The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers
Cathleen Falsani, Zondervan
American religion writer Cathleen Falsani thinks there are overarching spiritual messages to uncover in the quirky, enigmatic films of Joel and Ethan Coen.
There is a moral order to the worlds the Coens create, she says. “Whether the story is a farcical crime caper or an American gothic tale of betrayal, there always are consequences to the characters’ actions.”
In The Dude Abides she examines each of their films, from Blood Simple to A Serious Man, providing a synopsis — a brief glimpse of the film within a literary and philosophical context — and the moral to the story.
The films she describes are cautionary tales of actions and consequences, of needing to face reality, of grace and, frequently, the message that revenge is not the way.
She says, “It would be dishonest to try to wrestle the Coen brothers’ films into a God-shaped box — or wood chipper for that matter … I do, however, take seriously their invitation to wrestle with important spiritual and moral questions.”
So Falsani is able to see in one character “Christ transforming culture” and in another Niebuhr’s “Christ against culture”.
The Man Who Wasn’t There portrays existential angst and asks, what is truth?
No Country for Old Men is about theodicy.
Coens’ masterpiece, Fargo, is “perhaps the finest example of a Judeo-Christian morality play in all of American cinema”.
Referring to Ethan Coen’s suite of mini-plays, Almost an Evening, Falsani thinks what he seems to be saying is that “often what we believe about God is more a projection of our own needs or desires than what and who God might actually be.
Be aware of the lens through which you view the Almighty, the playwright chides: before you invoke a divine imprimatur, make sure it’s divine and not comically (or tragically) human.”
We might wonder if perhaps what Falsani believes about the Coens is more a projection of her own needs. But her book is fun and should pique your interest .
The Coens’ “gospel” is complicated and does not show the way. But Falsani leaves us with 14 Coenmandments and the advice that life isn’t about finding all the answers; it’s about the journey. “So go forth in kindness, with an open mind, a pure heart, and a watchful eye for occasional divine intervention — particularly when you least expect or deserve it.”