Ways of Speaking


But the movie barely even takes place there!


Closer to the end of Fargo, Carl, after being beaten by Shep, calls Jerry Lundegaard in a fit of rage. He screams the instructions at Jerry, telling him to meet at the rooftop at the agreed time. The call is both serendipitous and disastrous for Jerry; Carl’s anger keeps an eavesdropping Wade from discovering Jerry’s complicity, but it also leads Wade to his death and destroys Jerry’s last chances at escaping his bungled plot with his family un-harmed. Despite realizing the import of the phone call—a realization conveyed by William H. Macy’s excellent acting—Jerry still ends the conversation with “Okay, real good then.”

In the earlier, classical noirs, most dialogue can be characterized as either sharp or attempting to be sharp. Holly Martin never minces words, and always has a retort at the ready for Major Calloway. Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson casually lob innuendos at one another, playing with words in language in clever ways. Even the dialogue that comes off as stilted, such as the “my little friend” conversation in the beginning of Gilda, it is still attempting to achieve that edged, fast-moving feel. This sharp dialogue carried over into the modernist era of noir, as evidenced in the sno-cone “Don’t you want to lick it off” scene between Matty and Ned early in Body Heat.

It is not so with Fargo. Characters speak slowly, and with heavy midwestern accents that would immediately frustrate a New Yorker. Lines are repeated multiple times, and even in heated situations characters refuse to doff their masks of politeness. It makes the characters seem vapid and unintelligent, and indeed, many of the characters are unable to fully grasp the events unfolding around them. Lou the police officer, for example, fails to realize that DLR stands for Dealer plates, only confirming the expectations of his accent and politeness.

In a way, this sort of transgression of dialogue in Fargo marks it as a Post-modern noir. The Coen brothers, obviously aware of the noir influences on their film, made a conscious choice to have the characters be from this specific region and have that specific dialect in response to the snappy dialogue of its ancestors.


Frances McDormand channeling Clint Eastwood


The true transgressive character of Fargo, then, is Marge. She speaks in the slow, overly polite manner that dominates the film. Yet, she is clearly one of the few characters who understands what is happening in the world around her. She unravels the crime with fairly minimal effort, and takes down a dangerous psychopath, all without forgetting her manners. With Marge the simple lifestyle she leads is presented as a choice. She has chosen to live in this small town, and to marry a kind if simple husband, and to work with a sometimes inept police force. This is a reversal from the older Noirs, in which the characters lived in fast-talking cities and were attracted to intelligent and sharp women.


Look at how Psychotic this man is, and take note. I use it in my next paragraph.


There is one problem, though. In the scene in which Marge is talking to the handcuffed Gaear. She is monologue to the characteristically silent Gaear, and eventually says “There’s more to life than a little money, y’know that.” This seems to be the one scene in which Marge fails to understand what has happened in her snowy town. The camera cuts to a close up of Gaear and the audience is reminded of what was revealed in the State Trooper murder scene: that Gaear is not interested in money as much as he is in causing pain and destruction. He kills on a whim, and, judging by the gory ways he carries out his homicides, he thrills in the violence of it. This is why Marge notes that it is hard for her to understand how money and greed could have led to the crimes committed: because she cannot see that there is a far darker force at work.


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