Presentation on theme: "O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) The Coen Brothers There is a Bible in every wanderer's bedroom, where there might better be the Odyssey. James Hillman,"— Presentation transcript:
O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) The Coen Brothers There is a Bible in every wanderer's bedroom, where there might better be the Odyssey. James Hillman, Re- Visioning Psychology
Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) Cast The Coen Brothers
Homer’s The Odyssey Odysseus—the King of Ithaca Penelope—Odysseus’ wife (a “spinster”) The Trojan War: The Trojan Horse The Journey Home: Scylla and Charybdis The Sirens The Cyclops Circe/Calypso Defeating the Suiters The Coen Brothers
The poet Wendell Berry, in an illuminating essay on "The Body and the Earth” (The Unsettling of America 97-140), suggests that the Odyssey's significance for us today is to be found in its celebration of essentially ecological values: in its profound understanding of "marriage and household and the earth." Berry, a writer who has long criticized the unearthly longing of homo viator and celebrated the holiness of place, finds inspiration in its hero's "explicit loyalty to a home": "Odysseus' far-wandering through the wilderness of the sea,” he reminds us, “is not merely the return of a husband; it is a journey home. And a great deal of the power as well as the moral complexity of The Odyssey rises out of the richness of its sense of home.” Indeed, Odysseus' "geographical and moral" journey, Berry suggests, can be "graphed as a series of diminishing circles centered on one of the posts of the marriage bed. Odysseus makes his way from the periphery toward that center.” The Coen Brothers From David Lavery, Faith in the Distance: The Odyssey of Loren Eiseley (unpublished)
He praises the commitment to placedness implicit in the famous "secret sign"—a marriage bed made from a rooted tree—by which Penelope tests and then recognizes her husband's authenticity. Berry asks us to recall that Odysseus had embarked on the final leg of his journey home, despite the temptation to remain immortal in the arms of Kalypso, by announcing his desire for his wife in these words: My quiet Penelope—how well I know— would seem a shade before your majesty, death and old age being unknown to you, while she must die. Yet, it is true, each day I long for home. (125) The Coen Brothers From David Lavery, Faith in the Distance: The Odyssey of Loren Eiseley (unpublished)
And when, after Odysseus refuses to accept Penelope's order to move their bed outside the bedroom—a violation of a pledge they had made to each other never to do so—thereby identifying himself as her true husband after twenty years apart, he finds himself again in her arms, it is, Berry reminds, to the values of earth that Homer compares the reunion: Now from his heart into his eyes the ache of longing mounted, and he wept at last, his dear wife, clear and faithful in his arms, longed for as the sunwarmed earth is longed for by a swimmer spent in rough water where his ship went down....(127) As an anti-Iliad, The Odyssey's great theme, Berry writes, is, in fact, the value which home assumes for its hero because of the “memory of his absence, of his long wandering at sea... and even... the excitement of his adventures.” The Coen Brothers From David Lavery, Faith in the Distance: The Odyssey of Loren Eiseley (unpublished)
Giovanni Pascoli's "Ultimo Viaggio,” a 1904 reworking of the story's materials, seems to have captivated his imagination most. Pascoli, like Dante, Tennyson, and Kazantzakis, imagined Odysseus, in keeping with the modern, Faustian temperament, becoming restless upon his return home and embarking on yet another voyage —his last voyage—abandoning home again for the open sea. For Pascoli realized, Eiseley notes, that "Odysseus' return to Ithaca, his homeward goal, was in a sense an anticlimax— that the magical spell wrought by Circe would follow the hero into the prosaic world. But Pascoli's theme is quite different from that of a Kazantzakis, who likewise imagined Odysseus returning to the sea, aspiring to become a world conquering explorer, or a Tennyson, whose Ulysses dedicates himself forever to be "strong in will,/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield," who desires "To follow knowledge like a sinking star, / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” For Pascoli, Eiseley explains, The Coen Brothers From David Lavery, Faith in the Distance: The Odyssey of Loren Eiseley (unpublished)
picks up the Odyssean tale when Odysseus, grown old and restless, drawn on by migratory birds, sets forth to retrace his magical journey, the journey of all men down the pathway of their youth, the road beyond retracing. Circe's isle lies at last before the wanderer in the plain colors of reality. Circe and whatever she represents have vanished. Much as Darwin might have viewed the Galapagos in old age, Odysseus passes the scenes of the marvelous voyage with all the obstacles reduced to trifles. The nostalgia of space, which is what the Greeks meant by nostalgia, that is, the hunger for home, is transmuted by Pascoli into the hunger for lost time, for the forever vanished days. The Sirens no longer sing, but Pascoli's Odysseus, having read his inward journey, understands them. Knowledge without sympathetic perception is barren. Odysseus in his death is carried by the waves to Calypso, who hides him in her hair. “Nobody" has come home to Nothingness. (Unexpected Universe; my italics) The Coen Brothers From David Lavery, Faith in the Distance: The Odyssey of Loren Eiseley (unpublished)
It was thus Pascoli’s great insight, Eiseley concludes, "to visualize an end in which the trivial and magicless themselves are transmuted by human wisdom into a timeless dimension having its own enchanted reality" (The Unexpected Universe 22; my italics). The Coen Brothers From David Lavery, Faith in the Distance: The Odyssey of Loren Eiseley (unpublished)
The Coen Brothers INTRODUCTION [to the Screenplay for O Brother Where Art Thou] Men it was, in the original Odyssey, that the Cyclops crushed and flong aside. In its modern retelling, the movie film O Brother, Where An Thou?, it is a frog. The revision signals times different, changes deep. The Cyclops' incarnation in O Brother, Where An Thou? is as a one-eyed itinerant Bible salesman; he discovers a frog cached in a shoebox belonging to two amiable rustics whom he is in the process of robbing. The scene, though trite, is striking for the fact that the imprisoned frog instantly earns the viewer's identification. But - why not? Thumping blindly inside its shoebox, the panicked frog embodies the modern condition....
