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"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 from 1996, written and directed by The Coen Brothers. It stars Frances McDormand, William H Macy, and Steve Buscemi. Taking place in the Midwest circa 1987, the plot concerns Jerry Lundegaard (Macy), a bankrupt car salesman who stages the kidnapping of his wife in order to cheat the ransom out of her wealthy father. But then things go wrong. McDormand won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson.
Famous for having almost none of the plot take place in Fargo. It instead largely takes place in Brainerd, Minnesota, but apparently that wouldn't make as good a title for the film. Popularised, (or demonised) the Minnesota accent, with its sing song Scandinavian influences and northern twang. Super. Pronounced SOOPER.
Also famous for the urban legend about a Japanese tourist freezing to death while searching for the treasure that Buscemi's character hides in the film. You betcha.
This film contains examples of:
- Action Mom: Marge is a pregnant example, who will presumably become the more typical variety.
- Alcohol Is Poison: 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...
- All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Fargo is more widely known as "That movie where a guy gets fed to a woodchipper."
- Alone with the Psycho: Poor Mrs. 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.
- Anti-Villain: Jerry. He's not a villain, he's just kind of stupid. He even forgets how the kidnapping will affect his teenage son.
- Awesome By Analysis: Marge figures out exactly what happened the night before after a few minutes of walking around the crime scene the next morning.
Marge: OK, so we got a trooper pulls someone over, we got a shooting, these folks drive by, there's a high-speed pursuit, ends here and then this execution-type deal.
- Of course, the fact that the prints were fresh and the bodies were left out in the open makes this kind of obvious...
- Not so obvious as figuring out that the officer was making out in his book "DLR" was "dealer".
- Awesome McCoolname: Shep Proudfoot.
- 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.
- Batman Gambit: Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Based on a Great Big Lie: This is a purely fictional story...
- Berserk Button: In Real Life, do NOT, when finding out the person you're talking to is from Fargo, say "Oh, JA?" in an exaggerated tone, lest you want to be beaten.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Gaear Fucking Grimsrud.
- Beware the Minnesota Nice Ones: Marge.
- Big Eater: To be fair, Marge is eating for two.
- Black and White Morality: Despite the very ambiguous tale, the motivations of the characters are pretty clear cut throughout.
- 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.
- Clueless Deputy: Lou
- 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.
- Also, Proudfoot about halfway through the movie.
- Coitus Uninterruptus: One of the most distressing examples you'll ever watch in a film.
- The Consigliere: Stan Grossman.
- 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.
- 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 aforementioned Coitus Uninterruptus.
- Dumb Blonde: The prostitutes Marge talks to, arguably one of the best scenes in the film.
- One of which was Frances McDormand's "voice" coach for this movie. Think she did a pretty good job? Oh, you betcha, yaaa.
- Dissonant Serenity: Practically everything that Grimsrud does. It's as if nothing can shock him.
- Hilariously averted when he's watching a soap opera on TV, when one of the characters dramatically 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 covered in blood he's completely unfazed.
- Fake Nationality: Despite the Japanese name, the guy who plays Mike Yanagita is Steve Park--a Korean-American.
- 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.
- Genre Busting: A neo-noir/thriller/black comedy, and that's just to start.
- Unless you remember Blood Simple.
- Gentle Giant: Subverted very hard 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.
- Not to mention Showalter's gushing 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.
- 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 cattle-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.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Sharp eyes will recognize Bruce Campbell as one of the soap actors. In reality, that was indeed the soap Bruce Campbell was a character on.
- Idiot Ball: Like any good Coen Brothers movie, a lot of characters rely on this.
- Justified, however, in that the movie's main theme is that greed and desperation make people do really stupid things.
- 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 Sierra 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.
- Instant Death Bullet: Averted mostly, except for that one cop. (To be fair, he got shot in the top of the head.)
- It Got Worse: You wouldn't believe how much worse it got.
- Jerkass: Wade Gustafson. Even rubbing in Jerry's face that his wife and son won't have to worry about their future.
- Karmic Death: Lesson One: Trust your son-in-law. You are not John Wayne. Lesson Two: It's generally prudent not to piss off a guy who rarely speaks, and has killed four people that you know of.
- Kill'Em All
- Leave No Witnesses
- 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. Just watch this scene. (Warning for mild spoilers).
- Motor Mouth: Carl Showalter.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Given to Showalter by Shep Proudfoot.
- No Kill Like Overkill: Showalter shoots Wade about eight times in their shootout on top of the parking garage.
- Non-Indicative Name: There are only a handful of scenes that take place in Fargo, North Dakota (or in fact, North Dakota at all). 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."
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Wade is a textbook example.
- One-Scene Wonder: Mike Yanagita. Good God.
- Parking Garage: Where Gustafson goes to drop off the ransom money. It doesn't end well for him.
- Phrase Catcher: "Oh, he was a little guy... Kinda funny lookin'."
- Plethora of Mistakes
- Pregnant Badass: Marge might be the foremost example in cinema.
(Marge, casing the crime scene, bends over)
- Precision F-Strike: Jerry's customer is visibly shocked at himself, and Jerry literally hangs his head in shame.
Irate Customer: You lied to me, Mr. Lundegaard. You're a bald -faced liar, a... a fucking liar!
- Pride: Perhaps the driving force behind everything a certain Mr. Lundegaard does. His father-in-law, a certain Mr. Gustafson is similar.
- Psycho for Hire: Gaear Grimsrud.
- The Quiet One: Grimsrud, though for good reason.
- Reality Subtext: Frances McDormand was actually pregnant during the filming.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Grimsrud is 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.
- Scenery Porn: You'd be surprised how beautiful a frozen wasteland can be.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: For Jerry at least.
- A Simple Plan
- 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.
- 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 - then hits on a pregnant, married police officer, because he needs a new "object of affection".
- 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 PD never gets to see what Carl looks like, since all that is left of him is a foot...
- Those Two Bad Guys: Showalter and Grimsrud.
- 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."
- The Swedish 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 arrested in Bismarck.
- 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. Would've been justified if she had followed through, as pregnancy and gruesome death combined is a pretty powerful justification.
- Wacky Cravings: Averted. Marge eats pretty normal food. She just eats a lot of it.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Jerry isn't very good at it, but that doesn't stop him from giving it the old college try.