What The Movies Taught Me  — Part IV

Posted: January 28, 2018 by moifightclub in cinema
Tags: , ,

Fargo And The Nobokovian World

If I were to equate the third season of Fargo with the world of books or those of an author, it would have to be Vladimir Nabokov. There is a growing playfulness in both works, the prose of the camera much like Nabokov’s own writing is achingly beautiful and yet ever so tight in its construction that there is little beauty captured for the sake of beauty itself. These are the signs of a self-effacing genius that has powered both works. A genius that revels not in the languishing of the eye on the pristine, powdered snow smacked with blood, but would rather spend time toying with the viewer as to how it got there. It begins as it always does with everything going perfectly till a stranger shows up.

But rather than meander on I find Fargo to be like nature and in Nabokov’s own words, “Literature is invention. Fiction is fiction. To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth. Every great writer is a great deceiver, but so is that arch-cheat Nature. Nature always deceives. From the simple deception of propagation to the prodigiously sophisticated illusion of protective colors in butterflies or birds, there is in Nature a marvelous system of spells and wiles. The writer of fiction only follows Nature’s lead.” The third season of Fargo captures deception in both nature and the art of story-telling itself.

Let me begin with a bit of context, while movies remain a source of entertainment, for most of us, I find them to be a remarkably accurate mirror of the human condition. So let’s take a long, good look at ourselves. This is the fourth piece in the “What the movies taught me” series. You can read the first part here, second one is here and thirs one is here.


 The use of the absence of motive as a device to create suspense

If there is one thing I believe, Fargo (the series) has perfected over three immaculate seasons is how the lack of a motive is perhaps the strongest plot device the thriller genre possesses. There is nothing else that comes close, there is a feeling that is invoked in the viewer when the rule book is tossed out and burnt in front of your eyes, each moment after that is the most important moment, each action after that is the most important action, each scene after that is the climax. That is not to say Fargo has no motive behind the characters, it does but they are of the dullest kind, financial greed, the display of power and love. But it’s the devotion to these motives that surprises the emotionally. Who ever heard of winning a card competition to gather runaway funds? Whoever heard of an accountant saving someone’s ass? David Thewlis is eating throughout the series but he is also shown puking all that he eats, suffering from Bulimia. Thewlis has said,

“The idea is bulimia in his life. He’s a man who is so ultimately in control of seemingly everything, and it’s therefore an expression of the one part of his existence that he’s not in control of, something that at times he loses control of… vulnerability.”

We’ve seen shows where actions are seen as absurd but one where the motivations are just as absurd as the actions there Fargo perhaps stands alone.


The randomness of violence as an existential plot point 

As far as I’ve known and watched cinema, which is quite limited, very few directors or writers get the concept of random violence. It is a dangerous thing to toy with, yet nothing holds a mirror to life in all its complex, chaotic glory as does random violence. It is a powerful blow that shakes the very foundations of our belief in God or a higher power, man’s search for purpose and the meaning behind things. The evident strain in all the Coen brothers work has been to dismantle this rather erroneous notion that everything happens for a reason, that there is quid pro quo, a karmic balance to life and the retribution of our actions always comes due. Their work has been a refreshing challenge to these notions and Fargo carries that legacy forward. The bill does not come due, there are no avenging angels interwoven into the fabric of life itself. The very last scene of the series makes that amply clear, David Thewlis tells the protagonist, that he will walk away from all of this, she tells him he won’t, the camera never reveals what does happen. But I’d like to believe he does. There is a certain amount of childish joy and mirth that Fargo offers to the viewer – there is comical timing built into the actions of violence employed, the means by which it is delivered in the series that are so entertaining. In many ways the idiotic brother is the viewer at certain points, unable to comprehend the machinations of his girlfriend unable to process the violence that has been meted out, all he can manage is the irrepressible chuckle that ensues at the farcical way in which things are done. The invisible hand of coincidence and fate that plays the role of the executioner in such slapstick ways that reality reveals itself to be a jester.

