Gaer Grimsrud has "You know?"
  • Clueless Deputy: Lou, from what we see of him. He thinks "DLR" was the license plate itself, and not shorthand for "dealer plates (as in, freshly bought car that's unregistered).
    • Wonderfully averted with Marge Gunderson. She appears clueless at first, but turns out to be easily the most competent and intelligent character involved in the movie's plot.
    "Not sure I agree with ya 100% percent on your police-work there, Lou..."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Showalter, but he has good reason. He has one right before the parking garage shooting.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: One of the most distressing examples you'll ever watch in a film - Showalter and Grimsrud suddenly humping two ugly prostitutes.
  • The Consigliere: Stan Grossman.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: She's extremely Minnesota Nice and indirect about it, but Margie has her moments.
    • Carl as well though being played by Steve Buscemi tends to involve this.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Jerry. Marge is unquestionably the main character, but she doesn't show up until after the 30 minute mark.
  • 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.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Essentially, the entire plot. Especially the Coitus Uninterruptus.
  • Dirty Coward: Jerry is too cowardly to admit that he's lost a bunch of money. Instead, he tries to steal money from his father-in-law to cover his debt.
  • 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. 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, yaaa. 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.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Non-supernatural example. Jerry thinks he can enrich himself with no real harm to his family by having two out-of-town thugs kidnap his wife and that they'll do what he wants them to. But the nominally smarter criminal can't even control the violent impulses of the other one, so a jellyfish like Jerry has no hope at all.
  • Fatal Flaw: Greed is a common one, while Gaear's is probably trigger-happiness (Wrath) and Wade's is control freakery (Pride).
  • 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.
  • Foil: Mike for Jerry.
  • 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".
  • From Bad to Worse: A money-making scheme gone wrong ends with, among other things, a guy getting fed into a woodchipper.
  • Genre-Busting: A neo-noir/thriller/black comedy, and that's just to start.
  • Gentle Giant: Subverted with Grimsrud.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Marge, as seen in the page quote.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Showalter and Grimsrud have a good time with some hookers, and then sit up in bed watching the TV without any conversation.
  • Gorn: Just look at how bloody the snow is as Grimsrud feeds Showalter through the woodchipper Also the amount of blood that comes out of the head of the state trooper when Gaear shoots him.
    • Not to mention Showalter's bleeding from the bullet wound in his jaw, and his horrendously inept attempts to patch up the wound.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The Lundegaards and the Gundersons, and apparently the rest of the town - see Precision F-Strike. Contrasts nicely with the Cluster F Bombing of Those Two Bad Guys.
  • 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 moved 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.
    Stan: We're not horse-trading here, Wade.
  • Happily Ever After: Marge, Norm and their baby, presumably.
  • Happily Married: Marge and Norm "Son-of-a" Gunderson. Sure, they're a bit boring, but they most certainly love each other.
  • 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.
  • I Have Your Wife: Just as we planned.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Jerry Lundegaard.
  • 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. Although the two conversations he has on the phone with GMAC regarding the car serial numbers implies he's been defrauding them for $320,000, which is probably his main motivation for the whole mess.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted mostly, except for the trooper, who got shot in the top of the head.
    • 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.
    • Jerry himself never stopped to consider what effect his wife's kidnapping would have on their son (or his wife herself for that matter, who is understandably terrified). And while he's taken aback to learn his plan has resulted in three murders, he shows no remorse and goes ahead as planned.
  • Karmic Death: Lesson One: If you're Wade, trust your son-in-law. You are not John Wayne. Lesson Two: If you're Showalter, 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.
  • Minnesota Nice: Probably the definitive film example.
  • 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).
  • Motor Mouth: Carl Showalter.
    • "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 just once, through the chest, out of spite when Wade insists on seeing Jean. After Showalter gets shot in the cheek, he shoots Wade a few more times.
  • The Nondescript: Grimsrud and especially Showalter seem to be rather featureless this to the people of Minnesota (except that one is tall and the other is "small and funny-lookin', in a general kind of way"), even though Stormare and Buscemi are anything but nondescript.
  • 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.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: "I'd be very surprised if our suspect was from Brainerd." Well, the suspects are from out of town and are staying at a cabin nearby.
  • 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...
    • Substances late in pregnancy have a much smaller effect than earlier.
  • Poetic Justice: Grimsrud is shot in almost the exact same way he shot the first motorist: from behind, running away, apparently to nowhere.
  • Phrase Catcher: Carl Showalter is remembered by witnesses like this: "Oh, he was a little guy... Kinda funny lookin'."
  • Plethora of Mistakes
  • Pregnant Badass: Marge might be the foremost example in cinema.
    (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, "You lied to me, Mr. Lundegaard. You're a bald-faced liar, a... a fucking liar!" Jerry's customer (and his wife) is visibly shocked at himself, and Jerry literally hangs his head in shame.
  • 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 Shep 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 rapes Jean before killing her, foreshadowed by his lustful gazes at her when Showalter's trying to get the TV to work
    • Uh, she started shrieking...
    • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech. From Marge to Grimsrud. A Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
    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 hires Showalter and Grimsrud to kidnap Jean and extort money from her father so he can support himself. Unfortunately, it unravels because a state trooper stops Showalter and Grimsrud near Brainerd for not having license plates or temporary vehicle tags (and also sees Jean in the backseat when he hears whimpering; after Showalter tries bribing him). Grimsrud shoots the trooper, then two motorists who see Showalter moving the body to a ditch on the roadside, leading to Jerry having problems from his accomplices demanding more money, as well as trouble from Marge.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Carl Showalter.
  • 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?
  • The Stoic: Grimsrud, to the point of being The Soulless.
  • 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.
  • Suspect Is Hatless:
    • The best description people can come up with for Showalter is that he's "kinda funny looking" - no mention of hair/eye color, height or anything. Grimsrud gets even less.
      "Oh, he wasn't circumcised."
    • Not only that, but the Brainerd police never get to see what Carl looks like, since all that is left of him is a foot and DNA from his physical remains.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Showalter and Grimsrud.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Showalter refused to pay Grimsrud a few hundred dollars for the car, even though he knows how Axe Crazy he is, and that he had $920,000 hidden somewhere that Grimsrud knew nothing about. He paid dearly for that mistake.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Grimsrud is fond of flapjacks.
  • Trick Dialogue: Wade and Jerry, practicing their words.
  • The Unfettered: Grimsrud.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Jeez, ja?
    • The Swedish Grimsrud is also unable to grasp the phrase "pancake house", referring to it as a "pancakes house."
      • Peter Stormare thought that that was a typo and said the line as, "Where is the pancake house?" He was astonished when the Coens told him that he was supposed to say, "Where is pancakes house?"
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • 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.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Avoided with GMAC and Oldsmobile featured prominently.
  • 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.
    • Subverted with the TV series, where it is established that Stavros happened to find the money.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Jerry isn't very good at it, but that doesn't stop him from giving it the old college try.


Yah!
PlatoonAFI's 100 Years... 100 MoviesDuck Soup
Groundhog DayNational Film RegistryTolable David
The English PatientAcademy AwardJerry Maguire
Extreme MeasuresFilms of the 1990sFear
The Exterminating AngelRoger Ebert Great Movies ListFaust
Donnie DarkoThe EightiesHot Tub Time Machine

alternative title(s): Fargo
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