O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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.

Interesting review. While I don’t think O Brother is as good as Fargo, I liked it. I very much agree with you about the music.

Saw it. Couldn’t recommend it more highly.

What I found most striking was the cinematography (read: see this on a big screen). The brothers Coen are so capable and original in this regard. The scene in which the protagonists find themselves in the midst of bevy of baptist zealots walking through the woods is from heaven. They’re in the woods, but the colors and forms, aw man, you need to see this movie.

And don’t get me started about how the music seamlessly enhances the narrative and mood. And from where in the hell do they draw their casting pool? The BEST characters to be found in ANY big budget film are to be found in Coen brothers’ flicks

IMO Raising Arizona is still the yardstick by which to measure all comedy films. O Brother is a very different movie from RA, however. Equally wonderful? I’ll get back to you after I’ve seen it 50 or 60 times.

I just saw it this afternoon and enjoyed it greatly. An opening title states that the movie is based on the Odyssey and I’m curious about others’ thoughts on this. I noted several analogues such as John Goodman = Cyclops and the Washer Women = Sirens (my favourite scene;)), but who was the blind railroad man supposed to be? Charon? How much of the Odyssey did the Coens incorporate, or did they just drop in references to it here and there? Any ideas or comments?



I do not mean to hijack the thread but if possible, can someone tell me what happened at the very beginning of the movie? My friend and I were running late and we came in as they began to set fire to the barn the men were hiding in. I assumed it was them escaping from prison and the like but I just want to know.

BTW, excellent film. One of the best I have seen. I think it is much better than Fargo.

evilbeth, I don’t mean this to be accusatory, but how do you enter a movie late?

I am so anal about this that if I am 15 seconds late for the movie I won’t buy the ticket. It just always amazes me when I see people come into a movie five or ten minutes after it has started (anything after that and I just assume they are screen-hopping).

So, how do you put up with not knowing if you’ve missed a vital scene in the first minutes?

[again, I don’t mean that rudely, I am honestly curious]

Well, ordinarily, I would agree with you but in this particular instance, we were actually doing a good deed–a father (an acquaintance of my friend) had his kids at the theater and his little boy had um, made a (fecal) mess all over himself and while he went into the men’s bathroom to try and clean him up, we stayed outside with the little girls. We had been assured by the theater staff that there were at least fifteen to twenty minutes of previews but apparently, they overestimated a bit. If I hadn’t wanted to see this film so badly and had so few opportunities to go with this friend, I wouldn’t have gone in after it began.

However, I will tell you that we immediately sat in the first seats closest to the door so as to keep the disturbance to a minimum. We even sat apart rather than search for seats together.

evilbeth, I just wanted to commend you on your excellent movie manners. You can go to a movie with me anytime. :slight_smile:

Yes, what you missed was the fact that they had escaped from prison. You also missed a great little bit of phyisical comedy in which George Clooney gets pulled from the train by this shackles. Fortunately, that scene is in the trailers, so you lucked out. The barn they are in belongs to John Turturro’s relative (cousin, I believe) and there is a bit about his wife and GC needing a hairnet, but nothing vital, I think.

I loved this movie! As I stated in another thread, this was one of the few movies that I paid to see in the theaters more than once. Saw it twice in three days – and these were workdays to boot! And I’ll see it again.

The music was definitely one of the things drawing me back. I bought the soundtrack CD, then lifted three tracks off of it to adorn my PowerPoint slide show of The Hobbit. Country music in Middle-Earth! Hey, it really worked!

Even more than the music, I appreciated this movie’s positive message. I think it generally shows the human race in a good light, and you can definitely identify with the characters, caricatures though they may be. I totally disagree with the reviewer in the LA Weekly (one of those “too hip for the commoners” publications), who said the larfs in this movie too often come at someone’s expense. Come on, has that ever been an excuse to avoid seeing a comedy?? Sheesh!


What happens in the beginning of the movie is a scene of chain-gang convicts, swinging their picks and singing a spiritual. We see the three heroes, chained to each other and running away from the chain gang, to the tune of that old hobo song, “The Big Rock Candy Mountains.” The escaped cons try to jump on a passing freight train, where Everett asks some hoboes if any of them is a smithy or metallurgist, but Pete slips and pulls Delmar and Everett off the train. They catch a ride with an old blind black man operating a handcar, who seems to be something of a seer and tells them they will not find the treasure they seek. They come to get their chains struck off by Pete Hogwallop’s cousin, a blacksmith (and nearly get shot by the cousin’s little boy, who thinks they’re from the bank). Later that night at the dinner table in the shack, with the little boy sitting on a pile of phone books and “You Are My Sunshine” playing on the radio, Pete’s cousin tells his guests that his wife “done R-U-N-N-O-F-T” and they are eating week-old horse. Everett, combing pomade into his hair, asks the cousin if he has any hairnets, and cuz says “My wife left a whole bunch in the drawer, he’p y’self.” Later that night as our three heroes sleep in the barn, Everett suddenly wakes up and goes, “My hair!” The law has surrounded the barn, and Pete assures his compatriots that his cousin never would have turned them in for the bounty, but just then cuz’s voice is heard from outside: “I’m sorry, Pete, but there’s a Depression on, ah gotter do fer me an’ mine!” Pete furiously avows, “Mah daddy tole me never t’ trust a Hogwallop!” The lawmen fire the barn, but it backfires on them, and just then Pete’s cousin’s little boy crashes into the barn in his daddy’s car (perched on a pile of phone books in the driver’s seat) to rescue our boys. He tells them, “I aim to R-U-N-N-O-F-T too!”


