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Film / O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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♫ I am a man of constant sorrow,
I've seen trouble all my days...♫
"You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell..."
The Blind Railman

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a 2000 comedy-drama film written and directed by The Coen Brothers, and (very) loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey.

The story follows three escaped prisoners in Depression-era MississippiUlysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson), and Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro). After fleeing the chain gang, they embark on a rollicking adventure in an attempt to reach a huge stash of money that Everett buried in his backyard. They have only a short time to do this, though, as the backyard in question is in an area slated to be flooded by the Tennessee Valley Authority to build a reservoir.

On their journey, they meet — among others — a blind prophet, sirens, a Cyclops, and a gifted black guitarist who "sold his soul to the devil". In their attempts to evade the authorities and reach the money, they wind up recording a hit song, robbing a bank with George "Baby Face" Nelson, encountering the KKK, and inadvertently getting mixed up in the state gubernatorial election. And on top of all that, Everett must grapple with the prospect of reuniting with his lover and their children...

Of particular note among the film's legacy is it being the first feature film to be entirely digitally color-corrected (to create a sepia-tinted look), as well as the tremendous success of its soundtrack, up to becoming the latest of four soundtracksnote  in history to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Yearnote . Most of the soundtrack, largely consisting of period folk music, was recorded by Alison Krauss & Union Station and other country-bluegrass acts (Dan Tyminski provided Everett's singing voice).

Bonus points if you recognize the title from Preston Sturges' 1941 film Sullivan's Travels.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The Klan certainly never had good choreography. They also weren't wearing their famous robes at that time, wearing instead much more seriously terrifying scarecrow costumes. However, the terrifying homemade homespun nightmares wouldn't have been so recognizable as the klan kostumes with the blood drop kross.
    • Being "ridden out of town on a rail" meant a fence rail, so a much more slender beam than the roof beam they drag Homer out on.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "Songs of salvation to salve the soul."
  • Agent Scully: Everett, who despite being pursued by Satan, meeting a prophet, being seduced by sirens, and being apparently saved from execution by divine intervention, still insists that there is a reasonable explanation for everything. At least it's Lampshaded. And by the end, he doesn't really seem sure of himself any more after seeing the cow on the roof of a shed, which the blind prophet told them that they would see in the beginning.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Big Dan Teague is almost hit by the sharpened end of a Confederate flag. Then he gets flattened by a burning cross. In the poem, Polyphemous was blinded by a sharpened log heated and hardened over a fire.
  • Anachronism Stew: The Confederate flag did not become associated with the KKK and racists in general until the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In the 1920s and 30s, they still used the American flag.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: George Nelson takes a break from shooting at the cops during his getaway drive to shoot some cows. It does end up being useful to him, as the cows run onto the road and impede the cops chasing him, but his motives were purely petty.
    George: Cows. I hate cows more than coppers!
  • Arrow Catch: It looks like Big Dan Teague is going to get skewered by the pole of a falling Confederate flag... but then he stops the pointy tip inches from his face by catching it with both hands. However, a flaming cross falls on him immediately afterward.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • Some of Homer Stokes' accusations about the heroes near the end of the movie: "These boys is not white! Hell, they ain't even old-timey."
    • One of the people attending George Nelson's march toward the electric chair is most upset about his having shot a cow with a tommy-gun. To be fair, at this point, everyone who's lost everything to the banks has already lost all they can to the banks, so him robbing banks won't hurt them, but killing livestock would.
  • At the Crossroads: The three meet Tommy at one after he sold his soul to the devil ("I wasn't usin' it for nothin'") to become a famous musician; this is based on the real life Tommy Johnson who was the originator of the story. Yes, he did it before Robert Johnson.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: Pappy's son offers one of his brighter options to beat Stokes in that they could get a dwarf even stumpier than his. Pappy angrily shoots it down, pointing out that Follow the Leader at this point would just make them look like even bigger laughingstocks and pathetically desperate for any points, assuming that they could even find a stumpier dwarf.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Everett repeatedly chides people for their religious faith. Examples:
    • When Everett witnesses a riverside baptism service, he comments, "Well, I guess hard times flush out the chumps; everybody's lookin' for answers."
    • After Everett's travel companions get baptized themselves, Everett remarks, "Baptism! You two are dumber than a bag of hammers."
    • Toward the end of the film, when facing his own death, Everett falls on his knees and repents of his sins before God. After he is delivered from death (thanks to a sudden and massive flood of water), Everett discounts his conversion by noting that "any human being will cast about in a moment of stress." When his companions proclaim that the flood was an act of God, Everett comments, "Again, you hayseeds are showin' your want for intellect." (Note: Everett's watery salvation functions as a clever twist on Death by Irony. Deliverance by Irony, perhaps? Miraculous Baptism?)
