Archive for August, 2012

Analysis: “Blood Simple”

August 30, 2012

When a person makes goodness his response to an “evil” that has been visited upon him, such response may appear weak or foolish. Retaliation, revenge, is more commonly accepted in most cultures. To “even the score,” or to “go one better” can seem “only natural,” even necessary. One of the starkest differences between the Old and New Testaments is the “eye for an eye” doctrine versus “turn the other cheek.” The Coen Brothers’ first feature film, Blood Simple (1984 release), portrays perfectly what can happen when one man fails to follow the wisdom of just walking away. 

In this story, that one man is Julian Marty, a Texas bar owner who discovers that his wife, Abby, has begun an affair with one of his bartenders, Ray, and proceeds to seek revenge with “extreme prejudice” by hiring a private detective, Loren Visser, to murder the two evildoers. Visser, however, chooses the easier and less risky alternative: to fake their murders and kill Marty. But Vissers’ crime is executed imperfectly, and circumstances become quickly complicated when Ray discovers Marty’s body, assumes that Abby committed the murder, and decides to cover-up her actions rather than call the police. 

The term “blood simple,” coined by Dashiell Hammett in his novel, Red Harvest, describes an altered state of mind, a feverish giddy daze that gains momentum as the result of prolonged immersion in gory circumstances. After Ray fails to report Marty’s murder to law enforcement authorities and, instead, promptly decides to cover-up for Abby, Ray becomes increasingly blood simple as he sinks deeper and deeper into grisly mire of his own misguided making. As one knee-jerk reaction leads to another, Ray soon finds himself far beyond the point of return or redemption. 

If Ray had telephoned police and left the crime scene untouched, in all likelihood the larcenous, murderous Loren would have been arrested and convicted of killing vindictive Marty, and Ray and Abby could have continued their relationship and become business partners too when she inherited the Neon Boots bar. At that decision point, the doctored photo in the safe, the engraved cigarette lighter underneath the fish, the missing cash, the cigarette butt, and the fingerprint-free gun would have served as ample evidence against careless Loren. Instead, the same covetous and reptilian traits that had drawn reckless Ray into the tryst with Marty’s adulterous runaway wife continued to escort him down a slippery slope to his own destruction. 

Some critical reviewers have perceived an element of paranormal horror in the script, apparently due to misinterpretation of Abby’s lucid nightmare of her husband’s visitation at her apartment, after which she is seen to awaken. There was no actual Tarantino-type zombie scene in this multifaceted film-noir gem. Nothing about the screenplay makes it unrealistic. Blood Simple is in no way a supernatural horror story. To the contrary, it is a darkly comedic modern morality play depicting logical consequences of believable actions of a group of not uncommon individuals who favor the irrational impulses of their base animal instincts over thoughtful, rational adherence to a civilized code of conduct. 

Throughout the Coen Brothers’ many productions, we see Joel and Ethan as laughing-Buddha-rabbis-in-blue-jeans who have the wisdom, wit, and creative genius to communicate their teachings in an entertaining way and through the most powerful, popular medium on Earth. We predict that, hundreds of years in the future, the Coen Brothers’ cinematic works will be held in the same high regard that most of us today reserve for those of Cervantes, Dante, Marlowe, and Shakespeare.

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