In the cinematic universe of award-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen, morality matters. Good and evil are usually depicted clearly as such; there are rarely shades of gray. Sometimes their camera lingers long on depravity, but they don't neglect the wages of sin, either; wrongdoers reap the consequences of their choices.
The Coen brothers celebrate 25 years of filmmaking this month with the release of their 14th movie, A Serious Man. It's perhaps their most religious work, juggling existential and theological questions in a story that invokes a modern-day Job. As protagonist Larry Gropnik's world begins to fall apart, he consults three rabbis with his Big Questions, only to find that the answers aren't easy—if there are indeed answers.
That's a good way to describe the brothers' opus: a chronic search for truth. Some might argue that the Coens' world is amoral, but a discerning look reveals morality aplenty. Good and evil stand apart from one another as clearly as black and white—or red and white, in the case of their classic crime story, Fargo. Set against the endless snow of the frigid Midwest, it's a movie about greed, about a perfect crime gone horribly awry—in short, about the wake of destruction left by one man's evil ambitions, seen starkly as a crimson trail of blood against the pure white terrain.
Fargo's heart and soul is local sheriff Marge Gunderson, played in an Oscar-winning turn by Frances McDormand. She's chipper, pleasant, and very pregnant. She's deeply affectionate and supportive of her husband, Norm. Their tranquil life contrasts the frenzied greed of the bad guys as much as a drop of blood on the snow. At the end of the movie, she wonders how anyone could be so selfish: "And here ya ...1