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't call George Nelson "Babyface" ("He's a live wire, ain't he?"). Truth in Television with the real George Nelson.
      • Possibly an inverted trope, as he's already an established madman, and calling him "Babyface" actually shatters his ego, lowering his self-esteem and sending him into a depressive episode.
    • Also, Pete doesn't take kindly to people stealing from his kin.
    • Don't bother offering Everett Fop pomade. He's a Dapper Dan man!
  • Bewitched Amphibians: Delmar is at one point convinced that Pete was transformed into a toad.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Homer Stokes seems like a nice-enough guy, and possibly a better candidate for governor than Pappy O'Daniel. And then we see him leading a Ku Klux Klan rally...
  • Black-and-Gray Morality:
    • The protagonists exist on the gray side, as three escaped convicts and a musician who sold his soul to the Devil ("I wasn't using it"). Everett is a consummate liar who tricked the others into thinking that he had a cache of buried treasure so they would help him escape prison in time to stop his wife from remarrying. Pete is loyal to his friends and family, though he is a bit violent. Delmar and Tommy are genuinely nice fellows, but Delmar did in fact rob a Piggly Wiggly and lie about it, while Tommy ran off and abandoned the group at one point when things look bad for the four. (A black man in the South facing a lynching... can you blame him?)
    • Pappy O'Daniel and Penny are slightly further down, but still gray. Pappy is rude, selfish, and opportunistic. However, according to him, he tried everything he could to help the people that now support Homer Stokes. He also has no problem with the Soggy Bottom Boys including a black guitarist, even smiling when he notes "folks don't seem to mind they's integrated." Penny told her daughters that their father was hit by a train. But, given that Everett is a conman and a convict, she is right that remarrying the wealthy and "bona fide" Waldrip is probably best for her daughters.
    • The antagonists are firmly on the black side of things. The Sheriff does a great deal of damage in his pursuit of the protagonists, threatening to hang Pete if he doesn't give up his friends' destination. He also tries to hang them even after they were pardoned, and includes Tommy in the hanging simply for associating with them. Also, he might be Satan. Big Dan Teague is a conman worse than Everett: he assaults Everett and Delmar for their money, and later participates in a KKK lynch mob. Homer Stokes presents himself as the "servant of the little man", but it turns out that he's a Grand Dragon of the KKK, leading the lynch mob to kill Tommy. And, finally, how on earth did Waldrip know that Tommy had sold his soul to the devil?
  • Blatant Lies: "That ain't your daddy. Your daddy was hit by a train."
  • Blind Seer: Lampshaded by Everett, who insists that the man has a Disability Superpower. Then immediately contradicts himself and says he doesn't know anything because he's just a blind old man.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with a chain gang working near a railroad track and singing. Shortly after escaping the chain gang, the protagonists meet the blind prophet on a push-car. The film closes with Everett and Penny's daughters tied together by twine walking over a railroad track and singing, as the blind prophet can be seen passing by on the tracks.
  • Boomerang Bigot: No way the klan would have ever admitted a little person.
  • Borrowed Without Permission: Everett reveals that he stole a watch from Pete's treacherous cousin Wash. Pete is outraged that his cousin was robbed and Everett counters that Wash was planning on betraying them the whole time. Pete yells that Everett didn't know about the betrayal ahead of time and Everett fires back "so I borrowed until I did!"
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played with. George Nelson fires well over a hundred rounds from his drum-fed Thompson submachine gun at the cops, the cows, and the bank ceiling without reloading onscreen. However, after he enters the depressive phase of his manic-depressive cycle, he squeezes the trigger and only lets off a single sad-sounding shot before the gun clicks empty.
  • Break Away Pop Hit: While the film was popular, its old-timey soundtrack was an astonishing success, combining country, folk, and original delta blues.
    • The soundtrack got its own sequels.
    • In-movie also, since the Soggy Bottom Boys' singing is so good that it helps resolve the plot.
  • Brick Joke:
    • After mocking Delmar and Pete for being baptized early in the movie, skeptic Everett admits his failings and begs for mercy in a Not-So-Final Confession at the gallows. He is then forcibly immersed by the floodwaters, and everyone is saved. Literally.
    • Early in the movie, Everett, Delmar, and Pete meet a blind prophet who claims, "You will see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a cow on the roof of a cotton house." At the end of the movie, they do indeed see a cow on a cotton house roof.
    • The first time we hear about Pappy O'Daniel is over the radio with the Flour Hour playing "You Are My Sunshine". The heroes are rescued by Pappy jumping... walking around and climbing the stairs to get on stage and asking the Soggy Bottom Boys to sing "You Are My Sunshine".
