These are the Coen brothers' movies by year with my ratings:

5 - One of the greatest modern Hollywood movies, worth watching several times
3 - Worth watching
1 - Not recommended

1984   Blood Simple (3)
1987   Raising Arizona (2)
1990   Miller's Crossing (5)
1991   Barton Fink (4)
1994   The Hudsucker Proxy (2)
1996   Fargo (4)
1998   The Big Lebowski (5)
2000   O Brother,Where Art Thou? (4)
2001   The Man Who Wasn't There (4)
2003   Intolerable Cruelty (2)
2004   The Ladykillers (2)
2007   No Country for Old Men (5) [*]
2008   Burn After Reading (3)
2009   A Serious Man (5)

2010   True Grit(?)

[*] "Objectively" No Country for Old Men is one of the best Hollywood movies of all time, but it is so dark that I find it very hard to watch again.

The hair. I can't stop thinking about the hair. Why did they take Rug's hair?

Why is Tom's last name in the script "Duchaisne" while in the movie it's "Reagan'? Quite obviously the brothers are hinting at Ronald Reagan, but what the hell do they have in mind?

What's in the movie's name - who is Miller, is it Arthur Miller, or Henry Miller, or some other well-known Miller? And why "crossing" - is it a reference to the Cross? Or, maybe, it hints to Arthur Miller's The Crucible (which is unlikely - I do not see any parallels between the movie and the play)?

Why is Tom so often refered to as "Jesus" (as in "Jesus, Tom... Verna's okay" or "I'm prayin' to ya, Jesus God - Tom! Jesus!") - 23 times out of 26 in the script "Jesus" can be construed as a reference to Tom? Are we in some respects to read Tom's character as that of Christ or God? He is beaten a lot, that's for sure, but is there anything deeper than that? The power to save or kill Bernie? Sounds far-fetched...

Questions like these abound in Miller's Crossing. But wait, they (i.e. Rug's killers) did not take his hair. Rug's toupe was taken by a boy who had found the body (pictured). The characters in the movie do not know that - and keep wondering why in the world did "they" take it. Quite simply the brothers are telling us not to go after every little detail. After all, we may not know all the facts: reference to Ronald Reagan may be just some private joke between the brothers as Miller may be some obscure friend of theirs.

So let those questions drift. After all, things like that are akin to slight differences in taste among the casks. It makes the experience sligtly more interesting, but it is purely incidental.

<to be continued>

Where do we start? Following the opening sequence, let's pour the Bourbon on the rocks... Scratch that. Skip the ice, reach for a 20-year-old scotch served neat - after all, like good whisky this movie is only getting better (that is more popular) with age - give it a whirl in the tumbler, smell the aroma, sip it slowly, warm up to it, "let's do plenty" first, we have time to "get stinko" later.

The aroma... Miller's Crossing is stylized to the point of the grotesque. That's, by the way, what Ebert fails to take into account. He realizes that Leo's office is unrealistically posh, but that is exactly the point the Coen brothers are making. [Noticed the greyhound statuette behind Leo? We'll get to it later.] Compare it to Caspar's "office" - a disused, barely furnished warehouse.

Stylization in arts and crafts is akin to abstraction in thought. One concentrates on the behaviour and the relationships of those aspects of reality that are necessary for one's purposes and ignores the rest. In high art there is more: once the stylized depiction in no longer real, the artist is free to superimpose on it something that is not actually there. Hokusai's The Wave comes to mind. It's a wave, all right, but it has a mind and a purpose. It is not just a blind force of nature like, say, in Aivazovsky's paintings.

Thus the Miller's Crossing world is not really real, it only exhibits certain grossly morphed aspects of reality. The city where the action takes place is unmistakably the Prohibition era American, but it has no name. The gangster slang, while using meaningful English words, is totally made up - "what's the rumpus?"... " a square gee"... "She's a grifter, just like her brother"... "We only take yeggs what's been to college"... "Okay, Tom, you know the angles"... "You know Bernie's chiseling you because he's a chiseler. And you know he's a chiseler because he's chiseling you". Tom never sleeps - he sometimes passes out in drunken stupor, but we all know it is not the same. In a movie where no word is wasted the brothers make a point of it - twice, lest we miss it:

- Wake up, Tommy.
- I'm awake.
- You're eyes were shut.
- Who're you gonna believe?

Tom sits up, though it seems like an effort. He looks sick.


- It's funny. . . I've never even seen you sleep - though you told me once about a dream you had.

Tom is periodically subject to severe beatings (again, that point is driven home by the Dane's remark: That's brave, coming from Little Miss Punching Bag), but suffers practically no ill effects (driven home by Tic-Tac and Frankie who do - only after one beating).

In that world there are no blacks. Sure, sure Coen brothers' worlds are predominantly white, but there is always room for blacks in them. Notice, however, that they are mainly used for contrast (not sure if the pun is intended): In Blood Simple the only decent and well-balanced character is black; in Raising Arizona the blacks are bordering-on-imbicilic inmates at the bottom of the food chain with no prospects of breaking out; and in white-dominated cut-throat business world of Hudsucker Proxy the only black character is God for all intents and purposes. There is always a point to the brothers casting a black character. And in Miller's Crossing there is no such point.

Finally, and rather importantly, in that world homosexuality is not real. Three out of the six main male characters in the movie are queer. That's an awful lot for a flick that is not about gays. However, those characters do not behave in any openly gay manner, they are not ridiculed, or made fun of, or called names by the straight characters even behind their backs - while the ethnicity is subject to such ridicule: "potato eater", "eye-tie", "sheeny". So really homosexuality here is a stand-in for something else, and those who make a big deal out of it in quasi-psychological publications are far off the mark.

To summarize very briefly, stylizing allows the brothers to concentrate on the important things without being hamstrung by having to conform to reality.

Well then, I intended just to swirl and to sniff, but ended up taking a rather large sip. I have a feeling this is going to end up in a headache.

<to be continued>

More sources:

- Nolan, William: Miller's Crossing's Tom Reagan: "Straight as a corkscrew, Mr. inside-outsky".
Yours truly is not an avid movie fan. He now has a solid proof of that: a favorite movie. The one he considers the best movie he ever watched. The one he's ready to watch over and over and over and over again. As the matter of fact, he likes that movie so much he is listening to its soundtrack while writing this. An avid movie fan can't have one favorite movie for obvious reasons - it's like having a favorite book, a favorite musical composition, a favorite tomato, or a favorite wife. You get the gist - if you have a clear favorite, you probably haven't experienced that many. I concede the point so we may move on.

The problem with Miller's Crossing is that you can't possibly grok it in one screening. You may get the feeling of it, but you certainly won't get the intricacies of the plot, let alone the precision of the dialog, any understanding of the characters that is more than hypodermis deep, or the allegories. The movie is so complex, so precise, so multi-layered and multi-dimensional that grasping it, catching the significant bits of the dialog, peeling it layer by layer, and following its various dimensions can't possibly be done based on one screening and only five minutes of thought. I don't care if you are Roger Ebert, you'll end up looking silly if you do that (not to mention some other clowns).

Of all the various film's dimensions - its style, the cinematography, the acting, the audio effects (like ice clinking or tree groaning), its black humor, its continuous parody of the gangster/noir movie genre, the music, etc., etc. - I will mainly concentrate on one: it's serious idealistic aspect. After all, I love Miller's Crossing because it speaks to me on the existential, human level: "I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character. I'm talkin' about - hell, Leo, I ain't embarrassed to use the word - I'm talkin' about ethics." And, of course, I am talking about love - "course, there's always that wild card when love is involved".

<to be continued>

Some sources used so far:

- Miller's Crossing, An Original Screenplay By Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
- Miller's Crossing, a review by Matt Murray.
- Miller's Crossing (1990), a review by Jim Emerson.
- Todd Alcott's blog.
About a week ago I decided to do a Coen brothers marathon. I wanted to write about my impressions in the order of viewing - which would also be the chronological order of the flicks. However, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona while being good movies did not impress me that much. Miller's Crossing, on the other hand, left me absolutely mesmerized. I can't stop thinking about that film, and will probably watch it another 2-3 times before I venture to write about it. In the meanwhile, here's some ligth music:



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