Biblical Coens: Can We Laugh Now?

  • Author(s): Richard G. Walsh
  • When: 2019-09
  • Where: Journal of Religion & Film
  • A review of Coen criticism, specifically attending to Elijah Siegler’s recent, significant collection of essays, indicates that Coen brothers’ films frame characters in harsh, amoral worlds. This aesthetic “framing” is similar not only to Camus’ analysis of the absurd, but also to the “feel” of some biblical narratives. Where Camus urges one to move beyond the absurd to absurd creation and biblical narratives press on to faith—at least, in most religious readings of them—the Coens laugh. A selective overview of the use of bibles in Coen brothers’ films demonstrates that the Coens’ biblical hermeneutic is risible. Their films frame bibles in amoral worlds, displace the Holy Bible, deploy popular bibles, twist and subvert bibles, reduce bibles to implicit backgrounds, and use bibles to laugh at characters, stories, and the human condition. In this, the Coens are also laughing at themselves. The article concludes by asking whether the Coens’ hermeneutic can help academics read biblical narratives differently and, perhaps, even learn to laugh at themselves as they read.

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