Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Unified theory of Coen brothers movies says they're all really about one thing

In honor of the twentieth anniversary of The Big Lebowski, the folks at ScreenCrush decided to take a look back at all the films in the Coen brothers’ oeuvre and find the ways in which they’re connected. Rather than focusing on literal shared universe connections like Tarantino’s Red Apple Cigarettes, this video is more about the thematic similarities all these films share. Their surprising conclusion is that every Coen brothers movie is, sort of, about the same thing: Money and how the pursuit of it leads characters down some treacherous paths.

This common narrative thread is pretty easy to see in the Coen brothers’ more successful films. Fargo, No Country For Old Men, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? all center around characters searching for or fighting over a large sum of money, though in the case of O Brother the MacGuffin turns out to be nonexistent. Money not only inspires these various characters to action but often results in their downfall.

Films like Burn After Reading and Raising Arizona see characters hatching ill-fated schemes in the pursuit of money (or a baby that represents money) because they believe obtaining said money will bring them happiness. Even The Dude in The Big Lebowski, despite his contented life and 1960s bohemian ideals, ends up in a downward spiral because he starts eagerly chasing the relief of a big payout. Other films like Barton Fink and Inside Llewyn Davis, which don’t directly deal with the pursuit of literal cash, focus on the intersection between art and commerce. The characters dismiss the idea that wealth equals success but inevitably find money is integral to their survival.


Obviously, each of the Coen brothers’ movies deals with radically different characters, situations, and historic periods, giving each of them their own distinct feel. But, as ScreenCrush puts it, “the idea that the money-fueled American dream isn’t a true avenue to happiness” has come to dominate the filmmakers’ careers.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Pay me to write for you, you coward.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter