Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are American screenwriters and filmmakers. Together, they are known for unconventional films with humor, irony and violence. They were born in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb. Joel was born on November 29, 1954 and Ethan was born on September 21, 1957. Harsh weather kept the boys indoors, watching TV. The pair soon developed an interest in filmmaking. Joel studied cinema at New York University, while Ethan earned a Philosophy degree from Princeton. In 1984, the Coen brothers debuted with a full-length feature film called Blood Simple. They both wrote and edited the noir-style film. They later made Raising Arizona, a screwball comedy starring Nicolas Cage. They went on to make Miller’s Crossing in 1990. The stark gangster epic with a complex plot and grotesque humor starred John Turturro. Their next film, Barton Fink, won three awards at the Cannes film festival, including Best Actor for John Turturro. Turturro would frequently appear in later Coen brothers’ films. A flat, snow-covered Minnesota in their 1996 film Fargo served as a metaphor for the simple-minded characters caught in a murder mystery. Their cluelessness was set against the shrewd, determined police work of pregnant Marge Gunderson, played by Frances McDormand, the only positive character in the film.
Although not well received by critics, The Big Lebowski became a cult classic. In it, Jeff Bridges gave a stellar performance of the title character Lebowski who gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity. With The Man Who Wasn’t There, the Coen brothers took a more pensive approach. Filmed in black and white, it tells the story of an invisible man who feels disengaged from his own life and unable to act. In 2007, the Coens released a film version of Cormac McCarthy’s crime thriller No Country for Old Men.
The plot centers on a sheriff from Texas who struggles to deal with a sociopathic hit man. No Country for Old Men won four Academy Awards including Best Film. Their next film, Burn After Reading, is a scathing snapshot of hidden desires. These inept characters who all try to cross each other for personal gain is another ongoing theme in the Coen brothers’ films.