by Eric Wilkinson
In the late 1970s, a revised interest in the genre of "noir" or "black film" became the launchpad for a stunningly realistic revolution of modern film making. 'Noir', as it is defined, carries the connotation that the films environment would naturally reflect the shadows of the human spirit through forms of characters, locations, dialogue and art direction. Any genre that has become a renewed reenvisioning becomes known as "neo", which for the noir genre could be considered any time after 1975. Neo-Noir is very familiar to most film students as the method of film making most associated with directors like Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and Quentin Tarantino. For a neo-noir film to exist, it must utilize the elements that have made the noir genre so devilishly controversial, while modernizing its camera techniques with methods not allowed or discovered during the genres initial run time. For example, in a classic noir film, the use of heavy shadowing was used to conceal the violent acts of some of the films characters, implying more than what would actually be seen on screen. In neo-noir, the use of shadows must highten or illuminate the violence, now concealed within the screen and still carry the scene to the same emotional and physical shock as the originals would.
The Coen Brothers have been great pioneers of the 'genre' film, neo-noir seeming standing out as their most favored. In the film Fargo (1995), they created a world of seedy and deceptive crimes within a culture most considered rather civilized, the midwestern state of Minnesota. Through the gaze of pregnant police chief, played to lasting cult appeal by Best Actress winner Frances McDormand, we see the unveiling of a crime that runs deeply and uncomfortably under our skin. A man makes a deal with two sociopaths to kidnap his wife, in order to partake in the ransom money that would allow him to greatly improve his lifestyle.
This is the perfect landscape for neo noir to exist within, with plagues of moral 'grays' and distinctive 'blacks' to continually remind us of the darkest parts of ourselves. We understand, and to a degree sympathize with, the risks that these characters take but in every choice that Lundegaard (William H. Macy) takes, you can almost feel how tight the bonds become. It is a very realistic display of pain, despair, and moral ambiguity that only helps to increase the films dramatic scheme and one that genre displays without hindrance It is in the conclusion of the films dark and twisting labyrinth that a rather profoundly evil revelation finally turns the once optimistic midwestern policewoman into a cynical, disgusted, and world weary police chief.
This type of transition is a key element to noir's ability to effect the status quo. In perhaps a foreshadowing of latter works, this specific moment would serve as the foundation for even more harrowing events in the Coen's 2007 neo-noir masterpiece No Country for Old Men (Best Picture winner 2007).
In Fargo the standards for modern neo noir were founded and in this project I have attempted to focus in on just a few images that encapsulate such an achievement. The progressive nature of these images helps to highlight the vastness of the genre's focus on imagery with the medium of video game graphics from the 1990s. The grisly nature of the characters interactions are composed into a few short statements, to allow space for their characters arcs to be highlighted. One wishes for money, only to become confused by the details. Another seeks to end the risk by placing new rules into the game. And the final piece focuses on the how this all sounds to one of sound mind and moral conscious.
If Fargo had existed sometime in the 1930s, when noir was at the peak of its popularity, we would have seen a quite different film than we have today. With so many limitations in place at the time, directors worked incredibly hard to creatively move around censorship to make powerful moments still seem real based on what was not seen just as much as what was. In today's filmscape it seems to take a much grander promise of thematics to engage the audience and in very much the same way, utilizing 16-bit graphics of the 1990s brings out the uniqueness of this films ability to contrast against its own personal time period while still somehow paying tribute to it.