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Creator / The Coen Brothers

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Serious men.note 

Joel David Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957), collectively known as the Coen Brothers, are filmmakers who have been marching to the beat of their own drum 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-person 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, who worked as an editor on several of the brothers' films, since 1990.

Most of their films are scored by Carter Burwell, and all of their films are edited by Roderick Jaynes. Jaynes doesn't exist; the "Roderick Jaynes" name is actually a pseudonym for the brothers themselves. Yeah, they like to have creative control on their films.

Among their numerous award wins, the brothers are the second of three duos in history to win the Academy Award for Best Directornote , and the only duo to come from the same family.

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Films written and directed by the Coens:

The Coen Brothers' films provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: No Country for Old Men, and widely regarded as superior because of it.
  • All-Star Cast: Almost all their films have very star studded casts, owing both to their acclaim and success and the fact that they are known as very good to work with, to the point that many major stars are happy to take substantial pay cuts just to appear in their films.
  • 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.
  • Attention Deficit Creator Disorder: They have admitted to often starting new projects while still in the middle of other ones. For example, Barton Fink was written while they were stuck writing Miller's Crossing.
  • Auteur License: They've actually managed to have final cut on every film they've made.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Bad guys in their works don't have it much easier than the heroes, usually gaining nothing or ending up dead or in jail. Even Anton Chigurh, who otherwise gets away with his crimes, is given a harsh reminder of his own humanity by nearly dying in a car accident towards the end.
  • Black Comedy: We're talking black-hole, no-light-escaping black comedy. And they are masters of it.
  • Blackmail:
    • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The best-case scenario for the protagonists of their films is that they do triumph over the bad guys or achieve their goals but at a heavy cost.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Many of their villainous characters have a code. It's just usually one completely incomprehensible to anyone but them.
  • 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: Characters in their films don't tend to have it easy, no matter how nice or good they are.
  • 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.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': They're notorious for their Old Testament morality, never letting characters get away with transgressions, no matter how minor or how sympathetic they otherwise might be, and often going being much harsher than the sins merit. Even villains don't usually get away or at least not scot free.
  • Career Resurrection:
    • The Hudsucker Proxy very nearly killed their careers entirely. In response, they made Fargo, which not only revived their momentum completely but was nominated for several Oscars (including Best Picture) and winning for Best Original Screenplay.
    • This happened again in the 2000s. After the runaway success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, they followed it up with the commercially unsuccessful The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), the less distinctive Intolerable Cruelty, and the coolly received The Ladykillers (2004). Critics had begun to believe that the brothers had lost their touch and they didn't make another film until three years later. That movie? No Country for Old Men, which won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Copiously Credited Creator: Serve as writer-producer-director-editors on nearly all their films.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much every movie they make.
  • Creator Couple: Joel Coen and Frances McDormand. She was the star of their first movie and has appeared in at least minor roles in many of their films (not to mention main roles like in Fargo).
  • Didn't Think This Through: A recurring element in their films are people who act without much thought for the consequences and end making things much worse for themselves.
  • 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.
  • DVD Commentary: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) is their only film to contain a serious one. The 20th-anniversary re-release of Blood Simple has a parody commentary by a spokesperson for "Forever Young Films".
  • 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".
  • Executive Meddling: The brothers were originally only supposed to direct Intolerable Cruelty. When they were assigned the screenplay, they were told they could do anything they wanted as long as George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones's characters ended up together, which is actually not unreasonable for a romantic comedy.
  • Faux Affably Evil: If a truly evil villain in a Coen Brothers film possesses any good manners or charm, it's a complete facade or exists just to further underline how depraved, sadistic and monstrous they truly are.
  • 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, Hammett again, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain, respectively.
  • Genre-Busting: Several of their films are simply indescribable in terms of genre. They don't just bend genres, but dissect 'em.
    • 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.
    • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Western anthology, but each of the different segments has a completely different tone and mood. The titular segment is a (very dark) "singing cowboy" musical, "Near Algodones" is familiar Coen crime-story territory about a bank robber whose day rapidly goes awry, "The Gal Who got Rattled" is a drama played fairly straight, and so on.
  • 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.
