O Brother, Where Art Thou?
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this comedy with its outlandish characters, infectious musical score, and slapstick action sequences has multiple levels of appeal. As for issues of concern for teens -- there are lots of swear words ("son-of-a-bitch," "hell’s bells," "whore, and "Goddamnit"), many racial slurs ("nigras," "crackers," "darkies"), and a mind-bending Ku Klux Klan musical sequence. Characters (and a few animals) are frequently in jeopardy: trapped in a burning barn, beaten with a tree branch, threatened with hanging, shot at, chased, and more. The racial satire may provoke questions about the United States' history of racism that parents should be prepared to discuss.
What's the story?
This Coen brothers' venture is based in part on the Odyssey. But this Ulysses is no war hero from ancient Greece. It is America during the Depression, and Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is a prisoner on a Mississippi chain gang. He persuades the two men chained to him, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) to escape so they can get a hidden treasure. They make their way home, meeting up with an assortment of oddball characters, including bank-robbing legend George "Babyface" Nelson. They get some money by singing for a man who records bluegrass. They cross paths with two bitter rivals for the governor's office -- incumbent Governor Menelaus "Pass the Biscuits" Pappy O'Daniel (Charles Durning) and his cronies all have huge bellies, with pants that reach to their chests to be held by suspenders. Opponent Homer Stokes sells himself as a man of the little people who wants to clean house, and he makes campaign appearances with a midget and a broom to show that he means it. McGill and his friends do their best to evade the sheriff and make their way home, amidst washed-out landscapes.
Is it any good?
Like the Odyssey, the Ulysses of O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU is trying to get home to his wife before she marries one of her suitors. There are other echoes to that classic saga, from a blind seer who predicts that they will not find the treasure they seek to a one-eyed villain and three singing sirens to distract the travelers from their journey. As always, the Coen brothers present an array of quirky characters with faces closer to gargoyles and caricatures than to Hollywood prettiness. And there is the offbeat dialogue -- when Delmar, just baptized, says he has been saved by Jesus and a black guitar player says he just sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads, McGill replies, "Well, I guess I'm the only one who remains unaffiliated."
This is a lighter story than many of the Coens' previous movies, which makes it easy to forgive the parts that don't work very well, especially when we have the pleasure of the year's finest soundtrack, sheer bluegrass joy.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the story of the Odyssey. How does this movie transform the original story?
Talk about the symbolism of fire and water throughout the movie. What do you think it means?
What is the United States' history of racism and how have things changed (or not) over time?