Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tonight's Topic: Journeys, Quests, and Odysseys

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a brilliant movie from 2000 directed by the Coen Brothers. For once there is no debate about whether a film is based on past material, because the Coen Brothers declare on the first title card that it is based on The Odyssey.

This popular film is a terrific example of how to update a cultural myth, in this case taking the well-known story of The Odyssey and recreating it in Depression Era America as a musical. The hit soundtrack went on to sell 5 million copies, and win the Country Award's Best Album and Best Song. The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. George Clooney received the Golden Globe for his performance.

IMDb citings of Odyssey references

Quizlet Chart comparing The Odyssey to O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Comparative Mythology

The Latin translation of George Clooney's name Ulysses is Odyssseus, which means "Man in Constant Pain and Sorrow". The hit song Ulysses records is "Man of Constant Sorrow."

Ulysses discovers his wife hasn't waited for his return and is marrying another man.

Big Dan Teague is the Cyclops.

Baby Face Nelson machine guns the cows for no reason during his getaway, echoing the fools' slaughter of Sun god Helios's cattle, for which Ulysses is later punished with the threat of the electrical chair, and taunted as a "cow killer". (In the Odyssey it is the Sun god's lightning bolt.)

The Sirens homage needs no explanation:

Pete is changed into a frog mirroring Odyseus's men being changed into animals. Ulysses frets about his hair, pride in appearance being his tragic flaw.


The Hogwallop barn fire fight references Odysseus' journey from Scylla to Charybdis.

This scene mirrors Odysseus hiding as sheep from the Cyclops.

The flood scene is an amazing reference to Poseidon's many floods in The Odyssey.

The Coen Brothers would go on to do another mythological adaptation in 2009, with "A Serious Man" taking on the Book of Job. That acclaimed film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.

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