Monday, June 9, 2014

A Very Unexpected Heroine...



For the last few weeks,  my Sunday night television viewing here on UK terrestrial television has been dominated by the US-made series ‘Fargo.’  It’s a spin-off from the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of that name, and it’s turning into a compulsive series.  I’ll concede that the opening episode was a bit shaky - not through any inherent fault in the writing or the film-making or whatever, but rather because if you’re a big fan of the film like I am, then it takes a while to accept that the series isn’t just an overstretched rip-off of the original film (in case you’re wondering, it’s not).

I do enjoy a good crime drama.  I’m a big fan of classic ‘Taggart’ (cynical Glasgow cop played by Mark McManus), I thought the first series of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ was brilliant and I also remember watching  a  great BBC television serial called ‘Rockliffe’s Babies’ when I was growing up in the 80s.  None of these can compare to the stunning cinematographic masterpiece that is ‘Fargo,’ nor do they have that essential ingredient which makes this movie stand head and shoulders above most other films I’ve seen.

The ingredient in question is the film’s heroine, Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand).    Marge is about as far removed from your archetypal Hollywood heroine as it’s possible to get. Heavily pregnant, Marge is a mature woman who’s happily settled in a sedate marriage with husband Norm.  She’s a police chief in Minnesota, a dogged professional whose dress sense is no-nonsense and practical (i.e. her uniform) and at first appearances, she comes across as dull and a bit pedantic.   When a state trooper is found shot dead at the roadside, Marge must investigate the homicide: we follow her as she chips away at the case until ultimately she finds herself pitted against  a brutal psychopath in a confrontation which is made all the more terrifying because, by then, you really care what happens to her.

 ‘Fargo’ has now settled itself firmly into my list of all-time favourite  films, partly because the cinematography is so breathtaking, but mainly because the characterisation is excellent and Marge herself is so compelling.  Eighteen years after its initial release, characters like Marge are still few and far between on the big screen, in a world where a strong female character usually means a gung-ho floosie who struts about brandishing a big gun and uttering the odd cutting remark.

This is a real shame.  It certainly puts me off squandering my hard-earned cash in the cinema, because I'm sure that most of the time I'm just not going to engage with either the story or the characters.  Though on reflection, perhaps the paucity of well thought-out detailed female characters like Marge Gunderson is a symptom more of a wider malaise within the film industry as a whole.

Because when you come to think of it, it’s a criticism that can be meted out for male characters as well...

6 comments:

Terri-Lynne said...

I have yet to see Fargo, but it's one of those movies I understand truly holds up well for the years.

Great characters, male or female, seem fewer and farther in between. When one comes along, they're even more memorable.

Louise Turner said...

It's a film I only discovered a couple of years back. I don't know about you, but I find the more I write, the more critical I become of writing full stop, whether it's reading matter, or films. Most of the time, I end up watching movies and feeling cheated - these days I often feel that character, dialogue & plot are playing a secondary role to special effects, especially in science fiction & fantasy films. So when you stumble across a really memorable film, it's something quite special, which in my case always helps inspire me as a writer, too. May not be the same genre, but the basic craft is still the same!

Debbie Christiana said...

Fargo was a great film. One of my all time favorites as well. Frances McDormand was brilliant. I saw the TV series advertised but didn't think much of it, for the reason you mentioned. But now I may have to tune in and see what it's like.

Great post!!

Terri-Lynne said...

"...these days I often feel that character, dialogue & plot are playing a secondary role to special effects, especially in science fiction & fantasy films..."

Oh, yeah! I hear you on that. It breaks my dorky heart, it does.

Louise Turner said...

Debbie, give it a go. I watched the initial episode with real skepticism - there was the psycho, there was the William H Macy character & there was the Obligatory Sassy Female cop, and the similarities were sufficiently close to make me wince, mainly because I loved the film so much. But I persisted, and not only is it quite different, but it also ties in nicely with the film, too. No Marge this time, unfortunately - Mollie is a lovely character, but she isn't quite up there in the firmament with Marge. Whom I sincerely hope is enjoying early retirement somewhere, telling the kids stories of her exploits as a police chief...

Karin Gastreich said...

I really enjoyed the film. I haven't had a chance to check out the series yet, but you've piqued my interest. Thank you!