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Dark comedy in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The landscape of Fargo.
  3. The humor in Jerry.
  4. The kidnapping.
  5. Gaear's murder of a state trooper and two innocent bystanders.
  6. The Big Lebowski.
    1. The destruction of the Dude's carpet.
    2. The relationship between Donny and Walter.
    3. Walter by himself as a source of morbid comedy.
    4. The Dude's landlord.
  7. Conclusion.

Joel and Ethan Coen have made eleven very different films since 1984. From a film noir set in rural Texas to a Homer's ?Odyssey?-inspired convict film, their films jump from genre to genre. Each one, however, is imbued with the Coens' authorial signature. Their heroes are flawed, their villains are attractive and often more powerful than their heroes. In the worlds they create for each film their characters must battle the lowest of humanity: murder, theft, death, robberies, kidnapping, and gang wars. The Coens' very dark sense of humor is created in two ways: the juxtaposition of these three elements at a rapidly changing pace, and by making light of serious or macabre situations that are readily available in each of their films.Pure white snow as far as the eye can see. This is the landscape of ?Fargo,? set in Minnesota, where the Coen brothers grew up.

[...] This normal action of watching the Johnny Carson Show is only funny in the context of Carl and Gaear. It is a common tool of the Coens to show villains in a normal setting, creating a certain level of discomfort. The kidnapping itself is the Coens' first exploration in the film of humor in an incredibly terrible context. Jean is knitting while watching a morning television show when a man, Carl, walks up to the sliding glass door of the living room. [...]


[...] Big Lebowski? is one of the Coen brothers' most popular films, gaining a large cult following, and it is one of the best examples of their dark sense of humor. In it the main character, the Dude, is by anyone's standards a He drives a beat-up car, he is behind on his rent, and he is first shown in the film standing at the dairy case in a grocery store, in his bathrobe, drinking milk from the carton, which he writes a check for. [...]


[...] Yet their films are by no means work and no play.? They have a tremendous knack for placing trivial comic moments in the strangest of places to loosen the audience up and to assure that we are not taking them too seriously. Ronald Bergan, in his book about the brothers' films, compares this technique to Bertolt Brecht's idea of alienating the audience from the subject matter onstage. His goal, as Bergan describes it, was to ?destroy the illusion, interrupt the course of the action, and lower the tension, so that the audience could remain emotionally disengaged, in order to allow them to take an intelligent and objective view of [...]

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