My first experience of Fargo was through the first season of the FX short series. I knew there was a movie called Fargo, by the Coen Brothers, and I knew I liked movies where they show lots of snowscapes, so I presumed I would like the movie as I liked the series. And I did.
Stylistically, the series and the film can be similar, which is the initial obvious connecting point. They are both shot around the cold landscapers of Minnesota and North Dakota, and the camera shots are similar - still shots of the landscape as actors and objects move within that shot. Both giving great credence to the weather and feel of the place. It hard not to feel the cold and harshness of that area while watching it. It leaves you feeling cold.
The characters are also connected. Both in the film and in the initial series there are similarities, derivatives. There is the small dweeby man, who seems to dislike his wife or his life enough to get involved with thugs in a way that he is unable to control and in an environment he is well unsuited to. There is a small town detective who is underrated, and then proves to be much more capable than anyone would believe. Also, there is pregnancy involved with this policewomen. In both, there is a heartless killer, who appears to have no conscious, and for who even the motives are unclear. It’s here where the great connection lies, and where the potential for other films turning into shows should concentrate.
The characters and their depth, is where the series is able to show the benefit of the medium. In the movie, the small dweeby man, Jerry Lundergaard, plans to have his wife kidnapped, and is stretching himself to scam money from everyone he knows, for reasons that remain unclear. One of the great difficulties of the movie is that he is doing all these terrible things, and appears to be very much out of his depth, but it is difficult to fully understand why. What is his motive? I presumed he was in some gambling debt, or another situation where he was somehow in too deep, but I never got that answer. This is the difficulty of film. Without having time to explain the characters, we have to explain them to ourselves. The storyteller gives us some information and we assume the rest. My assumed gambling debt, might have been someone else assumed adulterer. This ability to allow the viewer to make up their own back story, is metaphorically similar to how when reading a book, we create the image of the character in our own mind and everyones image is different. It’s up to you to decide whether that ambiguity is good.
The Fargo crossover demonstrates that sometimes there is a depth to the character in a movie that is worth exploring, and this is what the FX series does. In a modern setting, it answers the questions of who some of these characters might have been, and what motives they might have. It also explores a world where the small dweeby man is smarter, and luckier, and able to get away with his initial crime. This IS interesting. And this is a story worth telling.
However, the most interesting character in the film is not Jerry Lundergaard. Who is this policewomen, Marge Gunderson that seems so unimpressive, yet ultimately is the smartest of them all? In the film, she was so fascinating that Frances McDormand won the Best Female Actor Oscar for her portrayal. In the film, Marge is a simple woman, someone you would expect as a small town, untravelled person. Her husband seems to be a no hoper, but she loves him, adores him. She doesn’t ask for much, and is grateful for what she has. The character is so seamless, so natural, that you can almost forget how interesting she is. In the series, the idea of this character is explored, through the character Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), similarly a small town cop, who easy to dismiss. In the series, we get to know more about her life, why she has those ‘matter of fact’ mannerisms. She becomes more endearing, and we get a greater understanding of her intellect - it wasn't just a lucky situation. It’s strange, I am considering the characters as if they are the same people, because they feel connected. It’s hard not to look at the different versions and consider their similarities, and that somehow, what we don’t know about them in the film, is explained by what we find out about them in the series.
The third character the series explores further is the heartless criminal, with unclear motives. In the film, Steve Buscemi’s partner, Gaear Grimsrud played by Peter Stormare is a man who is scary, and may have committed many crimes prior to his appearance in the film. He is the one who kills (with zero emotion) the police officer on the highway, escalating a controllable situation into something greater. He seems to track the witnesses with no emotion, and kills them without thought. He also kills his partner. Who is he? Why is someone like this, spending his time in North Dakota and Minnesota doing fake kidnappings for dweeby men? That is interesting. And again, the series understands this and takes it further. In the series, Lester Nygard (the dweeby man) acts because of the encouragement of Lorne Malvo (Billie Bob Thornton). Salvo encourages him to be a man responsible for his own decisions,and Nygard follows him. In the film, no one can connect to this character, but in the series, we get greater understanding. He is a lone wolf, a man with no conscious, who enters and exit different worlds as he pleases. Only someone he completely underestimates can take him down.
The landscape, the storyline, the filming and most importantly, the characters. They all connect. It makes you think - who else from films do we want to know more about?