Fargo can certainly be understood as an Aristotelean tragedy, but also as a comedy, in its characteristics.
Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; (Aristotle VI).
Fargo certainly falls within the “tragic” category with its serious subject material. However, for the most part, the character’s tend to be of a “lower type” which is stated be Aristotle as a comedic characteristic as follows:
Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of character of a lower type (Aristotle V).
With this established we can analyze the structure of Fargo.
Beginning: Jerry makes a deal with the crooks. Jerry needs the crooks to kidnap his wife so they can earn a ransom off of her, which they will split amongst themselves. The crooks need a little dough, and Jerry needs to pay off his debt. What could go wrong?
Plot Point 1/Inciting Incident: After kidnapping Jerry’s wife as planned, the crooks kill a state trooper and a couple of citizens, which wasn’t part of the plan. This puts Marge the police officer on the hunt.
Plot Point 2/Reversal: With Marge close on his tale, Jerry tries to complete his deal with the crooks by giving them money from Wade. However, Wade takes matters into his own hands, and meets the crooks himself. Wade gets killed because of this, which changes everything for Jerry. Jerry’s whole plan has been ruined.
Resolution: Consequently, because of the constant mistakes from Jerry and the crooks, they are eventually sniffed out by Marge, and her deputies, and they bring justice to the guilty parties who left a trail of destruction in their path.
Now, on to how the plot influenced characters. There is only one character I really want to talk about, and that is Jerry Lundegaard. I don’t think he is the best protagonist.
A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. it should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear. (Aristotle XIII).
I never felt pity or fear for Jerry Lundegaard throughout the plot. One may argue you are never meant to feel for Jerry, but perhaps for all the people who were affected by his horrible mistakes. Aristotle says as follows:
for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. (Aristotle XIII).
I never pitied Jerry because he suffered from unmerited misfortune, or feared to become him because he was like myself. He was just very stupid and selfish. I never could relate to him.
I feel that Scorsese shapes these flawed characters better because he crafts the story so that you can actually understand and relate why a character may go down a dark path. For instance. Henry Hill in Goodfellas. Henry was beaten by his father frequently, for his lack of judgment, he was never truly loved by his father figure. So, Henry found it somewhere else. Henry happened to find this in the New York Mob where they welcomed him like family. They supported him. I felt pity for Henry because of the father he was given. This gives depth to Henry Hill as a character. I felt this was missing from Jerry. Jerry felt very two dimensional.