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Film / Blood Simple

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"The world is full o' complainers. An' the fact is, nothin' comes with a guarantee. Now I don't care if you're the pope of Rome, president of the United States or Man of the Year; somethin' can all go wrong. Now go on ahead, y'know, complain, tell your problems to your neighbor, ask for help, 'n watch him fly. Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else. That's the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas, an' down here... you're on your own."
Loren Visser

Blood Simple is 1984 American neo-noir crime thriller about a Texas bar owner who is certain that his wife is cheating on him and hires a private detective to spy on her. But that's only the beginning.

Written and directed by The Coen Brothers, this was their debut film and it features many of their stylistic trademarks. The cast includes Frances McDormand, John Getz, Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh.

This film provides examples of:

  • All There in the Script: The credits only identify Visser as "Private Detective".
  • Alone with the Psycho: Abby with Visser in the movie's final minutes.
  • Arc Symbol: Fans are cropping up in various places.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Abby manages to fight off and kill Visser.
  • Bathroom Break-Out: Abby flees from Visser through her bathroom window into the next room.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Subverted. Ray gives the murder weapon a good manhandling as soon as he sees it, but the gun is never examined by the police, so this doesn't matter.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The "heroes" are a selfish adulterous couple, one of whom buries a man alive. The villains? Wooh boy...
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Visser does this during his first meeting with Marty, indicating that Marty's attempt at tough-guy intimidation isn't working.
  • Buried Alive: Ray does this to Marty, more out of panic — he's discovered that Marty's still alive after assuming Abby shot him to death — than sadism.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Abby has one about her husband telling her Ray will kill her too and bleeding from the mouth after he disappears.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Played with all over the place.
    • It's a vital part of the plot that the characters keep losing or forgetting about the various items presented to us, the viewers, as obvious Plot Coupons. For example, Visser's lighter being forgotten on Marty's desk never gets discovered.
    • There's also an actual gun, namely Abby's pearl-handled .38. The number of bullets it contains is also a Chekhov's Gun, as indeed are the chambers they're in - if you pay attention to how they're loaded near the start, you'll know exactly when it will and won't fire later.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Meurice, in confronting Ray over what he thinks is his ransacking of Marty's safe, takes a cigarette out of Ray's mouth because "these things are nothing but coffin nails." But right afterwards, as he is walking away, Meurice lights up himself.
  • Conversation Casualty: Visser shoots Marty during their talk.
  • Counting Bullets: The observing audience can count along. Early on we see Abby check for bullets in her purse — she has just three.
    • Visser uses the first bullet on Marty.
    • Ray fires the second by accidentally kicking it.
    • Marty pulls the trigger three times at Ray before being buried alive, none of the chambers containing a bullet.
    • That leaves one bullet and one chamber. Of course, Abby has no way of knowing this when pulling the trigger on Visser.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Marty is gutshot by Visser and spends several hours bleeding in his office and Ray's car before being Buried Alive while screaming in agony.
  • Darkened Building Shootout: The finale plays out in the darkened living room of Abby's apartment.
  • Daydream Surprise: Abby believes that Marty appears in her apartment, but it turns out to be a dream.
  • Digital Destruction: Not much effort was put into the UK DVD release. It has a generally low-resolution look, and scratches and cue dotsnote  can sometimes be seen.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Downplayed as this is (probably) only a secondary motive of what happens, but Visser still doesn't take lightly to being insulted by Marty...
  • Door Handle Scare: The camera zooms in on the door handle when Visser approaches Abby's apartment door.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Seemingly played straight with Visser's refusal to murder the couple. Averted later when he has no problem murdering Marty, framing Abby for it, and ultimately trying to kill her and Ray to cover his tracks.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Inverted. Abby's dog's happy reaction is what makes her realize Marty's in the house.
  • Exiled to the Couch: Ray and Abby discuss who takes the couch at Ray's place.
  • Face Death with Dignity: After being fatally shot by Abby, Visser simply laughs at the dark twist of her thinking he was Marty and dies calmly.
  • Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit: Visser.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The first we see of Marty are his boots resting on his desk.
  • Film Noir
  • Gallows Humour: This is a Coen Brothers film, after all.
  • Gambit Pileup: Visser wanted to get the money, kill Marty, and frame Abby for murder so he stole and left her gun at the scene. But then Ray showed up, saw the gun and mistakenly believed that Abby killed him.
  • Good Is Dumb: While Ray may not be conventionally "good," he's about as close as a film noir character gets. And he has got to be about the dumbest character ever to wander into a crime movie.
  • Greed: Visser says that he has gone "money simple" when offered $10,000 by Marty.
  • Groin Attack: Abby kicks Marty in the balls when the latter attacks her.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: "Nobody knows you hired me?" Unlike the typical examples, even perceptive audience is not supposed to understand that the perfectly natural question is really this trope until a bit later.
  • The Hyena: Detective Visser.
  • Hyper-Awareness: Totally averted, causing the loss of Chekhov's Guns.
  • Impaled Palm: Abby nails Visser's hand to a windowsill with a Buck knife.