  • Censorship by Spelling: Sort of. One character wants to prevent his son from knowing that his mother left the family, so he just says "Mrs. Hogwallop up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T." Subverted later on, in that it's revealed that the kid knew exactly what he was talking about, anyway.
  • Chained Heat: The three convicts are chained together for awhile at the beginning, having recently escaped a chain gang.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Everett's pomade, particularly its distinctive smell, which allows the Sheriff to track them down.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Delmar "We Thought You Was a Toad" O'Donnell.
  • Color Wash: The hue and saturation of the film was messed with until everything was an intensely colorful brown, imitating the look of sepia-toned photos. Without this, the Mississippi (and South Carolina, for some scenes) summer landscape would have been a brilliant green, which the creators said was too bright for the Depression era Dust Bowl-type feel they were going for.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • After they get escaped and don't quite make it onto the train, Everett and Pete both think they should be the one in charge.
    Pete: Well, I think it should be yours truly!
    Everett: Well, I think it should be yours truly, too!
    [a Beat, and they turn and look at Delmar]
    Delmar: Okay, I'm with you fellers.
    • When Everett admits he made the treasure up to convince his chainmates —- i.e., Pete and Delmar —- to help him escape, Pete realizes that fifty years will be added to each of their sentences for fleeing the chain gang, and that he won't get out of prison until he's 84 years old. Delmar happily chimes in, "Well, I'll only be 82!"
    • Also, when Pete responds to Delmar's whispered "We thought you was a toad" line with a confused Flat "What", Delmar repeats the whisper more slowly and emphatically.
  • Comic Trio: Everett is The Leader, Delmar is The Fool, and Pete is the Only Sane Man (compared to the other two, at least).
  • Community-Threatening Construction: Ulysses Everett McGill needs to retrieve a treasure buried in the backyard of his old house. However, the area is scheduled to be flooded by Tennessee Valley Authority's damming activity. In this case, Everett doesn't ever try to prevent the construction (in fact, he sees it as the Dawn of an Era) — it just serves as an inexorable deadline for Everett and his partners to reach the homestead.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Of course the black guy the KKK decides to lynch is the one our heroes know and are on friendly terms with. Not too contrived, though, if you know your history. Being an unemployed black man was a crime only slightly worse than being an employed black man in the South in that era.
  • Crush the Keepsake: Big Dan attacks Everett and Delmar to see what it is they're carrying. When he sees it's just a toad (they thought Pete had been turned into one), he crushes it in his fist in front of them.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The soundtrack album is regarded as one of the most important country and bluegrass albums of the decade, and sold over 7 million copies. It also won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2002, making it one of only three soundtracks to ever win that award.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The fight between Everett and Vernon T. Waldrip in the Woolworth's turns into this, with Everett getting the snot beaten out of him and then being thrown out of the store. He never even lays a finger on Waldrip. (Waldrip adopts the stance of a boxer of the era, indicating he knows what he's doing, while Everett is... he just looks funny and gets beat up.)
  • Dawn of an Era: Everett's view of the building of a hydroelectric dam, which saves his and his friend's lives:
    Everett: No, the fact is, they're flooding this valley so they can hydroelectric up the whole durn state. Yes, sir, the South is gonna change. Everything's gonna be put on electricity and run on a paying basis. Out with the old spiritual mumbo jumbo, the superstitions, and the backward ways. We're gonna see a brave new world where they run everybody a wire and hook us all up to a grid. Yes, sir, a veritable age of reason. Like the one they had in France. [he sees the cow that the blind soothsayer prophesized] Not a moment too soon...
  • Deal with the Devil: Tommy Johnson traded his soul to the devil at the crossroads for his guitar skills.
  • Death by Childbirth: Pappy mentions that Junior's mother died giving birth to him.
  • Deep South: Much of the film takes place in Dust Bowl-era Mississippi.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Of the sepia variety; see Real Is Brown below.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The most notable being the scene where Pappy is considering using the Soggy Bottom Boys to help his campaign and snub Homer Stokes, his son points out that the band's integrated and they're a Deep South state. After a moment to watch the cheering crowd, Pappy decides to go ahead with it by noting it seems the public doesn't care about the integration.
  • Deus ex Machina: The flooding happens at exactly the right time to save our heroes from being hanged. Possibly a literal example, but it's foreshadowed enough that it doesn't break the plot even if the viewer doesn't interpret it as spiritual.
  • Did Not Die That Way: He didn't die at all; Everett finds out his wife has told his daughters that he got hit by a train, rather than tell them he was sent to jail.
