Tuesday, October 03, 2006

16. US filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen's "Blood Simple" (1984): A movie to make you laugh (and then reflect on why you laughed)

Debut films have a quality that experience smothers. What struck me first was the disarming innocence of a clever script--not a single cop surfaces in a film replete with so many killings, an Alsation makes its presence felt early in the film but disappears soon after, and a dead man (no proof that he did die, of course!) narrates the prologue of the movie. A fresh towel laid out on a car seat lets blood stain it with ferocious osmotic quality as though the towel was covering a fresh wound! But the blood is several hours old. Yet the movie is clever enough to make you think you are cleverer than those you are watching, because the directors let you, the viewer, know more than the characters themselves.

The Coen brothers are very clever. I thought O brother, where art thou to be average fare until I realized that it was based on Homer's Odyssey, which the Coen brothers deny having read. But neither have I read Homer in original but even without reading Homer a somewhat literate individual can see the obvious parallels. When you realize what they have done you do not hate the Coens but you begin to admire their ingenuity--their scripts reduce the Greek heroes to mortal escaped prisoners or simple anti-heroes.

In Blood Simple, blood that suddenly oozes from a nostril lets the viewer know more than the characters in the film. The comedy of errors that weave the film, invites the viewer to laugh at the dumb actions of each character. But then none of the characters know what the viewer knows and appear dumber than the average person.

The Coens have mastered this gift of portraying the average man or woman, simple or crooked, placed within a spartan canvas of knee-jerk emotions. You laugh. You cry. You go through catharsis. The Greeks have taught the Coens the grammar of entertainment.

Robust performances, striking camera-work (L.A. Confidential picked up several clues from this film), and interesting dialogs invite you to leave your brain behind as you laugh at "stupid" characters on the screen. You enjoy the film even further if you reflect on why you enjoyed the film.

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