  • In the Style of: In the background of an early bar scene, you can hear a country-and-western version of the theme from Chariots of Fire.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Subverted. Played straight when the private eye shoots Marty, but later shown to be a rather horrific aversion when he regains consciousness just in time to be buried alive.
  • Ironic Death: Subverted. When Ray thinks of a way how to dispose of Marty's body, he throws a glance at the incinerator, the very place he himself was meant to end up in. To our surprise he doesn't go through with the idea.
  • Irony: The film made a point of showing the "Employees must Wash their Hands" sign. The irony was Visser was washing his hands of his employers murder - by framing Ray and Abby.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: When Abby manages to fight off and kill Visser.
  • Last-Name Basis: No one ever calls Marty by his first name, Julian, and you'd be forgiven for thinking "Marty" is his first name.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To a line from Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest in which "blood simple" is a term coined to describe the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: An interesting case where every major character is locked out of the loop to some degree due to a mixture of intentional deceit and Poor Communication Kills, to the point that an observant viewer knows more than all of the cast combined.
    • Marty is under the impression Visser actually went through with killing Ray and Abby, not realizing the photographic proof the private detective provided was actually fabricated.
    • Visser doesn't know Marty secreted one of his doctored photos of Ray and Abby's "corpses" into his safe - and doesn't know that nobody has ever found his lighter...
    • Ray thinks that Abby shot Marty when Visser actually pulled the trigger and framed her for it. He's likely not even aware Visser exists by the time the private eye snipes him at the climax.
    • Abby knows the least out of anybody, with Ray assuming she shot Marty, but for some reason never explicitly telling her he assumes this. Like Ray, she's not aware that Visser is involved until she fatally shoots him thinking he's Marty.
  • Lucky Charms Title: The period in the title.
  • Match Cut: From Meurice poking the button on his answering machine to Ray poking a still-damp bloodstain in the back seat of his car.
  • Mugging the Monster: Insulting Visser turns out very badly for Marty.
  • New Old West: Like several of the Coens' films.
  • No Name Given: M. Emmet Walsh's scene stealing Private Detective is actually named Loren Visser. His first name is shown engraved on his Zippo lighter early in the film, but his last name is not mentioned.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Subverted in that it is someone else she is confronting.
  • Only Sane Man: Meurice, Ray's fellow bartender at Marty's club. Ironically—or perhaps fittingly—he's Locked Out of the Loop (even more than the characters listed under the respective heading above) and isn't aware at all of what's going on between the quartet of main characters.
  • Opening Monologue: Visser gives one.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Abby and Ray could have avoided a lot of trouble if they had just talked to each other. Somewhat justified in that the conversation topic is one almost anybody would reasonably be extremely uncomfortable to honestly talk about.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Delivered by the victim. After Abby shoots him and says "I'm not afraid of you, Marty" (she hasn't seen that it's Visser and believes it to be Marty back from the dead), Visser bursts into laughter and proclaims: "Well, ma'am, if I see him, I'll give him the message."
  • Psycho for Hire: Visser initially comes across as little more than a buffoonish, washed-out private investigator, but he turns out to be a murderous double crosser who's happy to play hitman if the price is right, and then some.
  • Ransacked Room: Visser searches and turns over Marty's entire office, looking for the photo.
  • Re-Cut: The Coens have quipped that this is the first film in Hollywood history for which the Director's Cut actually REMOVES material.
  • The Remake / Foreign Remake: Zhang Yimou remade this film in 2010 as A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop. It was widely criticized for its replacement of the Black Comedy from the original with broad slapstick violence. The Coens liked it, though, and joked that they should remake Raise the Red Lantern in return.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Discussed, and inverted. Oh Lord, how it's inverted.
  • Silence Is Golden: The only voices heard between Visser shooting Marty to when Ray calls Abby after burying Marty for good are those of a preacher and a DJ on Ray's car radio.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Used by Visser to get into Ray's house.
  • Sleeping with the Boss's Wife: Ray sleeps with his boss Marty's wife, Abby, resulting in Ray and Marty's deaths.
  • Stress Vomit: Invoked. When Marty learns that Abby and Ray are dead he used the bathroom, pretending to vomit but really just replaces a photograph in the envelope.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The film goes to agonizing lengths to show just how extremely difficult and messy disposing of a corpse actually is, from the difficulty of cleaning up the crime scene to being constantly on guard so as not to be caught to the sheer physical strain of hauling a fully grown person around and digging a grave. By the end of the night, Ray is left extremely physically and emotionally shaken.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Abby, the closest thing the movie has to a heroic character, cheats on her husband Marty, who's generally an unpleasant jerk and ultimately violent.
  • The Exit Is That Way: After Marty fails to kill Abby at Ray's house, he angrily drives off down the street...and returns a moment later driving in the opposite direction, since the street is a dead end.
  • There Are No Police: Despite all of the gunfire and various altercations throughout the film, there are never any police present at any time, unlike the Coen's later films (especially Fargo) in which the police play a large role in the plot.
  • Time-Passes Montage: A shot from Ray's window dissolved from night to day.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Ray, and he doesn't either.
  • The Voice: An uncredited Holly Hunter as Helene, who leaves a message on Meurice's answering machine.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Once.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Twice.