The Coen Brothers

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Serious men.

Joel and Ethan Coen have been making films and thumbing their noses at traditional genre boundaries since 1984. Bouncing from Film Noir to screwball comedy, from quirky indies to big-budget studio pieces, they function as a two-man writer-director-producer-editor Sibling Team.

The brothers are known for their meticulous planning, not least the incredibly detailed storyboards they create for every shot of every film. This saves time during production (as they can show their cinematographer exactly what they want done) and makes the films look unbelievably cool.

Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand - whom he met on the set of their first film Blood Simple - since 1984. She's since appeared in many of their films, including Fargo for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She said of the event "After all these years sleeping with the director, it's finally paid off."

All of their films are scored by Carter Burwell.


Films written and directed by the Coens:
The Coen Brothers provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Adaptation Distillation: No Country for Old Men
  • The Anti-Nihilist: The most readily apparent philosophy underlying all of their works, though they do on occasion toy with spirituality, fate, and the possible existence of God.
  • Black Comedy: We're talking black-hole, no-light-escaping black comedy. And they are masters of it.
  • Blackmail: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Man Who Wasn't There, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man
  • Buffy-Speak: So very much. If Joss Whedon is the king of this trope, the Coen Brothers are the heirs apparent.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much every movie they make.
  • Creator Couple: Joel Coen and Frances McDormand. She was the star of their first movie and has appeared in at least minor roles in many of their films.
  • Darker and Edgier: Inverted. Their Debut Blood Simple is an extremely dark and cruel Noir film. Their follow up Raising Arizona is an infinitely lighter slapstick comedy showcasing the humor which became their trademark. Their films for the next 20 years were mainly comedies or dramas with a darkly humorous edge. This made No Country for Old Men, which is even darker than Blood Simple, a major shock to those who knew them for The Big Lebowski.
  • Downer Ending: Check.
  • Dream Sequence: Blood Simple., Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn't There, A Serious Man
  • DVD Commentary: The Man Who Wasn't There is their only film to contain a serious one. The 20th-anniversary re-release of Blood Simple has a parody commentary by a spokesperson for "Forever Young Films".
  • Eagle Land: Each of their movies so far is about a particular time and place in America, or in some respects the American Dream.
  • Film Noir: Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, and The Man Who Wasn't There are based on the classic potboilers of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. Respectively, with Hammett getting the first two.
    • Lebowski pretty much is Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep with slackers and burnouts. And a few other kinds of crazy person.
  • Genre Busting: Several of their films are simply indescribable in terms of genre.
    • The Big Lebowski is arguably the most prominent example in all of film. It's part stoner film, part film noir, part politcal story, part musical, and the narrator is convinced that it's a western.
  • Hanlon's Razor: one of the main themes in all their films is human stupidity and its horrible consequences (see Idiot Ball below)
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: John Goodman seems to have a parking space reserved for any Coens film production.
    • Not to mention Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito and John Turturro
  • Idiot Ball: Their characters are notoriously known for carrying this, to the extent of pushing things to an Idiot Plot. This is however a prime example of Tropes Are Not Bad, though, because their work is actually better for it.
  • I Have Your Wife: Subverted in Raising Arizona (I have your baby, simply because I want a baby.), Fargo (I have your wife, just like we planned.), and The Big Lebowski (I know your wife's missing and I'm strapped for cash.)
    • No Country for Old Men ( I'm planning on murdering your wife after you're dead for shits and giggles because I Gave My Word .)
    • Played with twice in Burn After Reading: Chad and Linda try to pull this on Osbourne, whereupon Hilarity Ensues. Later, Linda tries to invoke this with the Russians to secure Chad's release not realizing that he's already been killed by Harry.
  • Invisible Advertising: Their early film Crimewave, written by them but directed by Sam Raimi of Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame.
  • Lying Creators: They have been known to make absurd and at times blatantly untrue statements about their own films; for instance, when asked whether O Brother, Where Art Thou? was influenced by The Odyssey, they claimed to have never read it. Also see "Roderick Jaynes" under Running Gag below.
  • Mood Whiplash: Both in their films and their career in general.
  • Motor Mouth: Many of their characters have this trait.
  • The Muse: Frances McDormand to Joel seems to have elements of this.
  • Narrator: Visser in Blood Simple., Hi in Raising Arizona, Moses in The Hudsucker Proxy, The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, Ed in The Man Who Wasn't There, Bell in No Country for Old Men, 40-Year-Old Mattie in True Grit.
