The Coen brothers are responsible for some of the most recognized films of the past three decades. And they all involve the theme of money as a narrative driving force. Money symbolizes different things to different characters in each film, ranging from hope and happiness to corruption and escape. Here is how this prominent theme figures into five of the Coen Brothers’ most popular movies.
Fargo follows Jerry Lundegaard and his desperate plot to ostensibly get out of debt. Jerry pays a pair of goons to kidnap his own wife so he can extort $80,000 from his wealthy father-in-law. Things go horribly wrong along the way. Jerry’s desire to transform his life with money ends up destroying everything that he had to begin with.
No Country For Old Men
No Country For Old Men is another film whose plot revolves around money. Humble Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a case of money and hopes to run away and start anew with it. But Chigurh, a heartless killer that abides by his own set of principles that disregard the value of money, is hot on his trail. The movie makes a point of saying that the desire for money and how it can transform us is an essentially human pursuit, even if it can lead to our downfall.
O Brother, Where Art Thou
The plot of O Brother, Where Art Thou is sparked by the promise of buried treasure. Everett McGill and his two friends make a long journey, only for McGill to reveal that there was no money all along–that he was actually headed home to his wife to win her back. The story, which takes place during the Great Depression, suggests that true treasure is found in the bonds we forge with others.
Burn After Reading
Linda Litzke gets her hands on the memoirs of a former CIA analyst and tries to blackmail him. Her plan for the money? To get plastic surgery, and thereby improve her sense of self-worth. As with Fargo, things go horribly wrong. Linda ultimately brokers a deal with the CIA for her reward, but not before several characters in the movie are killed as a result of her greed.
The Big Lebowski
Unlike many Coen brothers movies, the protagonist in The Big Lebowski couldn’t care less about money. The Dude is anti-materialistic to the core, and it’s only when he comes into contact with a large sum of money that the Dude’s relaxed lifestyle disintegrates. The chain of events hammers home the point that as much as money can provide us with the means to establish order in our life, it can also catalyze chaos.
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