The 1996 film, Fargo rotates its story through comedy, suspense, and violence. The filmmakers took enormous risks and made an original movie that’s universally relatable. Fargo is an Aristotelian tragedy, “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in the language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation-catharsis of these and similar emotions.” (Poetics, P.10)
Tragedy’s aim is to shake up in the soul the impulses of pity and fear, to achieve what Aristotle calls Catharsis. The emotions of pity and fear find a free outlet in tragedy. Their excess is purged, and we are lifted out of ourselves and emerge with a refreshed outlook. The Plot is the most important part of tragedy. The Characters are the men and women who act. Thought is what the characters think or feel throughout their screen time in the development of the plot. Diction is the medium of language or expression through which the characters reveal their thoughts and feelings. The diction should be ‘embellished with each kind of artistic element’. The Song is one of these embellishments. Lastly, The Spectacle is the theatrical effect presented on the stage.
Fargo’s plot begins with Jerry making arrangements to have his wife kidnapped. His intent is to shake his father-in-law of $80,000 to then split the cash with the hired kidnappers. The plot quickly takes a turn, or a reversal, when the hired kidnappers get pulled over and three people end up dead. Due to this reversal, Fargo’s plot is complex, meaning the opposite of what is desired seeks to manifest. Jerry desires to make just enough cash to land him a deal and financial stability at the sacrifice of “pretending” to kidnap his wife and his fathers-in-law’s wallet. However, destiny plays out and Jerry loses his wife, his father-in-law, and his freedom.
We can easily fall short of understanding Fargo’s true message by feeling too much pity for the hardworking car salesman who only seeks to bring financial freedom to himself and the daughter of a wealthy man who he feels pressure from and ends up losing it all. The more meaningful protagonist to discuss is Marge Gunderson. Marge is a highly relatable protagonist whose strength comes from her unwavering loyalty to those she loves. She appears 33 minutes into the movie, but she represents the thesis – innocence can withstand corruption. She immediately deduces the first crime scene, and then never falls far behind in piecing together the criminal’s traces. The Thought, Diction, Song, and The Spectacle of this character are spot on. She is on the hunt for murderous culprits, all the while pregnant, an artistic husband whom she seems to support financially, with a sense of humor that stems from her honest sincerity.
“So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.” Even though she can’t relate to the motives of the corrupt, she proves that innocence can withstand evil.