Tuesday, October 01, 2013
The Coen Brothers' 2001 masterpiece, The Man Who Wasn't There, is a critique of the emptiness of modern life. It follows a barber (Billy Bob Thornton) who is barely connected to the events and people in his life; he doubts the basic assumptions of the 1950s society that surrounds him and finds them strange. And, while it is obvious that he, as the title character, is 'the man who wasn't there,' I would like to posit an alternative suspect – Jesus is the man who wasn't there.
Whereas others around him "just talk" the barber seeks answers to life's deepest questions – in hair. He wonders where it comes from, "it just keeps growing," he observes laconically. When he may be dying in a car accident, his possible last thoughts are about "the hair" (as he objectively calls it). After death, he wonders, "What keeps it growing?" Herein, we have a deep thought about the afterlife, the soul. He is blindly striving towards religion.
Being a noir film, the barber blackmails someone, kills him when the blackmailee attacks him, and is sent to death row. From there he tells us death takes you out of the maze, you see life whole, there is peace. As death approaches, he takes a higher perspective, looks up and sees that quintessential symbol of the 1950s, a UFO, in the sky, right where God should be; this marvel of the scientific age takes his confession. This is one of the obvious moments that hints that, in this film, the man who isn't there is Christ.
The Coens' black-and-white noir portrays the emptiness of "modern man" (as the barber gets called during his defense trial). Thus, the film implies that modern man should have a larger meaning and moral compass. Please follow me as I diagnose, and propose a cure for, the emptiness in modern Western society; it is a matter of life and death!