So don’t be a !@#$%&* cheapskate! Go see it again for those hilarious first five minutes!

Oh don’t worry! I’m going back on Thursday to see it–and I’ll be early!

Cyclops does not win, they get him at the KKK meet. Yes, the name for the blind seer is trying to come but me, but…no. Anyone? Any other encounters from the “Odyssey”?

I rate it five out of five. Perhaps, Hanks did a better job of acting in Castaway, but I feel that “O Brother…” is the baet film in the last 12 months.

‘O Brother’ was, hands down, the best picture of the year.

I think Clooney should get a ‘Best Actor’ nomination.

Great to see all these raves for O’ Brother. An instant classic, IMO.

While reaction from the crits was generally positive, some seemed to downright hate it. Can’t understand why.

For some reason that is as insane as the limited run this movie is getting in the States, you cannot get the Soundtrack to ‘O Brother’ here in Australia. The movie’s been playing for a month, and still nothing. I ordered it, but it’s not even in the online catalogues in the stores.

Something totally wacko going on there.

One minor correction to the OP. The movie appears to be set in the early 30’s, not the 20’s. There is a reference to the Depression, and the songs are mostly from the early to mid-thirties.

I like your review, though. You make a good point about the Coen’s respect for the characters. The same was true in Fargo, I thought.

Saw the movie. Loved it.

As a side note, What is it about John Turturro in a Coen bross film that just seems so right? I think JT rocks.

I loved it. I think I know why some critics hated it, though; it doesn’t have a DEEP MESSAGE OR MEANING. If anything, (and the title gives it away, if you know the reference) it’s a very deliberate attempt to make a movie that’s purely entertaining and a feast for the eyes. Terrific movie.

I loved this movie! (As I have with all other Coen pictures…Raising Arizona is one of my all time faves.) I’ve only seen it once, but I’m really wanting to see it again before it leaves the theaters here. It took a month after the limited release for it to come to Oklahoma. Oh how I wish I lived in a city where I didn’t have to wonder if a film is going to open or not…

Ok, back on subject… I think Clooney will get an Oscar nomination for his performance. He did win the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical/comedy. And if you go to the O Brother official website, a smaller window pops up saying “He’s bonafided!” announcing his win…

GuanoLad: At the O Brother website, they have a link to information on the soundtrack. http://www.obrothermusic.com From there you can buy it.

The wife and I don’t get out much any more with 2 little uns, and when we do, we usually catch some lowest common denominator movie like Matrix. The Coens can do no wrong in my book, but O Brother was even better than I expected, much better. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen. The dialog rocks, the story rocks, the acting rocks, it was all good. The whole film had a trippy lighting too.
Coming on DVD March 18th!


Trivia: the title is from the 1942 Preston Sturges movie Sullivan’s Travels, about a film director who decides to live on the streets so he can learn what it’s like to be homeless.

The old blind seer corresponds to Teiresias.

The governor’s first name is Menelaus.

The 3 sexy washerwomen are a combination of the Sirens with Circe (complete with animal transformation).

Not only did they get back at Cyclops John Goodman, they got him with a giant flaming pole, just like the original Polyphemus.

The wife, Penny (<Penelope) is not faithful to her absent husband, but is fixin’ to get hitched with another man. This movie is not the first to stand Penelope’s fidelity on its head. That twist came from James Joyce’s Ulysses: Molly Bloom was committing adultery, which was what caused Leopold Bloom to wander all over Dublin in the first place, before he went back to her.

Any others?

Hey, with the countless megabytes of electrons that have been spilled over O Brother, no one has ever pointed this out: the plot point of a fugitive from the law stopping into a recording studio to cut a record that unexpectedly becomes a smash hit single while he’s on the lam – that was taken from the 1973 Jamaican film The Harder They Come, featuring reggae star Jimmy Cliff. It in turn was based on the real-life exploits of a famous Kingston outlaw.

And the apocalyptic flood near the end strongly reminded me of Peter Weir’s mystical Australian film The Last Wave.

This movie totally kicked butt. I enjoyed the heck out of it. Left the theater humming & whistling “Man of Constant Sorrow.” When it got a triumphant reprise, that was the climax of the action. The three gravediggers chanting “O Death” – God, that was the most unearthly eerie song ever! They plumbed deep down right into the stark mystery of existence and nonexistence with their deep haunting voices. Gave me a chill…