As we’ve gone through the film to analysis the story, a striking importance to most visual narratives is to effectively communicate it’s themes, style and infer to the story in the opening scene. This analysis details my own interpretation set by the introduction and justified with the themes of Fargo, set out by many academic writings.
Before the setting is established, a short statement greets the audience that the narrative is based on true events. While the film itself is loosely inspired by real world events, the narrative itself is completely fictional. In the culture of cinema, and especially present in the horror genre and found-footage subgenre, claiming that a film is ‘based on true events’ serves a psychological purpose of reminding the audience that what they see is real. The effect is that the drama becomes more objective and shocking as we compare it to real world possibilities, inferring to a more frightening realization. Levan believes the contradiction is not only to suggest the brutality of it’s violence, but also to inject a dry sense of humour (2000, pp. 6). In Fargo, the disclaimer gives more authenticity to the ‘social realist’ aesthetic the film conveys in order to reinforce the illusion that what the viewer is watch is indeed real. Levan reinforces this point as she argues that Fargo uses the forms of ‘documentary reconstruction’ within it’s rather ‘objective’ style (2000, pp. 41), hence informing the viewer that the story is from a detective’s report. In short, by claiming the story is real, the audience can accept to plausibility of the events that are about to unfold. It also further heightens the neo-noir style, as the events of the film can be portrayed as a reenactment of a real murder case. The summary introduces the emotional impact as the audience is led to suspect a nihilistic and rather chaotic outcome – it foreshadows the negative tone the film’s narrative sets.
Musically, the mellow and fantasia soundtrack adds a calmness the audience can relate with snow. When an individual imagines snow following, it’s graceful and has a dreamlike quality to it. Tom Burton’s fantasy Edward Scissorhands, released 6 years prior to Fargo, captures this imagery as the show represents the aesthetic of a fairytale. Furthermore, the soundtrack serves as an ironic transition as well as misleads the audience by easing them into the visuals. The reality however, is the first fade into Fargo shows simple the sky, or what they assume is the sky until a bird flying onscreen confirms this. The overlap transition to a vehicle in the distance becomes the film’s establishing shot. As the snow wipes over the landscape, the distinction between the sky and the land is almost unrecognizable which effectively manifests the baron, desolate setting of Fargo. The lack of details or interesting imagery is encapsulates the bleak and moody feel of the narrative. The audience understands the harshness of the weather and the coldness surrounding the characters. Essentially, the audience becomes part of the world as they are now trapped in an uneventful and tedious landscape. Unlike traditional Hollywood dramatic introductions, Fargo sets it’s slow pace and dry tone in a near colorless extreme long shot. As a result, the music becomes more depressing to synchronise with the mood set in the opening scene. Levan further highlights that the music dictates the mood of ‘solemn and forboding’ while the images ‘impart a feeling of chill, isolation and loneliness’ (2000, pp. 27), like Vogler states, it cues that something bad is going to happen.
Interesting, the music is cued with the vehicle getting closer to the viewer. Due to the black sense of humour, this can be interpreted as a subtle joke at the expense of the usual dramatic introductions. The viewer sees a truck in the snow and nothing more, it’s distinctly different from dramatic explosions. The music assists in driving the story of the driver as the heightening of the tempo conveys to the audience that there is a great distance between the driver’s home and where he’s going. It’s the start of a long and chaotic journey.
As Vogler suggests, the opening image should be powerful and create a mood that infers to the direction of the story. He argues the viewer should question how the character makes their ‘entrance’ and what they are doing in order to create ‘identification’ between the audience and the hero (2007, pp. 90). Fargo deviates from many traditional notions of classical Hollywood cinema, as instead of giving the audience an immediate hero, they are greeted by the inevitable Trickster of Jerry who is the ultimate catalyst to the narrative’s proceedings. The fact that the introduction is rather mundane is the height to which the drama can reach. In other words, an exciting opening scene would contradict the logical context of the film’s style. However, Vogler also confirms Fargo’s prologue to be justified by the notion that ‘disorientation leads to suggestibility’ (2007, pp. 86). In other words, Vogler notes that audiences can be manipulated to make later progression clearer such as showing the villain before the hero to inform the viewer that something bad is going to happen.
The typography of the credits also serves a role in setting the style of Fargo. Firstly, the condensed and centralized ‘true story’ description appears structured and routinized like a police report and spaced to convey the description plate used in mug shots. Thus, it introduces the neo-noir element as well as stylizing the ‘authenticity’ the film aims to achieve. The same can be said for the titles over the clear shots that highlight the credits that are spread over the screen, possibility as a way to suggest the geographical theme of Fargo. Considering the focus the film gives to travelling between various locations, the tracking between the text can relate settlement patterns – while the road found in Fargo is largely linear, the spacing of the settlement can be considered ‘dispersed’ as houses are scattered over large areas. As Luhr suggests, the Coen brothers aim to create a great sense of ‘locale; the region is a palpable and hermetic presence, as palpable as its whiteness’ (2004, pp. 94). The text could also be seen as a metaphor for the relations between characters, some of the text is close while others are apart. It suggests the element of trust being an aspect of the film, especially when the major turning out is found in one character telling lies.
In all, the opening to Fargo is dark (ironically), bleak and depressive in order to convey the stark realism and sense of miserable around the deadpan cast of characters. The music heightens rather uneventful and mundane drama such as the truck plough through the snow, while the typography reinforces the film noir aesthetic, which is ultimately negative in context to the fact the viewer primarily sees white.
LEVAN S. (2000) Fargo. Halow: Longman
LUHR W. (2004) The Coen Brother’s Fargo. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press
VOGLER, C. (2007) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd Ed. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions