America is at the center of the Coen brother's work, even more so than most filmmakers of their generation. Each of their films respects a certain unity of space: the protagonists seem trapped in a cage, whether it be a city or America’s rural heartland. With the latter, the Brothers use open spaces to create a paradox as they seem to imprison the characters, using set and direction techniques, thus defeating the idea of freedom that comes to mind at the sight of these landscapes. The Coenian hero is constantly caught in a downward spiral, an ongoing pattern from which he cannot escape.
H.I. McDonnough and Llewelyn Moss are both running after the same ideal: a family. The first one is trying to cheat nature as fate decided he couldn’t have any children. The inhospitable lands of Arizona where nothing can grow, are a clear metaphor of his situation. The Coen’s take on rural America constantly challenges American mythology. In the West (or even the Midwest), men who live constantly on the road have a strong link with their land. This is why H.I. in his wildest dreams pictures himself “in a land not too far away”: Utah. Even though this ending is tainted with irony, it leaves the audience with an optimistic note, as is hopefully the two brothers still believed in that dream.
This old couple at the end doesn’t fail to evoke the couple in Fargo, and their mirror image in No Country for Old Men. Those two couples are the proof in the Coen’s rather cynical filmography that there is an attainable utopia that money cannot buy. In these films, only the simple men seem to obtain some sort of satisfaction out of life. Ed Bell’s dream, tinged with nostalgia, crystallizes this idea. His simple life appears to be a fragile little rock in a sea of chaos and all he has to cling to is the memory of his dead father, a younger man that him (such a beautiful image). The whole film has Cormac McCarthy’s darker tone and the Coen’s embrace it: the cut from Tommy Lee Jones tired eyes to a black screen and Carter Burwell’s minimalistic piece is chilling.
Through these two dreams, the Coen Brothers explore the question of the American one, and thus that of American identity and the myth of the self made man.
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