The Man Who Wasn’t There

Continuing in a Coen mode.

Not much to say about this movie. It is simply the Coen’s most heartfelt, most straightforward, least ironic, most elegant, most gorgeous movie. Another terrific script, approaching the noir genre from the simplest, most ordinary point of view possible, finding a lyrical, poetic, absurd, tragic story about a man whose ambition is to stop cutting hair and go into dry cleaning. Billy Bob Thorton’s greatest performance in a long line of great performances, everyone’s work here is subtle, humanist and deeply felt. I have no great discoveries to announce or witty remarks to make about this one.

Now, if only the Kaminoans were in it.

Wait, maybe they ARE.

UPDATE: This movie has the most accomplished actors in the smallest parts. John Michael Higgins shows up for one scene as a doctor, Christopher McDonald shows up as a tarmacadam salesman, and most incredibly, Brooke Smith is wordless and unrecognizable as a sobbing prisoner in the women’s prison.

Man, and Scarlett Johansen is great in this too.
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16 Responses to “The Man Who Wasn’t There”
  1. toliverchap says:

    Neo Noir

    What do you think about the Neo Noir stuff? Do you like Bladerunner? I really dig that one. I guess part of the reason it looks so damn good is thanks to an actors strike the art department had 9 months to create that world. I like TMWWT quite a bit film noir is such a great collection of stylistic choices and storytelling elements. In a class I took about it the instructor made the point that it doesn’t really fall into a genre being that it is a collection of so many former styles (German Exprssionism, Italian Neorealism) and such. Do you think a noir plays as well when it is shot in color? I think China Town worked as a noir. Speaking of remakes I remember in my class while watching The Third Man I started to dream up a sci-fi rethinking of that basic storyline . . . now that would be neo-noir for sure. Probably keep the same music from the original.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Neo Noir

      Is there a Neo Noir movement? What sort of movie does that encompass?

      Sure, I like Blade Runner, who doesn’t? Anybody out there not like Blade Runner?

      I didn’t know about the actor’s strike, but I know enough about Ridley Scott to know that it looks the way it does because he’s just like that, a genius of production design, a director who came to film from the design department.

      I think noir plays fine in color, but I’ve never done a case-by-case study. I wouldn’t want to see Double Indemnity in color, but I wouldn’t want to see Pulp Fiction in black and white, either.

      I thought that the best picture of 2005 was Sin City. Blew me absolutley away, saw it three times in the theater and at least that many times since it came out on DVD.

  2. urbaniak says:

    Brooke Smith is wordless and unrecognizable as a sobbing prisoner in the women’s prison.

    After her turn as the girl in the pit in “Silence of the Lambs” Brooke Smith really cornered the market on confined, sobbing women.

  3. craigjclark says:

    After watching the movie with the commentary, I can’t see one of Thornton’s “Ed nods” without cracking up.

    And while we’re singling out great actors, has Tony Shalhoub ever been better than the scene where he’s talking about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle?

    • Todd says:

      Speaking of which, anybody out there a nuclear physicist? Because after watching the movie, I looked up Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and it made my head hurt. What did Heisenberg actually say, and how does it relate to what Tony Shaloub says in his big scene?

      • craigjclark says:

        Even if he didn’t get the man’s name right every time (it is Werner and not Fritz), he did get the central idea right: that the very process of observing a phenomenon changes it. How that relates to a criminal case is beyond me, though.

        At is specifically relates to physics, it says that you cannot know the exact location and speed of a particle at the same time. If you measure its speed, by definition you cannot pinpoint its location in space, and vice versa.

        If you’re interested in exploring this further, Wikipedia includes some fine jokes on the subject.

        • craigjclark says:

          “At is”? I hate when mistakes like that slip by me for close to 16 hours. Am I really more clear-minded now than when I first woke up yesterday morning?

        • Todd says:

          Well, the Wikipedia entry specifically says that people mistakenly use the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to say that observing something changes it. So Tony Shaloub is wrong, it doesn’t apply to his case at all.

          • jammybottoms says:

            More specifically, “Because it is the nature of things that we can either know the momentum of a particle or its position, but not both, we must choose which of these two properties we want to determine. Metaphysically, this is very close to saying that we create certain properties because we choose to measure these properties. Said another way, it is possible that we create something that has position, for example, like a particle, because we are intent on determining position and it is impossible to determine position without having some thing occupying the position that we need to determine.”
            A few pages later…
            “The new physics, quantum mechanics, tells us clearly that it is not possible to observe reality without changing it. If we observe a certain particle collision experiment, not only do we have now way of proving that the result would have been the same if we had not been watching it, all that we know indicates that it would not have been the same, because the result that we got was affected by the fact that we were looking at it.” From the Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav
            So I think the whole “changing the outcome” thing is just a spinoff of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, but not necessarily the priciple itself.

            • jammybottoms says:

              Sorry for the spelling errors above. I’m not an idiot, really.

            • sylak says:

              Here’s an example of the principle:
              Say you have a pool ball on a pool table and you’re blindfolded. The only way you have to interact with the ball is to throw the cue ball at it. When it hits it, you know where it was, but you have no idea where it is.
              This is how it is with particle physics, since the only way to measure any property of a particle is to use another particle to hit it- for position, a photon would be used to see the particle. But when you hit it with a photon, it moves. So you can never know where a particle is, but rather where it was…
              The equation my chemistry textbook gives for it is deltax * delta (mv) _> h/4pi
              Where x is the uncertainty in a particle’s position, mv is the momentum of the particle, and h/4pi is plank’s constant over 4pi, more commonly known as h-bar.