I first saw Fargo when I was a freshman in college, at the famous (at least on this blog) Michigan Theater. It was obviously a VERY cool movie for a freshman to see, and it helped make me into the film nerd I am today. I remember thinking it was hilarious – certainly the black humor, but especially the accents and the Minnesota-ness of it. And that was more what I came away with rather than any of the themes the Coen brothers thread throughout. Watching it almost 20 years later, I appreciate it all the more and completely see why it was the breakthrough that Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing were not. I am also a little embarrassed I thought the accents were so funny.
The Coen brothers’ films are always so specific with their place and time, and the accents and local details (“Go Bears!”, the accordion king) definitely affect the tone of Fargo. Compare the bleak, dangerous vibe of Texas/Mexico in No Country for Old Men with the vibe in Fargo: it’s the difference between a tense thriller and comedic thriller. By swapping just the setting and accents with No Country (“you reckon” instead of “you betcha”), Fargo would have been a very different film. The AV Club‘s Asher Gelzer-Govatos recently wrote about the Coens’ habit of making the same movie twice and, while he didn’t mention this comparison specifically, it’s hard not to see bits of Blood Simple in Fargo, or Fargo in No Country.
On the whole, however, Fargo was just as I remembered it. Even at 18, I thought the music, cinematography, and performances were great; they still are. It’s still hard not to laugh at the accents (and I think the Coens definitely play them up for laughs), but now it’s clear that the depth of their “more serious” films is there as well. Maybe that was my problem: this was my first Coen brothers film, and I didn’t realize there was more to it than an Asian guy with a Minnesota accent. So while I may be a bit embarrassed about my 18-year-old self thinking it was so funny, I’m glad it introduced me to the Coen brothers, as I’ve seen every film of theirs since.