Last night, I watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? for the first time in many years.It is a perfect film, and likely the Coen Brothers’ best.
It is based upon The Odyssey, but the word is that the Coens have to this day never read it. This is not surprising, because O Brother follows the book in only the most vague way other than throwing in well known parts like the Cyclops. This is for the best. I’m not that fond of The Odyssey. To me it is unrelentingly negative and unless you really like Odysseus (I don’t) the fact that all of his crew die is a major bummer.
In O Brother, the Coen Brothers take this endless romantic struggle and turn it into a goofball comedy. The most striking change is of the Odysseus character: Ulysses Everett McGill. Whereas Odysseus only seems to be interested in getting home at times of pique, McGill is always focused on getting home and saving his marriage.
Despite moving the story from ancient Greece to Great Depression America, the film maintains the other worldly aspects of the book. The best part of this is having Satan constantly on the protagonists’ tails. This is so much better than in The Odyssey, where there is constant negotiations between the various gods. In O Brother there is no need for gods to cause turmoil, humans are good enough at that themselves. But like it or not, Death is always close behind us. “The law is a human institution.”
I find I have little to say about this movie. I could pick it apart, but as I said: it is a perfect film. Anything I could say is irrelevant, other than that it should be seen.
The Coen Brothers claim that their main idea was to tell the story of The Odyssey in the Ma and Pa Kettle universe. When I was a kid, I hated those movies. But recently, I saw part of one on TV at my sister’s. It was funny as hell.