  • New Old West: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and No Country for Old Men. The Big Lebowski is mistaken for one by the narrator.
  • No Ending: Another one of their favorite tropes, used in several films.
  • Playing Against Type: John Goodman has a completely different type in Coen Brothers movies than he does in the rest of Hollywood. A much more violent one.
    • This was pretty much invoked when they cast him in Barton Fink because of his likability which makes it all the more surprising to the viewer when his true nature is revealed.
  • Production Posse: The amount of crew that changes from film to film can be in the single digits.
    • Each and every one of their films has Roger Deakins as cinematographer (except for Blood Simple, Barry Sonnenfeld was the cinematographer on that one) and a score by Carter Burwell. Frequent actor collaborators include Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Goodman, and George Clooney.
    • The Coens reuse actors very frequently, and have a reputation for being enjoyable to work with despite their perfectionism. The only film to feature little to none of their frequent collaborators is A Serious Man, in which they deliberately cast lesser-known actors to make the film feel more authentic. Michael Lerner from Barton Fink has a cameo as "Solomon Schlutz", though.
  • Psycho for Hire: Gaear Grimsrud and his spiritual successor, Anton Chigurh. Also Leonard Smalls. Eddie Dane too. Heck, even Wheezy Joe.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Often and successfully averted. The dialog is as meticulous as the cinematography.
    • Perhaps the best example of this comes from Fargo. All of the jas and jeezes, as well as all of Jerry's stutters, were specifically written. Also, Peter Stormare first read the line "Where is pancakes house?" as "Where's the pancake house?", thinking it was a typo. The Coens put him in his place, saying "We don't make typos".
    • Played extremely and intentionally straight in True Grit; the diction itself (for instance, the lack of contractions) is in fact authentic, but the dialogue itself is practically Shakespearean.
  • Romance on the Set: Joel Coen and Frances McDormand on the set of Blood Simple.
  • Running Gag: The commemorative DVD releases of several of their films (such as Blood Simple and The Big Lebowski) contain introductions (and, in the case of Blood Simple, an entire commentary) by "Forever Young Films", a fictional organization dedicated to preserving "classic" films (but really the Coens' way of poking fun at self-important cinephiles and pretentious film critics). There is also an ongoing debate regarding whether Roderick Jaynes, the editor for every one of their films, is in fact a real person, as no one except the Coens seems to have ever seen or spoken to him.
    • According to The Other Wiki, Roderick Jaynes is an alias for both of them.
  • Scenery Porn
  • Screwball Comedy: Many of their films are inspired by this genre. The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty could even be considered throwbacks.
  • Self-Deprecation: A collection of their scripts had an introduction written by their editor, Roderick Jaynes, which basically slagged off the brothers as incompetent film-makers. See above for the likely existence of Roderick Jaynes.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Combined with Shoot the Shaggy Dog, if the Coens are feeling cruel enough.
  • Shrug of God: The Coen Brothers never give clear answers to what their films might mean or what's actually going on.
  • A Simple Plan: Pretty much all their movies start with a simple plan.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: All of their films are extremely cynical, with the jarring exceptions of Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy. There's something to be said for the strong underlying sense of morality that permeates their films, though.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Carter Burwell's melancholy and emotional soundtracks often contrast sharply with the dry, absurd and/or grim tone of their films. Most obviously seen in Miller's Crossing, a very dark and cynical film with a breathtakingly beautiful musical score.
    • But is it really dissonance when the music is melancholy and the tone is grim or dark?
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Their movies often features Southern characters that are either very smart, or talk like it.
  • Stupid Crooks: The brothers tend to include criminal characters in a lot of their stories, including a few bumbling crooks who usually, but not always, appear in their comedies.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Their upcoming film Inside Llewyn Davis is said to be based partially on the life of folk musician Dave van Ronk.
  • The Walrus Was Paul: Several of their films (most obviously The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man) contain imagery, dialogue, etc. that appears to be significant, but has no discernible meaning. Not that this has stopped people from trying to find one.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The Narrator in The Big Lebowski seems to believe that he's in a Western
    • Llewellyn Moss and Sheriff Ed Bell in No Country for Old Men are under the presumption that they don't live in a Crapsack World where The Bad Guy Wins. Moss gets himself and his wife killed because of it, and Bell ends up realizing the world went to hell a long time ago, but he was too idealistic to accept it.
    • Linda and Chad in Burn After Reading think they're the heroes of a spy movie.