I felt pretty proud of myself when I figured out Fargo. The key to the whole thing is the moment at the end of the film (so, er, yeah, spoilers ahoy) where Margie tells the sullen Scandinavian killer that she can't understand why he'd throw his life away for a little bit of money — "And it's a beautiful day," she adds, looking out into a bleak blizzard. And there you have it: the secret to happiness isn't to get rich, or live in a nice climate, or have a good-looking husband, or eat well. The secret to happiness is to be happy — to look at your bald, pudgy husband and think to yourself that you're married to the best man in the world, to look out the window at a blizzard and think, without irony, "Gosh, what a lovely day!"

The Man Who Wasn't There is more of the same. As in Fargo, those who are dissatisfied and try to do something about it — Ed Crane, unhappy with his job, trying to get the money to invest in a dry cleaning concern; Big Dave, unhappy in his marriage, having an affair with Doris; Doris, hungry for a promotion, going along with a scheme to cook the books at her accounting job; Ed again, still not satisfied with his lot in life, trying to attach himself to someone he's cathected onto as a symbol of Innocence and Purity — always fail and fail spectacularly. And in this one no one's happy, except for maybe the Innocence and Purity chick (who is most emphatically not happy because of her Innocence and Purity.)

The Man Who Wasn't There also picks up a thread from the Coens' last two films, the great The Big Lebowski and the not so great O Brother, Where Art Thou?, by making yet another film that's a big shaggy-dog story that felt like it could have been over like half a dozen times before it finally ended. But what worked well in a wacky comedy like Lebowski doesn't work as well in this noir piece, since it makes the noir stuff look like nothing more than trappings. (IE, watch us take our usual point and plot and dress it up in noir! Just like last time we made a musical out of it! And next time, a Western! Yee-hah!)

That said, though, the trappings are nice. The rest of the world may be waiting to see what Middle Earth or Hogwarts Academy will look like onscreen, but I'm several billion times more interested in seeing an evocation of 1949 Santa Rosa, California. The haircuts, the Cranes' street, the shopping mall, the wedding in Modesto... this is great stuff. But not quite great enough that you can't wait for DVD.

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