‘Blood’ Complicated

by Tom Swift

After I saw the first film by the Brothers Cohen at the Trylon the other night people asked what I thought. That is a decidedly simple question that I found surprisingly difficult to answer.

While watching that film, Blood Simple, I squirmed in my chair. I picked at my fingers — a clear sign that tells me I am nervous. There is something about expecting the unexpected that puts you on the proverbial edge of your seat. No doubt my experience was in that way different than theater-goers watching the same movie in 1984. They didn’t yet know what it was like to see Fargo. They didn’t know a gun could go off at any time — that a guy might at some point get stabbed through the back of his hand from an open window we didn’t even know was there.

I am generally not drawn to gory movies. I am more of a character study guy — more of a romantic (even if the romance is inspired by a horse or a city or baseball). I seldom think to myself: “I am in the perfect mood for No Country for Old Men” or “I am simply too happy — let’s watch Miller’s Crossing.”

Yet there is no doubt the Cohen Brothers have a sensibility that is wholly unique. My theory is you can’t be exposed to high-level artistry without being affected. You may not like it but anyway liking things is a bit over-rated. Blood Simple isn’t an all-time great film — I know of no critic who says so — but clearly it was created by artists who know how to stir your insides. Why we consume art to begin with.

And, well, I was stirred. For the movie’s aftertaste lingers these days later. I might say I am enjoying — profiting from — the experience more on Tuesday afternoon than I did on Sunday night. What comes back: Heavy rain on a windshield. Dust on the road. M. Emmet Walsh’s laugh, as though he heard something funnier than you said. Frances McDormand’s skin. A furry dog hopping into an open window. Black dirt. Boots on hardwood. Dreary humans struggling within a paradigm that leaves them in near total confusion in the middle of a starless night.

The Cohens have a gift not only for putting quirky dark characters on the screen but for creating atmosphere; they bring you into the world inhabited by those characters. Once arrived you do not leave upon exiting the theater.

I suppose that is the desired effect: to make you just uncomfortable enough that you don’t want to — or cannot — quickly know what it is you think of what you just saw.