With the release of Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth late last month, interest in the work of the Coen brothers reached an all-time high. Joel, alongside his brother Ethan, has crafted some of the best-loved and most significant films of the last 40 years. Be it Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski or No Country for Old Men, the Coen’s cultivated a style that is unmistakable.
As a team, the pair have been incredibly influential, and their use of black comedy as a means of facilitating social commentary has been one of the most refreshing employments of the trope in all of cinema. Their understanding of cinema as a whole is balanced and refined and set a standard for subsequent auteurs moving forward.
This is why Joel Coen’s most recent jaunt is so essential. The departure of Ethan has proved that Joel can succeed as a solo artist without the help of his younger brother. The Tragedy of Macbeth has received critical acclaim across the board, and backed by arthouse studio, A24, Joel’s creative end product seems to have been flourished by being unchained, regardless of how much he misses working with Ethan.
Invoking previous Shakespeare adaptations by Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa, Coen’s adaptation has gone straight to the top of the list of Macbeth adaptations for the big screen. Regardless of how brilliant it is, we hope that the brothers will reconvene one day soon. Given that The Tragedy of Macbeth is such a stellar take on Shakespeare’s original, discussion of their celebrated adaptation of another historical classic, O Brother, Where Art Thou? has also recommenced.
A satirical take on Homer’s classic epic The Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou? remains one of the most refreshing entries in the filmography of the Coen brothers. A commentary on the absurd idiosyncrasies of the Deep South during The Great Depression, it features a stellar cast and many memorable moments. Who can forget when we meet Tommy Johnson, a thinly veiled reference to iconic Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson.
Although the film is ostensibly versed in the pages of Homer, another classic work also massively inspired the film. This was the 1939 pop culture phenomenon, The Wizard of Oz. At the 15th anniversary reunion for O Brother, Joel revealed the connection.
He recalled: “It started as a ‘three saps on the run’ kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, ‘You know, they’re trying to get home—let’s just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: ‘There’s No Place Like Home.'”
When you think about it, the parallels between O Brother and The Wizard of Oz are clear, and you can certainly see how the Victor Fleming masterpiece inspired elements of the Mississippi-based romp. Be it the setting, social commentary or surreal evocations of magic, you wouldn’t be criticised for imagining both films set in the same universe.
Watch the trailer for O Brother, Where Art Thou? below.