Showing posts with label social satire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social satire. Show all posts

Friday, March 25, 2016

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) 3 of 4

** this post contains only mild spoilers **

In this film, the Coen brothers are saying that the "birth of the nation" wasn't the reversal of Reconstruction, as in the D.W. Griffith film, but the New Deal of the 1930s.  That this is a story of national origin is signaled by its recapitulation of Homer's The Odyssey, revised as the story of three fugitives from a Southern prison work-gang.  The film also draws from a younger classic, Sullivan's Travels.  Although the Coens agree with Preston Sturges that movies should entertain, to give us relief from our toils and sorrows, O Brother admits movies have become our national literature, the source and mirror of our values. 

And if we feel our U.S. culture is less magical than old Hellas, we need to look again, as at the haunting scene of supplicants going down to the river.  If you're not sure you believe, well just hang on, and something will turn up -- a hand cart driven by a blind man, a talent scout, a flood -- to change your luck.   

The New Deal of the 1930s was a key part of the rise of the Federal government as the seat of power in the U.S. (note that Americans used to say "these United States are," now we say "the U.S. is").  Thereafter, it was harder for local or regional authorities to abuse prisoners or otherwise deny human rights.  The planned flood, referenced throughout the film and seen at the end, is a baptism for this new nation. 

One unforgettable bit has Everett (George Clooney) repeatedly frustrated by his inability to secure his preferred brand of "pomade" (hair-grease).  It's hilarious, but even here, he's urging his countrymen to a higher standard.  The Coen brothers are known for inventive, off-the-wall humor, but may be unique in their ability to smoothly insert an extended visit with the KKK into a whimsical comedy.   

In summation, good people, since the days of the New Deal (with its many dams), we're closer to our stated ideals about everyone having a chance to pursue happiness, etc., whether ethnic minority or ex-convicts.  The down side is that major corporations now call the shots, and regional cultures tend to be discouraged, unless expressed through the arts, such as music (cue The Soggy Bottom Boys).