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In The Brothers Grim: The Films of Ethan and Joel Coen, Erica Rowell unmasks the filmmakers as prankster mythmakers exploiting and subverting universal storytelling modes to further what seems to be their artistic agenda: to elicit laughs. Often employing satire and allegory, the Coens' movies hold a mirror up to American society, allowing viewers to both chuckle and gasp at its absurdities, hypocrisies, and foibles. From business partnerships (Blood Simple, The Ladykillers) to marriage (Intolerable Cruelty) to friendship and ethics (Miller's Crossing), the breakdown of relationships are a common focus in their work. Often the Coens put broken social institutions in their cinematic crosshairs, exposing cracks in ineffective penal systems (Raising Arizona; O Brother, Where Art Thou?), unjust justice systems (The Man Who Wasn't There), a crooked corporate America (The Hudsucker Proxy), unnecessary wars (The Big Lebowski), a tyrannical Hollywood (Barton Fink), and the unbridled and fatuous pursuit of the American dream (Fargo). While audiences may be excused for missing the duo's social commentary, the depth and breadth of the brothers' films bespeak an intelligence and cultural acuity that is rich, highly topical, and hard to pigeonhole.
The Brothers Grim examines the inner workings of the Coens' body of work and exposes its roots and themes. Each chapter discusses a Coen brothers movie in terms of its primary themes, social and political contexts, narrative techniques, and influences and relationships to their other films and, more broadly, to cinema. Rowell also examines the Coens' referential modus operandi that retreads cinema, literature, history, philosophy, and art to amplify their films' themes. This comprehensive guide -- enhanced by 50 photographs -- is for anyone interested in the Coens' unique brand of cinema.