‘Fargo’ (1996) vs. ‘Fargo’ (2014-Present)


Ben Wheeler, Online Editor

Usually when watching a television series based on a popular film, it’s hard to understand many of the plot points without having seen the film first. Luckily, watchers of the currently ongoing “Fargo” TV show don’t have that problem, as the series operates in an anthology format.  Some very small and non-crucial plot details tie the movie in with the series, as well as tying together seasons one and two. The three seasons have stories that take place over different time periods and involve different characters and locations. Of course, each story involves the city Fargo, North Dakota in some capacity.Way before the TV show was on the small screen, a 1996 film of the same name graced the silver screen.

Directed, written and produced by the Coen Brothers, the 1996 film’s popularity led to the creation of the TV series starting in 2014, where the Coen Brothers serve as executive producers.

After watching season one of the TV show, I became aware of the movie’s existence and influence on the show. However, a quick Google search revealed that I did not need to watch the movie to understand and follow the series, so for the longest time watching the movie was not a priority. Now that it has been announced that the fourth season is entering into production this year, my love for the show has been reawakened. This awakening lead to me finally taking time to watch the movie. Long story short? The film is just as amazing as the show.

Our film takes place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1987. Car sales manager Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) has racked up debt and is unable to make good on paying it back. Desperate for cash, Lundegaard travels to Fargo to hire low-level criminals to help him in a sadistic scheme to scam cash out of his wealthy father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell). Lundegaard finds his bumbling accomplices in Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, respectively) who agree to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) in order to receive ransom money from Wade. The job pays half the ransom and a brand-new car. However, as issues regularly arise with the scheme and Carl and Gaear leave a trail of blood in their wake, police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) threatens to take down the scheme and the men involved.

Much like the tv show, the film is extremely adult-oriented in its content. There is sexual content, gory violence and some very extreme language. In fact, in the film Carl takes a pistol shot to the jaw at close range and it is quite gnarly. Along with these elements, present in both the film and the show is the Coen Brothers’ trademark dark-comedy, which jokes and makes light of the elements discussed prior.

The 1996 film utilizes a lot of twists and turns within the daring and bold writing; the seemingly sympathetic characters take a very dark turn in their actions, usually in the interest of protecting themselves with little regard for their loved ones’ safety. There is constant, sneaky and blatant betrayal among the characters, which makes everyone’s first priority protecting their own hides. This ultimately seems to be a fruitless effort, and consequences eventually find all of those involved in the criminal schemes or acts of violence. This is exactly in line with the TV show, where the different antagonists also have no level they won’t stoop to when protecting their own interests.  No matter how evil or twisted an action may be, our antagonists will kill or harm any one if it helps cover up their actions or creates distance from rivals and the police. Carl and Gaear from the film are no exception, and the evil within Carl is disturbing as much as it is fascinating as we follow his course of action. Just as relentless are our ultimate protagonists, usually members of law enforcement, who go into unbelievably dangerous and thrilling situations in the name of bringing people to justice. Both sides have absolutely no quit in them, and that makes both the show and movie impossible to stop watching as the various plots and storylines progress onward. The characters would not be as fascinating if weren’t for the amazing performances by the actors playing them, and that may be where both the movie and show win the most. Neither the show nor movie contain a bad performance. Not a single one.

What makes both the movie and the show irresistible is what I like to call the ‘slow burn’ beginning and the ‘roller coaster’ finish in terms of the stories’ arcs and pacing. Both the movie and TV show are somewhat slow in the early going, as they establish characters’ motives and tendencies with both dramatic and light-hearted scenes mixed together in an alternating fashion. However, towards the middle of story is when both the series and the movie kick into gear and our more drastic and intense plot elements take place. However, instead of winding down after this apparent peak, both the film and show crank up the action, drama and plot twists until the point where the last act is where we see the extremes of both good and bad meet each other and create the ultimate finale. That is perfect three-act storytelling, with time to breathe coming only after the credits start to roll.

I regret having taken so much time to get around to watching the film, as it is just as spectacular as the TV series. In fact, if I had watched the film earlier in life, I probably would have gotten around to watching the show sooner and been able to heap more praise on this franchise than I have already. I highly recommend watching both the show and movie when you have the chance, as they both represent crime dramas at their finest. According to the Rotten Tomatoes official website, the movie has an identical 93 percent score with both fans and critics, while the show has a 97 percent critics’ score and a 95 percent audience score.