Two men are driving to Minneapolis in a stolen car, one is a “funny-looking kinda guy” who cannot stand more than five seconds of silence, the other is big guy that never says a word unless it involves a pancake house and will not stop smoking.
They are going to this winter infested city to kidnap the wife of the man who gave them this stolen vehicle, who has orchestrated the kidnapping. He has told these criminals that the ransom amount will be $80,000 and they will get half, when he really plans to tell his father-in-law these guys demanded one million dollars, and then he will take all but $40,000 for himself.
The problem is that this man, Jerry Lundegard (William H. Macy), cannot hold a conversation without others finding holes in his logic. One of these criminals, Carl (Steve Buschemi), points out why Jerry just can’t ask his father-in-law for the necessary money, instead of going through this elaborate plan to get his wife kidnapped. Jerry says that it wouldn’t work that way, without giving any other sufficient reason.
Jerry is yelled at by his own customers for being a liar, his father-in-law only sees him as a car dealer, and resorts to throwing a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way. Perhaps part of the reason Jerry goes through all of this trouble is to give him some sort of control and power in the world.
But slowly, Jerry begins to realize that he has no control over anything that happens. He may have set everything in motion, but Jerry’s cowardice and greed set in, leading to blood shed.
This is all shown in the first half hour of Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece “Fargo.” That Jerry and these two criminals want to live in their world where they believe control is possible and anything is in their grasp, when they are pathetic little people with inferiority complexes, especially Jerry and Carl.
Yet these characters are not the reason “Fargo” is one of my favorite films, nor is it their constant bumbling that leads to terrible consequences. We see this happen in many Coen brothers films, where despicable people do awful things, leading to a normally depressing and off-putting film with a strange sense of humor. What sets “Fargo” apart from their other films is one simple addition – Marge Gunderson.
Played by a pregnant Frances McDormand, Marge is the police chief in charge of the crimes. Arriving at the scene of a road side execution, she is able to piece together exactly how the event transpired, what type of car and license plate Carl had, and all while her fellow officers were hiding from the cold Minnesotan winter or hadn’t completed their own police work.
Marge chooses to see the best in every one, even the people she may not trust. When meeting her old high school classmate, he breaks down into tears after describing his wife dying of leukemia, and Marge comforts him while joining in a toast to better times. Everything she does is with a genuine smile and unbelievably pleasant attitude, even while chowing down at a buffet.
But the absolute best part of her character is the relationship she has with her husband, Norm (John Carrol Lynch). When Marge is introduced to us, more than a third of a way through the film, she gets a call at five in the morning to investigate the crime. Norm, without any hesitation, gets up out of bed to make Marge some eggs and toast before she leaves for work.
“You gotta eat something,” says Norm.
He eats with her, kisses her goodbye, tells Marge he loves her before finishing up his breakfast. A few seconds later, Marge comes back in. Her police car needs a jump.
Later on, Norm meets Marge in her office with some Arby’s for lunch. This time, Marge has brought Norm a gift – night crawlers for the fishing trip he is about the take. Norm talks about his day so far, and how he is working on his new duck painting to could be made into a stamp. All the time, Marge is extremely supportive and proud of everything Norm has worked on and knows that he will get that stamp.
This may sound small and somewhat insignificant, since this is something most married couples do. But keep in mind this is the same movie where another husband had his own wife kidnapped so that he could collect the ransom money.
In a marriage like this, it is the small gestures and supportive nature that makes love stronger. It isn’t about big romantic moments or hot and steamy sex, but that there is someone out there that you love more than you love yourself. That you want to be with every step of the way, and make sure their life is the best it can be.
Marge and Norm Gunderson have the most realistic, caring and smile-inducing romance I have seen in cinema.
Without Marge, “Fargo” falls apart. I believe the emotional point of the film is to show that people like Jerry and Carl, who think that they have life figured out with their schemes and desire for control are light years behind what Marge and Norm have already figured out – simple pleasures are the greatest treasures.
Marge may not lead a glamorous lifestyle, but she knows that it is better to focus on the things you already have instead of the things you don’t. She holds these values close to her heart, and fights for them every step of the way as she pieces together the crime. All while having the most pleasant and optimistic perspective.
“Heck Norm, you know we’re doing pretty good,” says Marge.
Overall, “Fargo” has one of the best story worlds that manages to be full of evil greedy people yet still comes out cheerful and wonderful. On top of this, the film has gorgeous cinematography of winter in Minnesota that matches the bleak and unforgiving world that Jerry and Carl live in, while also being in stark contrast to the dark red blood throughout the film. Combine this with a hauntingly beautiful score by Carter Burwell and a sense of humor that is so common with the Coen brothers films yet feels right at home with how pathetic these characters can be, and you have a modern-day classic that always brings a smile to my face.