"A Wacky Road Toward Salvation"
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? is a wacky musical comedy set in Mississippi during the Great Depression, where three escaped prisoners from a chain gang find fame, fortune and perhaps even salvation. This movie’s toe-tapping Gospel music, positive Christian content and positive Christian ending are undercut by plenty of foul language and some shocking, but brief, violent images.
Some strong foul language and gratuitous objectionable content spoils O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, a comic Christian fable from the Coen brothers, who also did RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. George Clooney stars in this toe-tapping musical comedy, which uses old-fashioned country bluegrass music and country Gospel tunes to punctuate what is, ultimately, a story about salvation. The movie is lightly based on Homer’s epic poem from Ancient Greece, THE ODYSSEY, about the long journey home for the mythic Ulysses, a veteran of the Trojan War.
Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, a humanistic, talkative know-it-all who escapes from a chain gang in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Chained to him are two dumb white men, Pete Hogwallop and Delmar O’Donnell. Though not the brightest ornament on the tree, Delmar shows occasional flashes of wisdom and gentleness. Everett tells Pete and Delmar that he has buried $1.2 million from an armored car heist in his hometown. The three men have four days to get there to retrieve the cash because that’s when the federal government’s Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is going to finish a dam that will bury the money under tons of water.
On the way there, the men meet a blind black man on a railroad handcar. This man turns out to be some kind of oracle, whom the movie later implies is a messenger from God. He tells them that they seek a great fortune, but will instead find themselves making a different kind of fortune. It will be a “long and difficult road,” he says, that will lead to salvation. Not only that, but, along the way, they will see a cow standing on a roof.
The oracle’s prediction rings true as the men find themselves facing many obstacles in their journey, not the least of which is the satanic prison guard and the bloodhound hot on their trail. They turn to Pete’s cousin, who turns them in to the authorities, but they barely escape with their lives. In one scene, the men hear some beautiful singing in the woods and turn to find hundreds of Christian people dressed in white, walking down to a stream to get baptized. The atmosphere is so compelling that Delmar runs down to the preacher in the water and immediately gets baptized. Delmar rushes halfway to the others and tells them about his salvation from sin, shouting words like, “Heaven’s my reward! Neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now!” His words are so inspiring that Pete also rushes down to be baptized. Clooney’s character, Everett, however, is skeptical of such “superstition” and refuses.
Despite their newfound salvation, Pete and Delmar slide back into sin, though Delmar has an easier time of it than Pete. By the end of the movie, however, they must cry out to God for mercy, help and forgiveness when they get into various crapes with the satanic guard chasing them down. The men also find themselves embroiled in the election for governor. A “reform” candidate is challenging the corrupt incumbent, played by Charles Durning. Both candidates bring along Gospel singing groups to appeal to the voters. In fact, the governor runs a country music hour on radio featuring Gospel music. In one part of the movie, Everett, Pete and Delmar run into a black guitar player, and the four men earn some money by cutting a toe-tapping Gospel record at a small local radio station. Everett calls their group “The Soggy Bottom Boys,” and the record later becomes a hit, a fact which the boys don’t find out until later.
Eventually, Everett, Pete and Delmar arrive in Everett’s hometown, where the real reason for Everett breaking out of jail is revealed. Further adventures await the boys, however, in a rousing finish that includes even more toe-tapping music. One of the adventures involves a scrape with a couple hundred Ku Klux Klan members marching in elaborate patterns during a lynching party. The boys rise to the challenge to heroically disrupt the rally, but, in the movie’s climax, even Everett must call on God to be saved. A final gospel song is then sung, about flying away with angels on white wings. The oracle in the beginning of the movie turns up to help sing this spirited song.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? has the usual Coen brothers flair for wacky humor and bizarre characters. It’s hard to know at times, therefore, where exactly the movie’s Christian references are heading. In fact, two minor villains in the story use religion for evil ends. Both are clearly rebuked, however, in the final part of the movie. In the climax, the three protagonists call on God for help, and only a miracle saves them.
Regrettably, however, this movie’s positive Christian content and positive Christian ending are undercut by more than 45 mostly mild obscenities and 15 strong profanities. There are also three shockingly violent images. The images are shocking rather than bloody. In one, for instance, a speeding police vehicle slams into a cow. Also, as noted above, the tone of the movie flirts with being irreverent and sacrilegious. In the end, however, the three protagonists are able to leave behind their life of crime, and the movie seems to affirm that God can indeed work miracles if you call upon him. The movie also asserts that the spiritual joys of being a Christian and singing a Gospel song can uplift one’s spirit.
Concerning the production quality of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, the movie is generally well-made and well-acted, and often very funny, but some or even many viewers may find the wacky humor and the bizarre, over-the-top characterizations not to their taste. Also, although parts of the movie are predictable, other parts are not. Finally, while Christian viewers may find themselves rooting that the three protagonists all find salvation, other viewers will be attracted by the movie’s non-Christian elements. Anyone who likes old-time country and Gospel music with a bluegrass flavor, however, may want to get the soundtrack.
(CC, Ab, H, O, LLL, VVV, S, A, D, MM) Christian, redemptive worldview with baptism scene, light salvation scenes, God answers cries to Him for mercy, help & forgiveness in the movie’s climax & elsewhere, & strong Gospel-oriented folksy music, marred by a borderline irreverent tone, some immoral behavior & backsliding, including man with humanist, disbelieving attitude in a couple scenes (including the movie’s climax), but man is rebuked by others for his humanist attitude, plus three women appear to have magical powers in one scene (movie is lightly based on Homer’s ODYSSEY wherein ship sales near female creatures whose singing lures ships onto rocks); 48 mostly mild obscenities (mostly “h” & “d” words), 15 strong profanities (mostly “GD” words) & 4 mild profanities; strong violence in a couple scenes, such as “Babyface” Nelson shoots cow with machine gun (but no blood shown), speeding car hits cow & large man uses big tree branch to club two men, plus some general gunfire & legal authorities set fire to barn to smoke out escaped prisoners; women in skimpy outfits seduce men with song which puts them to sleep but no fornication apparently takes place; no nudity but women in skimpy outfits; alcohol use; smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality done mostly for comic effect such as escapes from chain gang prison farm, stealing, bank robbery, car theft, betrayal, baptized men slide back into criminal behavior but apparently go clean at the end & find fame & fortune, KKK lynching rally shown but then disrupted by heroes, political corruption, satanic villain, man says he sold his soul to the Devil, & a couple minor villains use religion for evil ends but they are clearly rebuked & defeated.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? is a wacky musical comedy set in Mississippi during the Great Depression, where escaped prisoners from a chain gang find fame, fortune and perhaps salvation. Starring George Clooney as the talkative, know-it-all leader of the prisoners, this movie is loosely based on Homer’s poem, THE ODYSSEY. During a series of bizarre situations and strange encounters, two of the prisoners seem to find Christ, but Clooney’s character remains dubious. Even so, the movie ends with a miracle from God after pleas to Him for help, mercy and forgiveness, followed by a spiritually uplifting Gospel song.
Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmakers behind FARGO, made this movie. Some viewers may not find their flair for wacky humor and bizarre characters to their liking, but the movie is well-made and well-acted. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? also includes plenty of foul language and some shocking, but brief, violent images, such as a speeding vehicle ramming a cow. On the positive side, however, the movie happily affirms that God can indeed work miracles if you call upon Him and that the spiritual joys of being a Christian and singing a Gospel song uplift one’s spirit