For Pete's sake, 'Fargo' is overrated

Sure, "Fargo" was showered with awards and glowing reviews, but not many of those voters or critics were from Minnesota. In fact, most of them had probably never been to Fargo, N.D., or Brainerd.

We are part of The Trust Project.

Sure, "Fargo" was showered with awards and glowing reviews, but not many of those voters or critics were from Minnesota. In fact, most of them had probably never been to Fargo, N.D., or Brainerd.
The Dispatch didn't review the film, but the paper's disgust for "Fargo" was as pure as the bright white landscape that bookends the movie. An April 22, 1996, editorial basically argued that all copies of this stereotype-reinforcing, overly violent piece of junk should be destroyed, ending with the kiss-off, "Anybody got a match?"
If "Fargo" is the Great Brainerd Movie, it's only because of a lack of challengers to that throne. Its closest competitor is the 2005 docu-comedy "The Hole Story," about the black hole on North Long Lake a few winters ago, but that film doesn't yet have a distribution deal so almost no one has seen it (you can view the trailer at ). Still, I'd give the nod to "The Hole Story" sight unseen because at least it was filmed in Brainerd.
Roger Ebert called "Fargo" "completely original." Well, sure it is, but that's only because it's not remotely based on the real cities of Fargo or Brainerd. The movie's "rural Brainerd" is actually farmland along Highway 1 near Bathgate in northeastern North Dakota, not the tree-lined corridors that lead into our city. The film's Fargo is a one-shack outpost in the middle of nowhere, not a city of 90,000 people with a major university.
The movie doesn't even bother with an establishing shot of Brainerd; that's lazy filmmaking. We just see barren roads, the police station, Marge's house, the Blue Ox truck stop and the Lakeside Bar, none of which are actual Brainerd locations. The Coen brothers didn't even bother to shoot the real Paul Bunyan statue, instead designing an out-of-character, mean-looking version to greet visitors.
Aside from the opening scene at the fictional King of Clubs, the film doesn't even take place in Fargo. But at least the misleading title is one punch to the gut aimed at Fargo instead of Brainerd. Former Fargoan and Washington Post writer James Lileks, who is not a fan of the film, gave his theory on the title: "To the real world, Fargo is a spatter of brick and wood on the edge of the world, a tight grim cyst of humanity where no one is tanned but everyone is freezer-burned, where Jell-O is a fruit and Heinz 57 is Tabasco. 'Brainerd' means nothing to anyone."
And since it was filmed in the nothingness of North Dakota, "nothing" was certainly the impression given off by the Coen brothers' Brainerd. The filmmakers missed an opportunity to capture the true character of wintertime in the Brainerd lakes area - snowmobiling and ice fishing - without sacrificing small-town Minnesota quirkiness.
Three of my favorite films are "Sideways," a road trip through California wine country; "Garden State," about a young man's return home to New Jersey; and "Lost in Translation," about a lonely American's visit to exotic Tokyo. All were filmed on location, and it's a big part of what makes those films great. I feel like I've been to those places, even though I haven't. I first watched "Fargo" before I had ever set foot in Brainerd - I grew up in Fargo and watched the film out of a sense of cultural duty - but even then, I didn't feel like the movie gave me a sense of any Brainerd, real or made up.
What's more, the geographical movement through the plot seems to exist purely for the sake of funny, quotable lines.
Jean Lundegaard asks her husband, "How was Far-goooohhhhh?"
Carl suggests to his cohort, "Let's stop outside Brainerd. I know a place there where we can get ..." Well, let's just say "pancakes."
And later, Jerry Lundegaard and Marge Gunderson have an awkward exchange about Babe the Blue Ox.
Sheer filmic contrivance is the only way to explain why Lundegaard meets the kidnappers in Fargo, even though they clearly aren't natives of Fargo. Granted, the kidnappers aren't overly bright, but why would they drive through Brainerd on their way to the Twin Cities when going through St. Cloud would shave off a solid hour? Because the Coens thought Brainerd would be a better landscape to drench in blood, no doubt.
And that's just one of many geographic inaccuracies. The Blue Ox, really a downtown bar, becomes "that truckers' joint out on I-35." Marge tours around Moose Lake on her way back from the Cities; there's no Moose Lake in the Brainerd lakes area. Norm Gunderson says he plans to go ice fishing "up at Mille Lacs" rather than "over at Mille Lacs."
Of course, all those geographic lies in "Fargo" are just part of the larger, introductory lie: That it's all based on true events that "took place in Minnesota in 1987." (The series of events portrayed in the film didn't take place anywhere at any time.) That's not clever, it's just stupid, as was co-writer Ethan Coen's coyness in a phone interview with the Dispatch shortly after the film's release. He brushed off the question about what's true about the movie with: "Most people don't care."
To tell the truth, I don't really care for "Fargo."
JOHN HANSEN, entertainment editor, can be reached at or 855-5863.

What to read next
The feature film follows the Hermantown and Eveleth-Gilbert boys' hockey teams through the 2019-20 season in "Minnesota's unforgiving North Country."
A newly published children’s book by Red Lake author Elizabeth Barrett and illustrator Jonathan Thunder brings the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth to colorful life for young and old.
Craig Samborski said it's almost like a religion. People have wept with joy upon seeing it for the first time. They’ve flown to the U.S. from Japan and other countries to see it in person. A young couple each had the duck tattooed on their ankles and tracked him down to take a selfie. He gets at least a dozen emails a day from fans.
The calendar lists art exhibits on display, as well as art workshops and activities.