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"One of the biggest life lessons from this fast-paced film is to have fun and lighten up as we search for peace and meaning."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above.
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
This highly enjoyable and zany outing from the inventive Coen brothers is, O brother, extremely loosely based on Homer's Odyssey. The movie, in fact, opens with a quote from that Greek epic.
Another quotation from the Odyssey is appropriate for the movie: "All men have need of the gods" -- the "gods" being spiritual realization and insight.
The Coen brothers' humorous tale centers on the misadventures of three escapees from a Depression-era chain gang: Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson).
The three are bumbling modern-day Odysseus's. Many scholars view the Odyssey, involving the wanderings of Odysseus after the Trojan War, as the story of Everyman's journey to find peace and joy.
Along the way for Everyman (and Everywoman) are plenty of temptations and obstacles -- one's individual and collective Cyclopes and sirens.
The fearless and often seemingly brainless and clueless wanderers in O Brother, Where Are Thou? meet their share of temptations (including singing Southern sirens washing clothes in a stream) and obstacles (including a Cyclops in the form of a one-eyed Bible salesman played by John Goodman) as they try to escape the law in Mississippi and find an alleged treasure.
Ultimately, the hapless three, in true Homeric form, are seeking peace and meaning in life. All have need of the spiritual.
The journey, in Homeric fashion, begins with the wise but vague pronouncements of a blind soothsayer operating a railway handcar.
The soothsayer tells the gang, "You will find a fortune," but also suggests that it may not be what they are looking for. He also instructs them to "fear not the obstacles in your path" and says they will "lead to your salvation."
The three proceed as if they only heard the words "fortune" and "fear not."
Everyman has a way of hearing what he or she wants to hear and becoming fixated on a particular goal - often involving money and love (the chief Odysseus, Everett, is also attempting to reclaim his wife Penny, played by Holly Hunter).
There are clues, however, that the three are on a path leading to their "salvation" or faith and meaning.
Answers that link life with a Higher Power flow throughout the movie with the singing of old-fashioned gospel music such as "I'll Fly Away." As the song says, "I'll fly away... like a bird from these prison walls, I'll fly away." And that's what the three are doing -- not realizing that they are flying toward a closer realization of life as a spiritual journey.
In this beautifully photographed and choreographed film, one of the most memorable scenes is a baptism in which two of the wanderers, Pete and Delmar, are baptized, and thus "redeemed" in consciousness (at least as far as their mental faculties will allow).
"The preacher said all my sins are washed away," Delmar proclaims.
Everett scoffs at the "ridiculous superstition" endorsed by his two companions, and the three continue on their quirky way to find the treasure. Pete and Delmar seem to derive some peace from the baptism, but they don't fully realize the treasure they have found.
As for Everett, it takes more than a picturesque baptism to make him a believer and bring him to some renewed peace and joy. It takes signs and wonders, and prayers, O brother.
Events in the movie suggest to us that in our wanderings we might learn how to accept each other as we are, help each other out whenever possible, and keep plugging along no matter what obstacles present themselves.
And perhaps one of the biggest life lessons from this fast-paced film is to have fun and lighten up as we search for peace and meaning.