In his 1998 book The Big Lebowski: The Making Of A Coen Brothers Film, William Preston Robertson identified a few important motifs in the films of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, including “howling fat men,” “blustery titans,” “peculiar haircuts,” and “lost hats.” But there may be at least one major theme Robertson missed: the color green. The Coens seemingly can’t get enough of that particular hue. There’s plenty of green in Lebowski itself, for instance, including Donny’s bowling shirt, Bunny’s bikini, and the nail polish on that telltale severed toe. Fortunately, filmmaker Jacob T. Swinney has devoted an entire, brilliant video essay to the topic. “The Coen Brothers: Green” highlights the many different ways the siblings have employed the color green in their films over the years, ranging from a ratty-looking bathmat in 1984’s Blood Simple to a shimmery swimsuit worn by Scarlett Johansson in 2016’s Hail, Caesar!
Swinney’s signature technique here is to isolate the Coens’ uses of green by turning everything else on screen to black and white. A monochromatic Michael Stuhlbarg, for instance, is shown sitting uneasily on a bright green couch in A Serious Man. Since The Man Who Wasn’t There is already in black and white, it is not represented here. And the limited color schemes of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and True Grit didn’t allow for any bold greens either. But all the other Coen creations are accounted for. Swinney stops short of drawing any definite conclusions, such as saying that the color green “represents” any one particular idea in the Coen canon. But in the description accompanying the video, he makes these observations:
You may not have noticed, but the Coen Brothers use the color green a lot. This pattern most likely goes unnoticed because, unlike an in-your-face color, such as red, green is much more subdued and doesn’t alarm our eyes. Green is natural and a part of everyday life, but the Coens make use of the color in places other than nature. In fact, they seem to utilize the color during key moments of their films.
There’s no explanatory narration here, nor any onscreen text. On the soundtrack, most appropriately, is “Green, Green Rocky Road,” as performed by Oscar Isaac from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. Fans now have a new motif to watch for the next time they revisit some Coen classics.
[via Laughing Squid]