Johnny Angel’s review of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
O Brother Where Art Thou? is a musical comedy set in Mississippii in the 1920’s, starring George Clooney as an escaped convict trying to find his way home. As you probably expect from the Coen brothers, it’s hillarious, and more than a little weird.
For a movie so full of charicatures, it’s refreshingly respectful to its subject matter, again no suprise from the Coens. The southern accents throughout the film are believable, and are portrayed consistently. Clooney’s own use of the Clark Gable-esque early cinema acting style is believable enough in the immersive world the Coens present to us that it stands by itself, even if you don’t acknowledge the irony behind it. The set design invokes the south that you probably remember from Flannery O’Connor stories, and some of the locations are just beautiful.
The movie claims to be a re-telling of Homer’s The Odyssey, but it isn’t. It has a few odd allusions to The Odyssey, but its continual failure to parallel The Odyssey is a joke that is reiterated throughout the film. The obvious Homeric parallels are also ironic: there is a cyclops, but he wins; there are sirens, and they win; there are even lotus eaters, if you count the baptists, and they win. One of the bad guys who is defeated in the end is named Homer. The Coen brothers are probably still laughing their asses off over the many people who continue to believe that Fargo was based on a true story, just because they said so, and they’ll get years of mirth out of the litcrit types trying to rationalize O Brother, Where Art Thou? as an allegory of Oddyseus.
What film is really about is music. It’s a showcase for the forgotten music of a bygone era, mostly country – the kind of music they hardly make anymore, and don’t sell much of when they do. They even borrow from the legend of Tommy Johnson, who is famous for having sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for musical talent (the legend now usually holds that Robert Johnson did this, but there is some dispute among histories about who this legend was attached to first). Music moves the plot along, getting the heroes in and out of trouble, and ultimately resolves the conflict.
My advice is that you definitely want to see this movie. In fact, you also want to buy the soundtrack. The Coen brothers have done it again.