how does the plot set in motion the actions and reactions of the main characters? What do these actions reveal about the inner lives of the characters, about their flaws and transformations? Identify and describe other characteristics of a tragedy of tragic structure (from Aristotle’s Poetics) that you observe in Fargo. Quote from the text.
The characters in Fargo are interesting because some of them seem to be deeply altered by the plot while others seem to remain utterly static. In fact, from what I see, the biggest change in characters that emerge at the plot progresses is in the antagonists, which is actually not horribly shocking when one considers the old idea that villains are always the more interesting characters. These two initially reminded me of the villains from Home Alone, and then slowly transformed into almost horror-villain levels of violent.
Carl especially shows a shift in character as the job that Jerry paid him and Gaear to do slowly gets more and more out of hand. He goes from a man who seems to be willing to do dirty business for money but who still ultimately has his own boundaries that he won’t cross (including murder) due to his general nervousness and lack of confidence into someone who later shoots a full pistol round into Barbara’s father because of what he has gone through for the sake of getting his money. He goes from a somewhat reasonable hire-able criminal to a violent, aggressive man who’s fear drives him to desperation and survival instinct.
Gaear, while clearly a more ruthless and cold criminal from the get go, kills multiple people across the span of the movie to keep himself out of trouble and even just away from inconvenience. He is the one to kill the cop that originally pulls them over and chases down the couple that spot them in the process; he (it is implied) kill Jerry’s wife because she was being too loud; and eventually he kills Carl in an attempt to get all of the reward money. Everything that he does further proves that he is a man who will do quite literally whatever it takes to get his way.
The only other 2 characters that we see significantly affected by the plot are Jerry and Jean. Jerry was an interesting character to watch evolve throughout the film because he portrays a certain image throughout the movie of a man who does not believe that he has done anything wrong– only that his perfectly thought out plot is quickly getting away from him. Though he always plays up the image of a good family man, someone who is only trying his best to do his job, further his prospects, and support his family, he continually responds to the plot in ways that make it clear he is only looking out for himself, especially after things start going wrong. Around every bend, we never see Jerry in fear about what is happening to his wife, and for a period of time he even forgets that he has a son. He spends the entire move, even as things are getting out of his control, trying to get the money from his father-in-law so that he can go on to achieve the lot that he wants. Every realization or moment of pause we see him come to is only ever him trying to find ways to keep things from blowing up even more and to get himself out of the line of fire. He doesn’t try to call off the hit because he’s worried for his wife, but because he thinks he may be getting the money regardless; he only remembers to check on his son because he is reminded to; he talks to Jean because he knows that she’ll be more suspicious of him if he doesn’t; and in the end of the movie, he abandons his son and tries to run away to escape persecution. Jerry may be nonconfrontational, but he’s conniving.
Jean is one who also is a little less obvious in her shift in character from the unfolding events of the plot. We discussed her big moment of evolution partly in class, but she starts the movie as a very trusting and friendly woman. Though she is cold and near unaffected in the face of death and tragedy, to the living she is generally patient and polite, but still not afraid to stand her ground and harden her resolve when need be. She seems to be almost unempathetic and taking life at a surface level. But as things go on, we see her hit a point of realization– that people can and will lie. The moment she seems to realize that, she gets hot on Jerry’s case, showing no mercy in questioning him and doubting the things he tells her, following her gut instead of his word. This is the change that eventually leads her to the criminals’ hideout, leaving her the eventual hero of the story.
The plot that drives all of these characters in their different directions is a near perfect fit for Aristotle’s tragedy. We see the plot points filling in in much the same order that he described:
Inciting incident: Jerry making the deal with Carl and Gaear to kidnap his wife
Rising action: Jerry’s wife kidnapped, breaking the news to the family, trying to call off the kidnapping
Reversal: Death of the first 3 people. loss of contact with the criminals, father-in-law getting involved
Growing pity and fear: Seeing Jerry’s wife, son, and father-in-law getting involved and hurt; innocents being killed; Carl reaching desperation
Catharsis: Capture of Gaear and Jerry