  • Disney Death: Delmar believes Pete to have been transformed into a toad by the launderer sirens, so they take him in a box. The toad is then killed by Big Dan Teague by being crushed, and his friends are physically incapable of stopping its death because they had just been beaten to bloody pulps. The toad was actually not Pete, nor was he ever transformed into a toad in the first place. It turns out those "launderer sirens" actually delivered him to Sheriff Cooley's men for the reward, and is now a prisoner back at the farm.
  • The Ditz: Delmar.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: This (and the toad inside it) causes Delmar to assume Pete's been turned into a toad.
  • Everyone Has Standards: "Oh, George, not the livestock."
  • Eyepatch of Power: Big Dan Teague, cluing the audience in that he's this movie's version of the cyclops Polyphemus.
  • Expy: A number of characters serve as references to characters out of the Odyssey or Greek mythology more generally: Ulysses Everett McGill is of course Odysseus (Ulysses being the Roman version of the name Odysseus), who is trying to get home to his wife Penelope (Penny), Pete and Delmar are the notoriously fractious and uncontrollable crew of Odysseus, the three women bathing and singing in the river are the sirens, Big Dan Teague is the cyclops Polyphemus, and the blind man in the beginning is the blind prophet Tiresias. There's even a man named Menelaus! But he's not an expy of that character (see Historical Domain Character below).
  • Fake Band: The Soggy Bottom Boys.
  • Fan Disservice: The sirens, in addition to being generally beautiful, all wear wet dresses so you can see their lingerie. Yet, combined with the creepy song they keep singing, and the fact that one of them is forcing Everett to drink moonshine, you can't help but feel there's something off about the whole thing. That's because they're seducing them to betray them to the Sheriff.
  • Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit: Several, most notably Governor Pappy O'Daniel (for the mildly corrupt version) and Big Dan Teague (for the insanely corrupt version).
  • Faux Affably Evil: Big Dan Teague, who engages the boys in friendly conversation before beating them up and robbing them. He's also a member of the KKK.
  • First Father Wins: Everett's ex-wife has told his daughters he's dead due to his lack of steady employment and criminal behavior, and Everett must find his way to them and win them back before she marries a successful but stodgy (and shady... how did he know Tommy sold his soul to the devil?) political advisor.
  • Flat "What": A silent one from Pete when Delmar tells him he thought he turned into a toad.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • After they escape the cops the first time and break down a town over, Pete mentions that "they dam that river on the first", calling forward to the TVA.
    • Pete lampshades that it "that don't sound like you" when Everett says he didn't really have no plan when he stole the treasure. He didn't steal the treasure. There is no treasure. That was a lie so he could get them to escape so he could get back to his wive and six daughters. (Seven daughters, daddy! (That ain't your daddy, Avenelle.))
  • Friend to All Living Things: Delmar, or butterflies at the least.
  • Friendship Moment: During the montage where they travel across Mississippi and their record goes viral, we get to see Ulysses, Pete, and Dell-Mar bonding and having fun, especially over campfires.
  • Freudian Trio: Everett (Superego, uses logic and reason), Pete (Id, relies mostly on instinct and opposes Everett), and Delmar (Ego, acts as a peacekeeper between the two).
  • Funny Background Event:
    • Everett, Delmar, and Pete are all chained together, and try to escape by boarding a moving train. In the foreground, we see Everett (on the train) introducing himself to some hobos. In the background, Pete trips before he can climb in...
    • Also, Pete's gloriously goofy dancing during Delmar's rendition of "In the Jailhouse Now."
    • Background singing — in Man of Constant Sorrow, Everett finishes singing a depressing stanza that ends in the line "perhaps I'll die upon this train..." and Delmar and Pete chime in with a cheery "Perhaps he'll die upon this train!"
  • Genre-Busting: It's a musical/comedy/social commentary/retelling of The Odyssey... that's set during The Great Depression.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Vernon gives Everett a good old-timey ass-whoopin' in the Woolworth's. Vernon apparently has some training in the pugilistic arts, whereas Everett... not so much.
  • Historical Domain Character: Several appear in the film, though the details of their lives are skewed for the sake of the story. They include bank robber George "Babyface" Nelson, blues musician Tommy Johnson, and politician W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. The latter arguably undergoes the most changes, having his first name changed to Menelaus as a nod to The Odyssey and being governor of Mississippi rather than Texas, while the former died three years before the film's setting and was The Napoleon in real life ("George Nelson" was also an alias, for what it's worth).
  • Historical In-Joke: A great deal of the humor in this film is derived from these.
  • Hobos: "Any of you fellas smithies? Or, if not smithies per se, were you otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts before straitened circumstances forced you into a life of aimless wanderin'?"
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Everett, clearly touched by his encounter with the blind seer, goes on at length about how the blind are perhaps attuned to the future and hold the gift of prophecy, to account for their lack of vision. When Pete points out that the future he foretold was one where they wouldn't get the treasure they sought, Everett shoots back in frustration, "Well, what the hell does he know?! He's an ignorant old man!"
    • Just as he is about to be executed, Everett prays to God to let him see his daughters at least one more time. When the dam breaks and saves him, he starts going on about reason and rational explanations for implausible events. The other two immediately call him out on it.
  • Implacable Man: The Sheriff. Nothing will stop him from bringing down the main trio. Not even a pardon from the governor himself.
  • Inspector Javert: The Sheriff characterizes himself this way at the very end, claiming that the boys have only been pardoned by the law of man.
  • Informed Attribute: This applies to the governor, as Homer Stokes runs on a reform platform, calling O'Daniel a tool of the interests. The audience, who doesn't see that much of the governor, never sees him do much beside swear at and assault his aides with his hat. Although he does end every speech by telling people to buy "O'Daniel Flour", which is likely one of the "interests" that Stokes is referring to.
  • In Name Only: The film is very loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey. The Coen's, who wrote and direct the film, didn't read the epic and instead created their own version using the bare essentials of the story based on other adaptations. The only person on set who read the epic was Delmar's actor, Tim Blake Nelson (who has a degree in classic literature from Brown University).
  • Insane Troll Logic: Committed by Everett, and called out by Pete.
    Pete: You stole from my kin!
    Everett: Who was fixin' to betray us.
    Pete: You didn't know that at the time!
    Everett: So I borrowed it 'til I did know!
    Pete: That don't make no sense!
    Everett: Pete, it's a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Pete insists that Wash would never betray them, because Wash is kin.
    Wash: Sorry, Pete, I know we're kin, but they got this de-Pression on.
  • Ironic Echo: "Well I guess folks don't mind they's integrated." "They's miscegenated!"
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The siren-seduction scene, to "Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby". Also a rare case of erotic horror.
  • Jerkass: Pappy O'Daniel, oh so much. Even though he's the one who pardons our main characters, meaning they no longer have to be outlaws, it's solely for his own reelection campaign.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Everett. He's greedy, deceitful, sneaky, and arrogant, but truly does care for his friends and loves his daughters dearly. When all hope seems lost and he starts praying, Everett prays for everyone else's safety and happiness, only asking that his own life be spared so that his daughters can have a father to look after them.
  • Kick the Dog: Big Dan beats up Everett and Delmar, steals their money, and crushes their frog, whom Delmar thinks is Pete, in front of them.
  • Kids Driving Cars: Everett, Pete, and Delmar manage to escape from a burning barn when Boy Hogwallop bursts through the barn door in his dad's car and offers them a lift. Since Boy is quite small, he uses a brick to weigh down the accelerator. Later, Everett steals the car, leaving Boy to curse him, Pete, and Delmar as he walks back to his dad's farm.
  • The Klan: They appear as enemies near the end of the movie, as Everett, Pete, and Delmar must rescue their friend Tommy from the Klan.
  • The Lancer: Pete to Everett.
  • Large and in Charge: Governor Pappy O'Daniel. "We're mass communicatin'!" Homer stokes also counts as the stout leader of the opposition and the klan. Big Dan Teague also has a significant role as a sergeant in the klan.
  • Large Ham:
    • Homer Stokes. It's particularly noticeable in the scene where he leads a KKK rally. Of course, it makes sense, given that he's running for governor, and a talent for public oratory would help him a lot.
    • George "Babyface" Nelson. "I'M FEELING TEN FEET TALL!"
  • Louis Cypher: The Sheriff who is chasing after the main trio is implied, and even theorized to be by the characters, to be this. His Scary Shiny Glasses reflect fire a lot.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The Soggy Bottom Boys' extremely cheerful, upbeat rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow".
  • Magic Realism: There are more than a few downright mystical occurrences in the film, such as the prophet, the sirens, the strong implication that the Sheriff is Satan, and God saving the protagonists at the climax.
  • Maybe Ever After: Everett and Penny end the film in the same place they were before he went to the cabin: bickering, but not hopelessly, about the propriety of their marrying.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Played with in the scene where holy hell maybe Pete really was turned into a toad. Played straight with the blind prophet, the sirens, and the Sheriff.
  • Meaningful Name: In a story based off The Odyssey, the main character's name is Ulysses, and his wife's name is Penny.
    • Likewise the governor, whose name is Menelaus, although that's a little more The Iliad.
  • Misspelling Out Loud: "Mrs. Hogwallop up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T."
  • Mistaken for Transformed: Played for Laughs when the escaped convicts wake up after drinking with some strange women by the river, find Pete gone and a toad in his abandoned clothes, and jump to the conclusion that he was turned into a toad. They keep the toad for a while before finding out that the women actually sold Pete to the police.
