O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Movie Information

O Brother, Where Art Thou? will be shown at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, in Lord Auditorium at Pack Memorial Library as the final film in the library's Coen Brothers film series. Mountain Xpress movie critic Justin Souther will introduce the film and discuss it after the screening. Free.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter
Rated: PG-13

When asked to pick my favorite Coen Brothers’ picture to show as part of Pack Memorial Library’s Coen Brothers film series, my choice was a no-brainer. For my money, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) is unequivocally the Coens at their creative best, and as I see it, it makes for their most completely satisfying picture to date.

Loosely based on The Odyssey, the movie is Homer by way of Preston Sturges (taking its title from Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941)), with a pinch of The Wizard of Oz and Busby Berkley thrown in for good measure (to name but a few influences). The story—involving three escaped prisoners (George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) roaming through the Depression-era South in search of treasure—is typical of the Coens, but at the same time sets itself aside from the remainder of their filmography. The same concerns are there. Aside from the existence of their usual quirkiness, the Coens—much like the titular character in their Barton Fink (1991)—have had an obsession with the “common man,” and O Brother follows suit. However, the film is their most playful—both stylistically and thematically—from its excellent bluegrass soundtrack, which almost qualifies it as a musical, to the fact that it’s one of only three Coen films not to earn an R rating. It’s likely the closest we’ll ever come to modern day Sturges, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s somehow a cheap knockoff. Because, as with every Coen Brothers picture, it is a vision wholly and uniquely their own.


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7 thoughts on “O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  1. Louis

    to the fact that it’s one of only three Coen films not to earn an R rating.

    A nicely succinct review, Justin.



  2. Ken Hanke

    You know, that review passed through my hands so I’m equally responsible for that gaffe when all is said and done. In defense, I can only say that it’s easy to forget that Intolerable Cruelty exists altogether. Hell, Louis, as a completist-minded fellow, I even picked up a $5 copy out of the Wal-Mart dump bin some months back — and it’s still sitting on the table in the kitchen in the shrink wrap.

  3. Louis

    Can’t argue with that…

    I’ve to confess I was curious to learn which particular “less-than-R-rated” film from the Coen oeuvre was overlooked, my thinking being that which film excluded is infinitely more interesting for consideration–i.e., what’s different about that particular film that would cause two informed cinephiles to overlook it–than the fact of an honest oversight.

    You’ve satisfied that curiousity.

  4. Justin Souther

    I’ll blame Ken on this one. Plus, I was still recovering from College, if that counts for anything.

  5. Bliss Johnson

    I wish I had known about this series! I go to Library regularly and must how missed any promo for this. I love these guys. I think this is the film everybody likes, though Raising and The Dude movie, and their first, Blood Simple are my favs. Sometimes the films are duds because the expectations are so high, however donuts for dollars they are the best movie animal going.

  6. Ken Hanke

    The series all in all seems to have been one of the most popular the library has had, so there seems to be some agreement on how highly one should rate the Coens — even if it’s less settled on what titles one prefers.

    It’s a nice touch — and an unplanned one — that the series ended just days prior to the release of their new film, Burn After Reading, this coming Friday.

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