Jerry and Marge: Opposing Character Arcs

The plot in Fargo is delightfully wild. Introduced as a “true story”, the audience is immediately more dialed in to the story and characters from the get-go. We see Jerry engaging in a shady and ill-advised scheme to get money from his father-in-law. By setting up this contract, we see that Jerry believes his father-in-law wouldn’t give him money of his own accord, and neither would his wife. Two of his most immediate family members, and he believes neither of them would help him is he asked. An excellent setup for the relational strife ahead.

By being in this situation at the beginning of the movie, some sympathy can be directed Jerry’s way by the audience, but his continual downward spiral makes it really challenging to hold onto such sympathy. The plot is driven forward by things going wrong and getting worse, often because of him, and those events in turn drive Jerry deeper and deeper down his dark path. Driven by fear, which is a classic plot device in Greek tragedy. All of the events that befall Jerry compound. With each wrong turn, such as the parking lot sale going bust, he becomes angrier and more desperate for a solution. Any solution at any cost becomes his mode of operation towards the end of the film. The compounding tragic events in Jerry’s character arc can be described by this Poetics quote: “Tragedy is an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear or pity. Such an effect is best produced when the events come on us by surprise; and the effect is heightened when, at the same time, they follow as cause and effect. The tragic wonder will thee be greater than if they happened of themselves or by accident; for even coincidences are most striking when they have an air of design.”

Marge is an interesting comparison as the second main character of Fargo. We are introduced to her as a reliable, competent police officer. She has a strong connection to her family, namely her husband and their baby on the way. As the plot moves forward following Jerry’s game of life and death, Marge is always right behind, investigating him and getting ever closer. She’s unwavering in her search for truth and justice, which is probably her strongest character trait. As Jerry is forced into his situation by his own dangerous scheme, Marge wants to unravel it and get to the bottom of this mystery.

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