Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reading the Coens: "Blood Simple."

The Coen brothers are not Christian artists, but they are masters of their craft. And, while they appear to pay close attention to every detail in their stories and use every subtlety to advance their story, like most postmodern artists, they avoid being too specific about the meaning in their films. So, even though I am bringing my own preconceptions to their work that sees things likely unintended by them, I celebrate truth wherever I find it.

Blood Simple. (1984)

“We don't seem to be communicating.”

In their first effort, the Coen Brothers told a story of noir fatalism, a hard boiled crime story minus the detective. Or rather, there is a detective, but he is not the man discovering the crime. He is the one committing it.

In a desperately depressingly dry Texas town, Abby wants to escape from her bar-owning, harsh-dealing husband. She asks one of his bar tenders, Ray, to help her run away, but instead they give into a closer, easier to grasp temptation and have an affair. The problem is that Marty, her husband, suspects that that is what they were up to, and has had them followed. When he learns the truth, he hires the detective to kill them both.

Instead, the detective (named Vissar) decides to fake their death, collect the payment, and then kill Marty. He leaves evidence that Abby committed the murder. Unfortunately, Ray stumbles upon the aftermath, thinks that Abby is behind it, and attempts to cover up the crime. From there things spiral further and further down until everyone save Abby is dead.

As the quote above indicates, miscommunication is a major theme of this story. Nearly everything that happens, everything that goes wrong, is as a result of some sort of misunderstanding. Much of this tragedy would have been avoided if people had simply been clear with each other. The isolation humanity faces, all the broken relationships and tragedies in the world, come back to the fact that people hide from each other and assume the worst. That may not be the entirety of our problem, but for the Coens it is a huge aspect of it. And in that they are not wrong.

The other theme here, and the other side of all of humanity’s problems, is the utter failure to benefit from free will. This story is a series of people choosing to do stupid things. In almost every case they are faced with the choice to do right, but actively decide to do the wrong, the clearly dangerous, to take the path marked “dangerous consequences ahead.”

And that is where this story is a great parable for the tragedy of sin. At its heart sin is the choice to embrace free will and lord over our own destinies and drive ourselves right over the proverbial cliff. We think that our ideas, plans, and ways in life are best, even when we are given clear indication that another way, a moral way, a prescribed way would be better. And, as a result of our inevitable choice to embrace our flawed ways we reap all the tragedy of miscommunication, broken relationships, and death.

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