The non-discriminatory nature of choosing victims as story weaving tool

As a viewer, we have been programmed to look for connections. The magician presents a problem, the mind delivers the magic. As viewers, we have always had the Pavlovian response to deaths – how are they related? Who will be next? The payoff is our hypothesis is correct, a bigger payoff is when we are proven wrong. In a certain ironic way, mysteries provide more emotional payload when we unravel them wrongly. In many ways, we want to be fooled. But Fargo takes it to the next level. Here the victims don’t play by those rules, there is not always a death that serves to advance the plot in any way. In one particular surreal scene Nikki ends up in a bowling alley with Ray Weiss (The Wandering Jew) He lets Nikki hold a kitten he’s named Ray, implying that it’s her Ray reincarnated. Her reaction at the possibility of being reunited with her late fiance is dark, tragic and heartwarming at the same time. He asks Nikki to quote a bible verse when she brings the wicked one to justice. He assures her she’ll remember it when the time comes. Fargo has mythological characters bumping to lend a hand, a contemporary eerie version of Peter and the Wolf a musical symphony written for children. In many ways Fargo hammers home the point that death is inconsequential. It takes a hammer and chisel to the exalted pillar we grant to victimhood in the overall narrative of crime and fiction and brings it low.


The impotency of working people as a tool for recruitment by evil

Any good writer or director will tell you the fundamental drama ensues between the shades of grey, an out and out fight between good and evil is of little interest to anyone except for VFX, and special effect junkies, a group to which I also belong. Within the arsenal of recruitment tools that evil holds, Fargo adds a special weapon. A most potent one. Which is the impotency of the working class. Working within the system, the protagonist and her traffic cop bestie are thwarted by idiotic superiors, inefficient colleagues and red tape. There is a scene where David Thewlis pisses into a coffee cup and makes Sy drink it, it is delicious to watch, the brutal assertion of power. I think it’s a brilliant argument to make, join the dark side if you want to get something done, if you actually want to accomplish something, leave your mark on the world. The system that good is always entrenched in is self-serving, it serves no particular individual. Think of it as the Matrix a machine who is only driven by self-perpetuating as its prime and sole motive. But evil is independent, evil does not need approvals. There is a certain freedom it affords to those that are individualistic and all protagonists are individualistic. The seductive appeal of this stance is that at some level all viewers also believe they are individualistic themselves. It’s an insidious tentacle that evil reaches out with and it’s my favourite one so far.


The other worldliness of the setting as an additional cast member

I would be remiss if I did not mention the setting of the series. The environment is always a character in the Fargo series – whether they be aliens, hotel conferences, they are active. The third season has these tiny flourishes automatic, sliding door cameras that don’t work only for the protagonist. The alienation the snow offers its characters. The weather and the storm that forces characters to end up elsewhere, to kill the wrong people. The novel-robot sequence is so well ingrained into the narrative. That for a moment one forgets why it’s there, a self-referential mechanism, a mirror that the show holds up to itself as it remains a mirror for our own societies.

Lastly, there is another tell Fargo has that I quite love, the frustration of dealing with idiots. There is not a single season where that frustration does not play up to hilarious outcomes and dialogue. The incompetency of the individuals that hold up the standard bearer of crime and evil has never been so well articulated; Fargo remains a case in point for the display of humour rooted in reality for this precise reason. Life isn’t easy for those dedicated to evil and crime just as it isn’t for the rest of us.

As Nabokov puts it, “The job of a writer is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”

 

ALSO MICHAEL STUHLBARG!
MICHAEL STUHLBARG!

AND
MICHEAL STUHLBARG!

– Percy Bharucha

(The author has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Eastlit, Reading Hour, Gratis, The Madras Mag, The Ascent, The Creative Cafe, Invisible Illness, The Writing Cooperative, Bigger Picture, Hundred Naked Words, Be Yourself, Fit Yourself Club, Hopes and Dreams for the Future, Written Tales, Poets Unlimited and The Haven. He writes regularly on Medium and runs a bi-weekly comic strip called The Adult Manual. He also tweets infrequently at  @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

Comments
  1. Manpreet says:

    Reading your blog for the first time. WOW! I never thought somebody could write so good… talk about such beautiful things on a blog. I underestimate how Indian blogosphere is filled with real gems. Awesome blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.