  • He Also Did: Occasionally, they'll write or rewrite screenplays for somebody else to direct, such as Crimewave, the recent remake of Gambit, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Certainly not cynical about human nature but they also don’t think we’re the greatest thing ever.
  • 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.
  • Implacable Man: Most of the criminal characters in their stories are foolish and incompent morons, so by contrast, there's often one more dangerous and relentless antagonist in their stories. These vary from killers with an almost incomprehensible worldview through ambiguously supernatural or uncanny characters all the way up to Satanic archetypes. Anton Chigurh, Gaear Grimsurd, Leonard Smalls, Loren Visser, the Warden, Charlie Mundt all count. Buster Scruggs is an interesting variant who's an affable Singing Cowboy and remorseless killer, and the final segment, "The Mortal Remains", features two ambiguously supernatural bounty hunters.
  • Invisible Advertising: Their early film Crimewave, written by them but directed by Sam Raimi of Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame.
  • Lighter and Softer: A couple of his films (Like The Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona and Intolerable Cruelty) have either happy or bittersweet endings.
  • Lying Creators: They have been known to make absurd and at times blatantly untrue statements about their own films.
    • Fargo is prefaced by the claim that the events portrayed actually happened. This is untrue, though it was inspired by the true story of a man who disposed of his wife in a wood chipper.
    • They liked to pretend that "Roderick Jaynes," the pseudonym they use as an editing team, is a real person.
  • Knight of Cerebus: A few of their films have serious characters who are played seriously and bring drama to otherwise light-hearted films. Gaear Grimsrud from Fargo and Leonard Smalls from Raising Arizona are perfect examples.
  • 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 are 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 (2004) 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.
  • Production Posse: The amount of crew that changes from film to film can be in the single digits.
  • Psycho for Hire: A favorite trope of the Coens. Examples include sleazy private eye Loren Visser, demonic biker Leonard Smalls, mob hitman Eddie Dane, quiet Swede Gaear Grimsrud, the asthmatic Wheezy Joe, brutal outlaw Tom Chaney, and the unstoppable Anton Chigurh.
  • 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.
    • The Big Lebowski has numerous instances of characters talking over each other, stuttering and repeating themselves. Every "um" was written into the script.
  • Romance on the Set: Joel Coen and Frances McDormand on the set of Blood Simple.
  • 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: They often include many stunningly beautiful shots of the outdoors.
  • 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.
  • Shrug of God: The Coen Brothers never give clear answers to what their films might mean or what's actually going on—so they're more like teasing audiences and critics.
  • A Simple Plan: Pretty much all their movies start with a simple plan.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Most of their films lie far on the cynical end but there are some jarring exceptions like Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy, whilst Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Hail, Caesar!, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? fall somewhere in-between. There's something to be said for the strong underlying sense of morality that permeates their films, though.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Almost all their films have lead characters who are nowhere near as smart, cunning, charming or noble as they believe themselves to be.
  • 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. The minor character of Grandma Turner appears in both True Grit and "The Gal Who Got Rattled". And Fargo the series is ultimately revealed to be a Stealth Sequel to Fargo, too.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Many of Their characters fit this trope perfectly and it always comes back to hurt Them.
  • Troll: They really like messing with their audience, sometimes for not other reason than that they can. Nathan Rabin once joked that they'd heckle their own funerals if they could.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: One of their trademarks. They've been known to make Period Pieces set in the very recent past, often with a weirdly specific timeframe (which is rarely significant to the plot). Just to name a few: Fargo (1996) takes place in 1987, The Big Lebowski (1998) takes place in 1991, and No Country for Old Men (2007) takes place in 1980.
  • Typecasting: They're known for typecasting some of their favourite actors - but in roles completely unlike the way they're typically typecast. John Goodman typically plays loud, violent and/or completely psychotic characters in Coen brothers films, in contrast to his other roles. (They do, however, make good use of his ability to also be very genial in both Barton Fink and O Brother Where Art Thou? — then he finds a middle ground as a man who is affable and crude in Inside Llewyn Davis.) George Clooney, known for playing suave sophisticates, plays buffoons across four Coen films.
  • Uncredited Role:
    • They were uncredited script doctors for Fun with Dick and Jane and Bad Santa, the latter of which they were also credited producers for.
    • For a long time, Joel was the sole credited director, due to the "only one main director can be credited" rules of the Directors Guild of America, though it was no secret as everyone had been treating them as a directing duo anyway. From The Ladykillers (2004) on, they were given an exception from the DGA and credited as a duo.
  • 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:
    • The Narrator in The Big Lebowski seems to believe that he's in a Western.
    • Llewellyn Moss and Sheriff Ed Bell in No Country for Old Men are under the presumption that they don't live in a Crapsack World. Moss gets himself and his wife killed because of it, and Bell ends up realizing the world went to hell a long time ago, but he was too idealistic to accept it.
    • Linda and Chad in Burn After Reading think they're the heroes of a spy movie.

Alternative Title(s): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Coen Brothers