Revisiting Fargo

Classic Coen brothers film goes “north of normal”

Fargo

Photo: Maximum Film / Alamy
In all its quirkiness, the classic Coen brothers film Fargo gave new meaning to the concept of dark humor.

John Smistad
Olympia, Wash.

With Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall’s recent trip to Fargo, N.D., it seemed only natural to revisit the classic film Fargo—a film that left a deep impression on many, with its weird and wacky depiction of Upper Midwest Scandinavian-American culture, this film truly takes you “north of normal” in its uniquely quirky way. John Smistad, the ever-enthusiastic Quick Flick Critic, provides an entertaining and insightful review.

Synopsis: Slimy car salesman Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his idiotic henchmen’s bungling. Oh, and the keen persistent police work of the sly and very pregnant Marge Gunderson.

I first saw Fargo after it was released on VHS (Remember those, barn?). I remember liking it. I just forgot how much.

Having seen the film again only serves to further fortify my admiration and respect for the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, as enormously gifted and super quirky filmmakers.

Fargo, perhaps above all else, redefines the concept “dark humor.” From a face half shot off at point-blank range to feeding a dead guy into a woodchipper, such grotesque and grisly carnage is depicted in full gory glory here. And yet, remarkably, there is a feeling of funny to it all. A sense of silly. Eventually it’ll hit ya. Then again, maybe not.

Ah, but as ever, to each his own. (Incidentally The Norwegian American Editor-in-chief Lori Ann tells me the actual woodchipper used in the movie stands on prominent display in Fargo.)

This sordid story takes place in the upper American Midwest states of North Dakota and Minnesota. Prime and proud Scandinavian heritage territory. Particularly populated by those of us kin who call Norway our “old country.”

We are portrayed as we are, only to the (mostly) absurd degree. Passive aggressive. Overly polite. Cynical. Straightforward. And every trait shot through thoroughly with that standard Scandi sweetness.  

Kinda like krumkake, ja?

And know this. Whether it’s William H. Macy’s soulless sociopath Jerry Lundegaard. Or the unfailingly buoyant, surreptitiously bright and burdensomely heavy with first child small town sheriff Marge Gunderson, brilliantly brought to life by Joel Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand (who earned a much-deserved Oscar for her performance). When they say “Real good, then,” as they so often do in this twisted tale of blood-spattered greed and the virtuous vanquishing evil, it never, ever is.

Which inspires one more Coen brothers-cultivated colloquialism for the snowdrift-swept road ….

“Oh, jeez.”

Fargo streams on Amazon Prime Video.

This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

John Smistad

John Smistad is a published author of short stories, poems, essays, and movie reviews. He lives and loves with his family and cat in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. He is the fiercely proud son of a native Norwegian dad. (He loves his mom, too.) You can follow him as on his blog at thequickflickcritic.blogspot.com.