But is it a tragedy?
If so, who is the hero? There may be two, but I’m going to argue against that. I will start by saying Marge is not a protagonist. Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s start with the character Mike.
Mike seems to be a reversal of fortune for Marge and I believe tied to Geaer as well, at least as a push toward realization for her.. When it’s revealed that Mike’s story is entirely untrue Marge can not understand why he does it. In the same way when she is scolding Gaear in the police car about violence for the sake of money she can’t conceive of a reason why he did it. Both of these moments push Marge’s realization that she just doesn’t understand the motivation to do wrong, and she says so directly when she says, “I just don’t understand.” What interests me about this is her acceptance. Despite her inability to comprehend these motivations in others she easily accepts evil’s existence in the almost idyllic world around her. It appears to me that outside of that moment of recognition Marge will remain effectively unchanged. So, is Marge ever reversed or, perhaps, is she an unchanging balancing element within the plot that drives the actual protagonist? In this context Marge may not even qualify as a protagonist because she doesn’t seem to be permanently reversed or changed in character.
Jerry appears to be a protagonist in that the audience sees he is pitiable, he is flawed, and his downfall is feared, or at least concerning, and the audience wants to avoid his fate in their own lives. Jerry seems to realize the catastrophe he has caused and in the end laments the misfortune of his own weakness and pride, weakness in that he makes self-serving choices and pride because he believes he is entitled to be more than he is in the world. Yes, his motivations appear base as Aristotle attributes to characters in comedy, but Jerry’s motivation is arguably to become a greater person then he is.
Overall, it could be a tragic-comedy because of the base motivations of Jerry if he is the protagonist. However, I think Fargo is more closely tied to straight tragedy regardless of Jerry’s selected means to change his fortune, which was immediately reversed from the very beginning of the film. If Marge is seen as an unchanging balancing element instead of a protagonist, then Marge is inevitable as that force and Jerry was doomed by this force from the moment he confirmed the deal with Gaear and Carl, if not from the moment he committed fraud prior to the story. It’s arguable that this is not a tragedy, at least not to Aristotle, if we note that for Jerry there was never a moment of prosperity; his tragic flaw (hamartia) was always active, his reversal of fortune (peripeteia) was at the beginning if not before, so the structure of the story doesn’t follow the Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end for a tragedy. There is catastrophe and Jerry suffers consequences, and a catharsis is fostered in the audience, but modes of narrative have changed over the last 2000 years so maybe it’s okay to mix the parts up and still call it a tragedy.
What do you think?