    Delmar: Them si-reens did this to Pete! They loved him up and turned him into a h-horny toad!
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Diegetic all the way through, making its classification as a musical to begin with dubious to some.
  • Mythical Motifs: While the film doesn't follow The Odyssey to the letter, it does borrow some notable plot elements from it, such as the cyclops, the sirens, and one of the main characters trying to get home to his wife so she won't marry someone else.
  • Mythology Gag: Big Dan the cyclops looks like he's going to lose his eye to a flung Confederate flag spear, much like Polyphemus, but he manages to catch it between his hands at the last moment. Then the gang cuts down the fiery cross, which falls on top of him, almost certainly burning his eye out and preserving a piece of the narrative.
  • Never Trust a Title: No, the three main characters are not brothers, nor are they trying to find their long-lost brother. The title is actually a reference to an old movie.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: The cow that is run over by the cops in pursuit of Baby Face Nelson was CGI, which resulted in the rare addendum to the warning, "No animals were harmed in the making of this film. Any scenes showing animals in jeopardy were simulated."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: There really was a Depression-era Governor named Pappy O'Daniel, but his given name was Wilbert Lee O'Daniel; in the film the governor's real first name is Menelaus (another Homer reference). Also, the real O'Daniel was governor of Texas, not Mississippi.
  • No Party Given: O'Daniel and Stokes are the two principal candidates in the gubernatorial election but neither is referred to as a Democrat or Republican. Indeed, Stokes' election poster lists him as 'Reform Party'.
  • Not His Sled: The expected fate of John Goodman's "cyclops" is deliberately referenced, then avoided. Then happens slightly differently anyway.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Teague's reaction when he realizes that the fiery cross is coming down directly at him.
    • Homer Stokes' reaction when he realizes that the crowd is going to run him out of town on a rail for interrupting the Soggy Bottom Boys' performance and trying to have them arrested.
    • Finally, the slow, dawning realization in the climax that Sheriff Cooley fully intends to lynch them on the spot, despite the fact that they were given a pardon by the governor, and, likewise, murder Tommy, just for being there.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Toward the end of the movie, the fugitive "Soggy Bottom Boys" perform "In the Jailhouse Now" and "Man of Constant Sorrow" while disguised with false beards. Lampshaded later, when their performance wins over the crowd and Everett deliberately yanks his beard off for a moment to show Penny who he is.
  • The Pardon: Granted to our heroes by Pappy O'Daniel, but ignored by Sheriff Cooley.
  • Pedal-to-the-Metal Shot: Parodied. The boy who helps our heroes escape a burning barn in a Ford Model A has fruit crates strapped to his shoes. What's more, the car can't go very fast anyway, and then breaks down shortly after their escape.
  • Period Piece: The film is a love letter to the Depression era and its films. The title comes from a 1941 film, and the clothes, music, and haircuts are all perfect for the period. And the politics. And the racism. And the furniture. And the cars. And...
  • Politically Correct History: Zig-zagged. The white heroes refer to Tommy as a "boy", but otherwise treat him as an equal. They also claim to be mostly black to deceive the radio station manager, and go back and forth on it. Said radio station manager insists that he won't play "colored songs," but once the "Soggy Bottom Boys" become popular he's ecstatic about them and signs them. Pappy O'Daniel doesn't seem to care that "they's integrated" after seeing how a crowd adores them and boots out his gubernatorial opponent for interrupting them. The KKK is shown in all its theatrically racist glory, but is also portrayed as a fringe organization that is not looked upon favorably by the common townsfolk. This portrayal has some basis in reality, as by the 1930s the second Klan's membership had dwindled compared to its heyday in the mid-1920snote . It should be noted, however, that Homer Stokes feels perfectly comfortable announcing to a roomful of people that he belongs to an organization, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, that engages in cross-burning and lynching, and expects the audience to sympathize with him when he attacks people for stopping a lynching. It's not hard to guess that the only reason he's booed is because the people he's accusing happen to be a very popular music band, not because of general principle.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Homer Stokes, candidate for governor by day, Klansman by night.
  • Popculture Osmosis: The Coens have claimed that they've never actually read The Odyssey, but know the story through its various adaptations.
  • Produce Pelting: What the audience does when Homer Stokes interrupts the Soggy Bottom Boys' show and tries to have them arrested. They follow it up by running him out of town on a rail.
  • Real Is Brown: Pursued with a vengeance, given that a substantial portion of the film's post-production budget went into extensive color-correction. The Coens wanted every frame of the film to reflect the dingy, withered Dust Bowl look, and in some cases took entire fields of green flora and turned them yellow.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Pete and Delmar cook a gopher and offer it to Everett. He doesn't seem very enticed by the notion — not because of their choice of food, but because splitting such a small animal three ways wouldn't be much of a meal. Delmar heads him off with news that they actually caught and cooked quite a few gophers, so Everett can have the whole thing.
