101 Funniest Screenplays

The main character of Fargo is as much place as person: Minnesota in depth of winter, where otherwise decent folks endure the long winter with uncomplaining aplomb and plain-speaking diction. The Coens disturb the peace with a violent, kidnapping-gone-awry story, featuring a hapless car salesman, a pregnant sheriff, and two killers whose association ends at a wood chipper. Watching the film some 20 years later, The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr noted how little backstory the Coens’ script gives us as the plot unfolds. We don’t know why Jerry Lundegaard is in deep debt, or how the kidnappers hooked up in the first place. Joel Coen alluded to this screenwriting approach at a 2011 Lincoln Center talk titled “Where and How to Begin a Film?” “In one degree or another, in starting, you’re looking for some kind of tension between having your bearings and not having your bearings,” Coen said.