In This Article The Coen Brothers

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Monographs
  • Film Noir

Cinema and Media Studies The Coen Brothers
by
Jeffrey Adams
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0313

Introduction

The Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, launched their career as independent filmmakers in 1984 with the debut of Blood Simple, a low-budget neo-noir. Since then, they have written and directed sixteen feature films in a variety of generic styles, including film noir, crime comedy, gangster movie, neo-western, and screwball comedy. The Coens are auteurs who consider themselves storytellers as much as filmmakers; their screenplays borrow heavily from or re-create the texts of venerable literary precursors, especially the pulp fiction of James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. From the beginning, journalistic commentators have been divided in their assessments of the Coens’ films. Despite widespread acclaim and praise for their filmmaking technique, popular movie reviewers have accused them of cynicism and misanthropy, criticizing their films for a lack of purpose or meaning and for a perceived lack of realism and authenticity. More tolerant of the hermeneutic ambiguity that characterizes Coen films, academic scholars have made various attempts to reassess the films more favorably. Although Coen movies have been widely reviewed by journalists from the start, scholarly publications on the Coens did not begin to appear with any regularity until after the commercial and critical success of Fargo in 1996. Since then, scholars from a wide range of disciplines have published increasing numbers of books, anthologies, and journal articles addressing the Coens’ innovative use of genre and pastiche, their treatment of philosophical and religious themes, and the incongruous mixing of humor and violence that has become a Coen trademark. The large fan cult that emerged in response to The Big Lebowski stimulated heightened academic interest; more research has been published on Lebowski than any other Coen film to date. Likewise, their award-winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men has received increased scholarly attention.

Anthologies

Allen 2006 and Woods 2000 consist mostly of interviews and reprinted popular reviews. King, et al. 2009 offers critical essays on No Country for Old Men. Comentale and Jaffe 2009 presents scholarly essays on The Big Lebowski. Conard 2009 and Fosl 2012 offer philosophical perspectives on a variety of Coen films. Luhr 2004 features essays exclusively devoted to Fargo.

  • Allen, William Rodney, ed. The Coen Brothers: Interviews. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2006.

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    A collection of interviews presented chronologically, beginning with Blood Simple (1984) and ending with The Ladykillers (2004). Features unedited interviews first published in prominent venues, such as Film Comment, Positif, and The Guardian, which provide interesting insights into the Coens’ reactions to the popular and critical reception of their films, their attitudes toward the movie industry, and discussions of their approach to the creative process. Essential reading for anyone researching the Coen brothers.

  • Comentale, Edward P., and Aaron Jaffe, eds. The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

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    Comprising twenty-two essays on a multitude of topics related to The Big Lebowski, this collection includes chapters on The Big Lebowski’s relationship to noir literary aesthetics, Paul de Man’s concept of historicity, the postmodern condition, bowling culture, and the Dude’s relation to 1960s student radicalism. Irreverent and self-ironic, its contributors are often eager to flaunt conventional scholarly decorum. Unorthodox, but still an important contribution to the critical literature on this film.

  • Conard, Mark T., ed. The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

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    Philosophers and film scholars contribute fourteen essays, grouped in sections on the Coens’ use of comedy and tragedy, ethical readings, postmodernist contexts, and existentialist aspects of their films. Topics range from ethics in Miller’s Crossing and morality in No Country for Old Men to the virtues of laziness in The Big Lebowski, Martin Heidegger in Barton Fink, and existentialism in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Written for a general academic readership, this collection is accessible to undergraduates and graduate students, as well as offering substance for the advanced researcher.

  • Fosl, Peter S., ed. The Big Lebowski and Philosophy: Keeping Your Mind Limber with Abiding Wisdom. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2012.

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    This collection of nineteen short essays offers a diverse array of philosophical approaches to The Big Lebowski. Contributors draw on Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Jacques Derrida, phenomenology, Epicurus, existentialism, Sigmund Freud, and language philosophy to “unpack the film and explore its resonances.” Essays are written in a casual and self-ironic style similar to Comentale and Jaffe 2009 but do not strive for the same analytical rigor. Accessible to all readership levels.

  • King, Lynnea Chapman, Rick Wallace, and Jim Welsh, eds. No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film. Lanham, MD, and Toronto: Scarecrow, 2009.

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    Sixteen scholarly essays offering varied approaches to the Cormac McCarthy novel and to the Coens’ 2007 adaptation. Several essays are devoted exclusively to the novel; other contributions address the film and related issues of genre and adaptation, as well as rendering thematic studies of moral responsibility, postmodern villainy, and the death drive. Includes an interview with Roger Deakins, long-time Coen cinematographer.

  • Luhr, William G., ed. The Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    This collection of eleven essays is devoted exclusively to readings of Fargo. Of particular note are Christopher Sharrett’s reading of Fargo as a critique of American society and the American family; David Sterritt’s essay, which treats the Coens’ postmodern sensibility; Mikita Brottman’s Bakhtinian reading of the film’s representation of the body “out of control”; and Pamela Grace’s essay on Marge Gunderson as “the quiet triumph of the maternal.”

  • Woods, Paul A., ed. Joel and Ethan Coen: Blood Siblings. London: Plexus, 2000.

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    A collection of popular reviews, short essays, and interviews, loosely organized in chapters focused on individual Coen films from Blood Simple to The Big Lebowski. Numerous interviews by Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret, translated and reprinted from the French journal Positif, are of particular interest, as are those by Hal Hinson (on Blood Simple) and David Edelstein (on Raising Arizona). Accessible to all levels of readership.

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