Fargo and Tragedy

The motion of Fargo’s plot is spurred with Jerry’s scheme to have his wife kidnapped; We first learn of his plan in the diner, where Jerry’s timid reluctance characterizes him as someone forced into the criminal world, contrasted with the abrasive snarls and barbs of the hired muscle.

But as details congeal through the next act, we see Jerry’s greed and disregard for others- he has an adequate life, and is provided opportunities to better it, but consistently defers to the path of cowardice or deceit. His posturing as a family man and frequent disparagement from peers inspires some pity in the viewer, though; He is also subject to influence, and possesses little agency in his own scheme, and consequentially little understanding of its severity. As Aristotle explains concerning tragic character action,

“The deed of horror may be done, but done in ignorance.”

This is especially true for the eventual demise of Jerry’s wife, and for the volatility of the hitmen.

This all lends to the calcified impression of impending tragedy. Jerry’s transformation feels like a thawing of his true nature, previously veiled by social restraint.

Marge is a perfect opposite to Jerry- virtuous and fearless, even in the face of death. Her affable demeanor might suggest an officer without conviction, but her gentle nature never restricts her from strength or justice, whether it be in a social boundary (Firmly rejecting Mike’s advances) or climactic standoff (Rushing to confront Gaear without backup).

Fargo most closely resembles Aristotle’s second classification of tragedy, which he describes as possessing

“A double thread of plot, and also an opposite catastrophe for the good and for the bad.”

This is true of the film’s conclusion, where Jerry attempts to flee the scene, an apt synecdoche of his character shown as he clings to the window and flails against the officers; Inversely, Marge receives a quiet, tender epilogue with her husband. The just, diametric arcs of these characters fit within the framework of tragedy. Fargo adheres to Aristotle’s Tragic structure by eliciting fear and pity, and by detailing the ruin and rise of these two characters.

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