The Coen Brothers... Modern man, no longer possessing the simple confidence of the Greek sailors - indeed, bereft of mission altogether - hops fretfully about, banging his nose against traits so obscure their very nature is enigma. And too like box- bound frog, he is alone. Though he may hear muted thumps from other boxes far away, it is only desperate surmise that they betoken the strivings of creatures like himself. His impressions of the outer world are filtered and untrustworthy. All that he really knows is the darkness close by. All that is indubitable is his own anxiety. Or perhaps there is one other certain thing. If the present inspires anxiety, the future inspires dread. Somehow in his smallness and ignorance yet he knows his fate. One day the lid shall be lifted from his shoebox and the light shall pour in - signaling not, however, that freedom has been attained....
The Coen Brothers No, the fresh new air now flooding in shall prove to be the medium of a being beyond his imaginings who shall engulf him in a great godlike grip, and squish him utterly. All dread is, at bottom, dread of being squished. If evidence for this is needed, consider our primal reaction to the sound of the frog being squished in the movie film. It is the sound, once familiar in restaurants with hard tables, of ketchup being squirted from a sputtering plastic bottle - a red cylinder whose cone- shaped cap bears, at its pierced pinnacle, congealing dribs that tell of spurts and squeezings past.
The Coen Brothers The sound of blurted ketchup at once fascinates and repels us. We used, in company with our fellows, to confront that sound. The familiar ketchup dispenser was at one time found on formica tabletops in every roadside diner and on stainless-steel counters at every ballpark concession stand; wherever men gathered and ate meat, there was its simple silhouette. The disappearance of these bottles with their intimations of mortality coincided (and no coincidence!) with the decline of the whoopee cushion, whose pseudo-gastric mutterings likewise foretold the final eruption. This, literally, is man's end: expelled air jostling squeezed-out innards as they compete for egress at every bodily opening. This, the flap and flutter of air and liquid and solid, is the sound of man's fate.
The Coen Brothers More and more, lately, we have tried to deny it. Disposable ketchup packets whose contents may be silently dispensed have everywhere replaced the communal bottle. Toothpaste tubes no longer retain the print of daily press of thumb that, accumulating and overlapping on the old wax-lined metal tube, would display its history and by extension predict its demise. No medicine cabinet now swings open to reveal tube tail upcurling like fin of sounding whale. And no more do we use garbage bags of brown pulped paper that soak up the damp and rot of their moldering contents. No; everything we handle now springs out, pops back, or is quickly swathed in plastic so that we need not witness its depletion and decay, so that we may tell ourselves that our own journey does not spend us, does not bring us closer day by day to death.
The Coen Brothers We lie. Death is ours. Art shall discover this lie. But we have changed over the millennia that separate us from the bard whose story we obsessively retell. His expeditionaries were small only in relation to giants and the gods; modern man is small, as it were, absolutely. He is frog. His world is dark. And his art, when it is honest, shows him tinged with fear. In its day the whoopee cushion was laughed at; so do we seek to conquer our fear. No doubt the movie film O Brother, Where Art Thou? will likewise be laughed at, but it is the story, bleak and true, of man in our time. Carson's Movie Abstract is a quarterly of movie synopses compiled for professionals in the humanities. The foregoing, from the Fall 2000 issue, is reprinted with permission.
Coen Motifs: Howling Fat Men: Pappy O’Daniel, Baby Face Nelson Blustery Titans: Big Dan Teague Vomiting: None Violence: Cartoony variety—Big Dan’s whopping of Everett and Delmar Dreams: The Siren encounter seems dreamlike Peculiar Haircuts: Everett’s (aided by his pomeade), Delmar’s, Pete’s-- Lost Hats: Several hats are worn. The Coen Brothers From Tricia Cooke and William Preston Robertson. The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998: 16-23.