Fargo: Criticizing America One Cent at a Time
“Money is the root of all evil.” This is a quote we have all heard before and it seems to be exactly the point that Joel and Ethan Coen are trying to make in their 1996 film, Fargo. Throughout the movie, money causes characters to do reprehensible things, and this film clearly criticizes America’s ideological view of money. But is it possible for filmmakers to adequately critique America’s views on money when they are making a profit from the movie? The Coen brothers are aware of the many hypocrisies in our class system and are therefore able satirize them throughout the film. By examining the hegemony of the upper class over the lower class, it becomes evident why the struggles between characters occur. Whether it’s the way the different characters react to how they want to pay the ransom to how the characters exploit the other characters to further themselves economically, the Coen brothers present plenty of opportunities to apply Marxist theory to their movie. Because the movie revolves so much around the way characters respond to the ransom money, it is first essential to understand a few Marxist theories. First it is necessary to look at the structures of a society: the two types of structures examined are the base and the superstructure. The base is usually comprised of a society’s economic structures and considered to be the foundation that a society rests on. Often times, the base is how people form productive relations and it is usually based off the differences in classes. The superstructure consists of the groups, such as legal systems or schools, that help to protect, organize and strengthen the base. The superstructure attempts to perpetuate the base so that it may continue to benefit the society in two ways: coercive state apparatuses and ideological state apparatuses. Coercive state apparatuses are police and judicial systems and are less effective than ideological state apparatuses, such as schools and religion. Hegemony is the idea that a society’s dominant ideology will duplicate itself, both consciously and subconsciously, in art. Hegemony usually occurs without the artist, or in this case, filmmaker’s knowledge. With that being said, it is also important to understand the idea of reification. Reification can be described as the way that people are turned into commodities for others to capitalize on. Finally, it is necessary to realize that in a society whose base is economic-centric, one of the society’s major ideologies must be the relationship between power and wealth. All these ideas together make up Marxism and are crucial to understanding how the Coen brothers condemn American ideologies. Jerry Lundegaard, the main character of Fargo, both complements and contradicts the base of our society with the plan he devises to ensure his financial security. It can be said that the conflict in the movie begins when Jerry attempts to solve his unnamed financial problems. Because of the American ideology that money is equated to power, Jerry, a member of the middle class, seeks money to solve his problems. Jerry hires two lower class men to kidnap his wife and promises them $40,000 for helping him. He later tells his father-in-law, Wade, that the kidnappers are asking for a ransom of $1 million. On one hand, Jerry is exploiting the lower class to make a far greater economical gain than the two kidnappers. This is exactly how transactions take place in most marketplaces and this event perpetuates the way the base of our society functions. On the other hand, Jerry’s plan undermines the usual way our society’s base operates. By taking so much money from someone of a higher class, Jerry is changing the relationship that members of differing class status interact. This is where a major conflict of the movie spawns. Although Wade does not believe it is Jerry who is attempting to take his money, he still knows it is a member of the lower class who is seeking to further...
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