Customer Review

77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than Meets the Eye, November 30, 1998
This review is from: Raising Arizona [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This movie is much more than an outrageous and unique comedy. One reason for its cult following has been consistently missed by the critics: repeated viewings reveal surprising layers of meaning and an intricate web of symbolism.
At the heart of this film is the timeless debate known as "nature vs. nurture": are we more a product of our genes, or of our environment? How much of an effect does our upbringing have on our likelihood to turn out as either a law-abiding member of society (a society which in this movie is of dubious merit, as represented by Hi's job and his unctuous boss) or as a criminal deviant from its norms?
The symbolism in this film is rich and evocative--while always contributing to the comedy. Note how often the adult characters cry and carry on like infants. Note the way the escaped convicts are "born" into the outside world. Note the marriage of a convict and a police officer, and the difference in their families visible in the brief wedding shot. Note the juxtaposition of milk poured over cereal with the infant's feeding bottle, as Evelle observes, "Ya don't breast feed him, he'll hate you for it later. That's why we wound up in prison." And note the frequent use of phrases such as "that's natural," as opposed to "you're not being true to your nature" or "mother didn't love me." As Hi observes, "maybe it's my upbringing, maybe it's just that my genes got screwed up, I don't know."
The quasi-biblical, poetical and aphorism-laden language the characters use in the-state-adjacent-to-Utah is both touching and funny. Every word of the film is a finely polished gem. Ed's little plan is "the solution to all our problems, and the answer to all our prayers." Her infertile womb is a "rocky place where my seed can find no purchase." And as Hi later writes in a touching letter to his dearest Edwina, "I feel the thunder gathering even now...I cannot tarry...better I should go, send you money, and let you curse my name." On the other hand, the crotchety Arizona characters also have a remarkable literalness of expression. A packet of balloons does not blow up into funny shapes, not "unless round is funny." And as the old codger in the bank robbery points out, "If I freeze, I can't rightly drop, and if I drop, I'm gonna be in motion!"
Even the music in this film is perfectly executed, from the hilarious yodeling and whistling of the main theme to the way the chilling accompaniment of a nightmare is later revealed to be a haunting children's nursery song, and then mutates into an ethereal melody in the film's final scenes. The characters, despite their flaws, are all surprisingly sympathetic. And the film is tightly constructed, without a single unnecessary scene or moment. It ends with a bang, not a whimper, its final words resonating with significance and yet leaving one wanting more, like a swift exit after a great punch line.
At the deepest core of this film lies a mystery wrapped in an enigma: who is the once-orphaned "motorcycle demon from hell," and what is his relation to Herbert I. McDonnough? The answer to this puzzle relates intimately to the "nature vs. nurture" theme. While I think I know the answer, I'll leave it for you to figure out, based on the clues ("show the tattoo!") liberally scattered throughout the film. "Okay then!"
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My friends call me Lenny. But I got no friends.
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