The 1996 film, Fargo, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is widely considered a neo-noir and addresses issues of its time and place by taking directions from classic noir. Fargo documents Marge, a pregnant detective who is called to investigate a triple homicide. She later finds out that these homicides were a result of Jerry, a nervous car salesman, who hires two men, Carl and Gaear, to kidnap his own wife. Jerry plans to collect a large sum of ransom for his wife from his father in law, so he can pay off his debt. The film Fargo utilizes the sense of humor, lack of drama, and an inauspicious view of humanity in order to prove that it is critiquing our society’s normalization of violence.
In the scene after Gaear hits Carl in the head with a shovel, Marge is driving and notices the car that she believes was the one stolen from the company Jerry works for. Curious, Marge stops her car and approaches the quaint cabin behind the stolen car. She hears a noise and decides to investigate. Marge pulls out her gun and cautiously moves toward the sound. She turns to reveal Gaear standing behind a wood chipper, with what appears to be blood-stained snow in front. Marge treads closer to see what exactly is going on. Gaear is stuffing Carl’s leg into the wood chipper. Police!, Marge yells.
Gaear doesn’t hear Marge and proceeds to push Carl’s leg in the machine further. Attempting a second time to get his attention, Marge yells again, Hands up! Police! Gaear notices Marge and chucks a piece of wood at her as he begins to run away. Marge shoots at Gaear, hitting him in the leg on her second shot. Gaear falls to the ground, and Marge starts walking towards him.
This scene emphasizes the horrible violence seen in this film, yet shines a light on the nonchalance surrounding it. As we watch, many ideas associated with violence in this scene become apparent. Foremost, one usually notes the humor related to this scene. The red blood staining the snow is shown in a laughable way, not in a morbid manner as one would expect. Why did the Coen brothers choose to make that decision? One will further ask: is this to make this scene a slight bit less gruesome, or is it suggesting something deeper? Is Marge’s lack of reaction simply due to her stoic character, or is there more meaning? On a similar note, relating to noir, is this scene added to show the backstabbing qualities of Gaear, much like a noir character?
This scene proves that this film’s display of violence is critiquing our modern day issue of normalizing violence. The humor related to this scene is exemplifying how in our society, we often disregard intense violence and even choose to view situations such as that in this scene as humorous. Our society is so accustomed to the brutality that we require the scene to be excessively gruesome for it to be noteworthy. With a scene that is visually repulsive, one would expect Marge to have a dramatic reaction. The fact that she doesn’t have a substantial reaction demonstrates the insignificance this violence has on her.
This is reflected by the lack of interesting shots and angles. Most disturbing or violent scenes typically have interesting shots and angles, such as close-ups or skewed angles, to increase intensity. However, this scene only consisted of medium and long shots. This emphasizes the lack of significance related to violence the Coen brothers chose to convey. By using primarily long shots when filming Gaear and the woodchipper, the gruesome action becomes less dramatic, and therefore slightly normalized.
If this scene is portrayed as insignificant, one might ponder why the Coen brothers chose to put it in the film at all. It is not for visual disturbance, but more so for character development. The directors wanted to show Gaear’s cold-hearted and disloyal ways, similar to a classic noir character.
This scene introduces a ghastly situation and rejects any significance of the disturbance, therefore normalizing the situation. In the end, this scene’s relevance lies in the meaning behind it, and not in the visuals shown.