[1996] Fargo

Fargo, North Dakota, the place, sits on a crossroads betwixt Interstates 29 and 94, whose interchange will direct travelers from Billings, Montana to Kansas City, Missouri (or Kansas, pick ’em). The clover design is meant to deliver ease to drivers, eliminating the need for other traffic control measures, like stoplights, and to allow drivers to continue their blissful 17 hour drive across the barren nothingness. There’s a faster way, of course, that takes our drivers through Sioux Falls, SD, eliminating the need to travel through North Dakota at all. But that’s not why our family is on this road trip; it’s to see America, as the framers of the state lines intended.

Across Montana, through Dakota (N), then south through Dakota (S), our family will miss Nebraska totally, through a planning decision that routed I-29 along Iowa’s western edge, instead of Nebraska’s eastern boarder. It’s the same reason this sedan will miss Kansas, until this car makes it to dual thread Kansas City. It’s been a pleasant drive thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars Americans paid to pave its lands so that it’s easy enough to drive hundreds of miles for pleasure. Interchanges abound.

Fargo, the movie, happened somewhere on these interchanges, or maybe even further east, in Minnesota, where Jerry Lundegaard (brilliantly oafed by William H. Macy) started his slow tumble into madness. This character is a naïve klutz; a harebrain among pinheads, all of them. Every part of Lundegaard is a cruel gag. It’s where the Coens’ now thrive, casting characterization itself as a character, but were using their early work as a playground. Audiences hear “The Dude” and conjure exactly the effusive image of Jeff Bridges in his robe, sipping unpaid-for milk. Audiences also hear Jerry Lundegaard and think “oh yea, you betcha,” in that Minne-sowta drawl; they think of “Farego” and the woodchipper. It’s a triumph. (This is auteur theory).

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[1996] Shine

Drive is in humans’ nature – as a quest for survival; if we don’t drive, someone else will. The degree to which our own genetics affects how we drive is not controversial, but simply unknown and mostly irrelevant. Attempting to affect the genetic makeup of a person so essentially they “try harder without prodding,” is probably more cruel than helpful, too. Drive is more importantly in humans’ nurture – as a quest to do better than our neighbors; because, rewards, earthly pleasures and money. Intrinsically, the nurture of ourselves and our kin to work harder above the average is irrelevant and misleading, but socially, in order to increase the gene pool of future generations in our species, the strong must survive. And we get stronger (and smarter) by trying harder. Succinctly, it is hard to say whether Shine‘s protagonist’s father, Peter, pushed his son, David, as he did, for on-purpose, self-actualizing, or vicarious reasons, but for better or worse Shine shows us that, at the end of all things, our choices define nothing, and that nature always wins. Shine, a 1996 Best Picture Nominee, embodies this case of nature versus nurture of the drive paradox; of the inevitability of time as sequential driver and the quest for better as disrupteur.

So why bother? It is the single most conflicting factor in our quest to be better; to move forward. We say he “was driven to madness,” but was he? Was the madness not always in him?  If we can’t drive past our own ability, no matter how prolific, and that self-actualization needs to be a natural process, why push? Because it is also in our nature to compete, on some level, with every element that provides us stimulus. It is why we have contests with ordered-prizes; permutated-lists; combinatoric groups of winners and losers; competitions with cash prizes and intrinsic accolades, like “best” and “most popular;” it is why we measure anything in the first place, because, whether we like it or not (and ironically), we measure our own self-worth in terms of others’ approval. David drove because his father demanded; Peter demanded because his self-worth derived from his son’s successes and counter-factual failures. It is again hard to say why Peter drove David into madness – or did he? – but the fact remains that through his process, the drive to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with gusto and perfection and the emotion of a man 20 times his senior and 50 his suffering, drove David past that point where he was actually able to do so. Madness enveloped him to his vanishing point. Luckily, his own drive to survive found him at the bottom of everything. He found his way back. Continue reading