  • Retirony: Of a sort. Pete was two weeks from being released from prison anyway. Now that he's escaped, he'll have to serve another 50 years and won't get out until 1987.
  • Road Trip Plot: The convicts are trying to get from their escape from the chain gang to Everett's secret stash, encountering many obstacles and interesting characters along the way.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: "And I have it from the highest 'thority, that that Negra... sold his soul to the Devil!!!"note 
  • Rule of Three: Invoked In-Universe by Penny when she's "spoken [her] piece and counted to three".
  • Running Gag:
    • "Damn, we're in a tight spot!"
    • Everett's obsession with his Dapper Dan pomade also counts, as well as his reflexive worrying about his hair whenever something wakes him in the middle of his sleep.
    • The constant reference to Everett supposedly being hit by a train once he reunites with some of his daughters.
  • Satanic Archetype: Sheriff Cooley fits Tommy Johnson's description of the Devil exactly: "He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound." However, upon seeing him at the end of the movie, Tommy doesn't seem to notice.
  • Saved by the Coffin: After the valley floods, the main three protagonists cling to one of the coffins the sheriff was planning to bury them in.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: The Sheriff/Warden/Devil wears these.
  • Scenery Porn: Though it's been sepia-toned into the brownest of yellows, instead of its usual glorious green, the jungles of the US southeast are showcased to their full.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Inverted by the Sheriff, who tells the law to fuck off and decides to lynch our heroes.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation:
    • This charming example:
      "He's gonna paddle our little behind."
      "Ain't gonna paddle it — gonna kick it. Real hard."
      "No, I believe he's gonna paddle it."
      "I don't believe that's a proper description."
      "Well, that's how I'd characterize it."
      "I believe it's more of a kickin' sitchiation."
    • The discussion of a "grease spot on the L&N" and a "bona-fide" suitor ranks right up there too.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
    • Everett. For example, from the Funny Background Event described above:
      Everett: Say, any of you fellas happen to be smithies? If not smithies per se, perhaps you trained in the metallurgical arts before straitened circumstances led you to a life of aimless wandering?
    • Also Big Dan Teague:
      Big Dan Teague: ...Thank you as well for the conversational hiatus. I generally refrain from speech while engaged in gustation. There are those who attempt both at the same time; I find it coarse and vulgar.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The film's title is itself a Shout-Out to Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, in which a man goes on a journey of self discovery by pretending to hobo it across the South during the Depression. He's a director who, despite a successful career directing comedies, wants to do a serious piece based on the fictional novel O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Like this movie, it was a surprise success.
    • The entire plot contains various shout-outs to the Greek epic poem The Odyssey by Homer. The main protagonist is named Ulysses in both stories, has to get home to prevent his wife from marrying someone else, and they meet singing women who seduce them (the Sirens) and a one-eyed giant man (the cyclops). The reform candidate is named Homer Stokes, referencing the author Homer. The blind railroad man predicting future events references Tiresias, while the blind radio station manager references Homer again, who was also said to be blind.
    • Tommy Johnson's Deal with the Devil is a reference to a similar deal supposedly made by real-life bluesman Robert Johnson. (Or possibly Tommy Johnson, depending on whom you ask.) And the song that Chris Thomas King performs during the campfire scene is "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues," originally by Johnson's contemporary Skip James.
    • Not to mention that a man named Ulysses meets a guitarist at a crossroads.
    • The KKK scene is based off of the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man try to sneak into the witch's castle. The guards are chanting the way the KKK does and even doing a similar dance, and the three heroes steal disguises from the guards/KKK. (Dell-Mar also says they gots to find a wizard what can change Pete back from a horny toad.)
    • The Soggy Bottom Boys are a reference to the Light Crust Doughboys, who were featured on the real-life Pappy O'Daniel's radio show, and/or the Foggy Mountain Boys (founded by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs).
    • There's a coffin floating on a flooded river at the end, which is most certainly a Shout-Out to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. And they use it as a raft.
    • Sheriff Cooley looks and dresses very similarly to Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke, right down to his Scary Shiny Glasses.
    • George Clooney's performance as Everett owes more than a little to Clark Gable.
    • A throwaway gag may be a shout-out to Porky Pig:
      Everett: Well, we are Negroes, sir. All except for our ac-c-c-c... our ac-c-c-c... uh, the man who plays the guitar.
    • "Is you is, or is you ain't, my constituency?"note 
    • The main trio donning blackface to blend in with the night and being mistaken for miscegenated is an unfortunate shoutout to The Birth of a Nation (1915).
    • The trio done fake beards and mustaches in the finale as a folk music shout out to ZZ Top.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Because he's on a quest to return to his wife, Everett's the only one of the trio to put up any resistance to the sirens.
  • Sold His Soul for a Donut: The main characters encounter a young musician who claims to have sold his soul to be able to play the guitar really well. Delmar, who has recently had a religious experience, is disappointed by the idea of selling a soul for so little.
  • Something We Forgot: The trio arrive at the cabin in the valley to retrieve Penny's ring, forgetting that Sheriff Cooley had earlier learned of the location by torturing Pete and is now lying in wait for them.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Many of the characters in a patchily educated way, but mostly Everett. "I'm the goddamn paterfamilias!"
  • Source Music: All the music in the film is diegetic.
  • Stout Strength: Big Dan Teague.
  • Stern Chase: The Warden's search for the three convicts.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Pete ends up becoming a Lacerated Larry after the "Sireens" turn him over to the sheriff's men for a bounty (which initially leads them to believe that Pete was actually turned into a frog, due to it being in his abandoned clothes).
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Pappy O'Daniel's cronies and son are sycophantic yes-men who are a bit slow on the uptake, and Pappy is painfully aware of this. This is most likely the reason he tries to convince Vernon T. Waldrip to leave Stokes' campaign and join his.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: "Who is that man?" "Not my husband." Also doubles as a Shout-Out to the source material.
  • Symbolic Baptism: Played for Laughs when the escaped convicts Pete and Delmar stumble onto a group baptism in a river and jump at the chance to start over with a clean slate... which mostly means doing exactly what they were before. They're also a bit confused to hear that it doesn't actually do anything for their criminal records.
    Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
    Everett: Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed.
    • Everett is then even more symbolically baptized when he gives his Not-So-Final Confession, on his knees praying for salvation... when the damming of the river floods the valley and sweeps away not just sins, but sinners, and houses.
  • Those Two Guys: Pappy's two advisors; see the Seinfeldian Conversation above.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: How the sheriff keeps finding Everett. Everett's a Dapper Dan man, going through obscene amounts of the stuff whenever he can get a hold of it. The sheriff's bloodhound can track him easily by its distinct odor.
  • Travel Montage: We get a series of scenes showing the trio making their way across Mississippi, stealing a car, stealing a pie (Delmar pays for it), telling scary stories around the campfire (hook-handed man)...
  • True Companions: Everett, Pete, Delmar, and Tommy.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • The bank customers at the robbery seem to be rather non-plussed by all the shooting.
    • Everett himself is rather non-plussed by Big Dan beating the hell out of Delmar with a tree branch until Big Dan starts attacking him.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Pappy O'Daniel's son.
  • The Vamp: The three sirens.
  • Villainous Glutton: Big Dan Teague, as befits his correspondence with the cyclops Polyphemus.
  • Villainous Breakdown: "Babyface" Nelson and Homer Stokes.
    • Nelson gets better...sort of.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Homer Stokes, oh so much. He seems to be a reform-minded relatively progressive candidate for governor, only for it to be revealed that he's a Grand Wizard in the KKK.
  • Wardens Are Evil: The Sheriff. While at the beginning he is in the right to hunt down Everett, Pete, and Delmar (because of them being fugitives), he goes for overkill tactics like burning down a barn with them inside. He insists that he answers to a higher law than man's (so he will just keep coming no matter what), and the moment he makes it clear that he will see them all hang even if they are now pardoned (and he will kill Tommy for no reason other than him being there with the fugitives), he crosses the Moral Event Horizon hard. That he is a Satanic Archetype doesn't help any.
  • Warm Place, Warm Lighting: The film uses an extreme yellow filter throughout that makes what were green fields look yellow. While it gives the movie a nostalgic sepia feel, it also accentuates the fact that the story takes place in sweltering rural Mississippi in the middle of summer.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: As the guys encounter the singing sirens, Everett, in the background, pulls his wedding ring off right before the girls come over and start getting cozy with them.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Loosely, to the Odyssey.
  • Wimp Fight: Everett's fight with Vernon inside of Woolsworth. Vernon's old-timey, palms-toward-his-face boxing stance makes him look cartoonish, although he wins handily enough that he might have some actual chops. It's hard to tell, since Everett seems to think the best stance is to hold his fists as far away from his face or body as possible, leaving himself wide open.
  • Working-Class Hero: All three of the main trio are consistently dressed in overalls and canvas suspenders, flat caps, barely shaved because they don't have the time or money for that.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: The story begins with Everett, Pete, and Delmar escaping from one while chained to each other. Pete, at one point, is recaptured and put back to work on the chain gang, and has to be broken out of prison again.