The Coen Brothers

Spring Semester 2010

Special Topics in Film Studies: ENGL 4860-02

W 6:00-9:00 (Peck Hall 308)

Ethan and Joel Coen

A comprehensive examination of the films of the Coen Brothers

Dr. David Lavery | Course Requirements | Course Policies and Procedures | Texts | The Movies | Movie Chapter Titles (in PDF | Coen Brothers Timeline | Coen Brothers Box Office | Agenda | Coen Brothers Motifs | Coen Brothers Wiki | David Lavery's Coen Brothers Blog | Post Script Special Issue on the Coen Brothers | Senses of Cinema Coen Brothers Essay (Great Directors) |  Eco, "Casablanca and the Cult Film" | You Know, for Kids Coen Brothers Website | Richard Jameson on Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink | Postmodernism PowerPoint | Cormac McCarthy Website

Dr. David Lavery

Office: PH 372 | Office Hours:  8:00-1100, TR; other times by arrangement (including before or after class) | E-mail: | Office Phone/Voice-Mail: 615-898-5648 | Home Page:


Dr. David Lavery is Professor of English at MTSU (1993- ). The author of over one hundred published essays, chapters, and reviews, he is author / co-author / editor / co-editor of nineteen books, including Joss: A Creative Portrait of the Maker of the Whedonverses and The Essential Cult Television Reader. The organizer of international conferences on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Sopranos, a founding co-editor of the journals Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies and Critical Studies in Television, he has lectured around the world on the subject of television (Australia, Turkey, the UK, Portugal, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany) and has been a guest/source for the BBC, NPR, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The New York Times, A Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil), Publica (Portugal), The Toronto Star, USA Today. From 2006-2008, he taught at Brunel University in London.


Critical Essay: A critical essay of not less than 1500 words on the films of the Coen Brothers. Each essay must have a title that gives a general idea of what the essay will be about. Cinematography in Blood Simple or Violence in the Films of the Coen Brothers--good titles. O Brother Where Art Thou? (as title of your essay itself)--bad title. Think of your audience as your classmates but presume that the reader has seen the film(s) in question. Don't even think about writing on a film you have not seen at least twice. Take notes as you watch. Do not (NOT) write a plot summary. Presume that the reader knows the basic plot of the movie you are writing about. Do not write a review. Your purpose in these essays is to make sense of the movie(s) you are writing on, not to critique it. Since you are writing about a film your reader has already seen, your purpose is, as an "expert" on the film (or at least one who has paid careful attention to it), to enhance its meaning for your reader by analyzing/interpreting some aspect of it. Here is a partial list of some of the topics you might write on for the film you have chosen as your subject: characterization, plot, setting, mise-en-scene, photography, music, structure, narration, editing, color, acting, direction, special effects, use of sound, set design, art direction, the screenplay. Like any good essay you will need to have a thesis: a commitment / contract (usually at the end of the introduction, usually expressed in a sentence or two) in which you inform your reader what you will accomplish in the essay about to be read. The events in the film itself should be talked about in present tense, as if they are still going on.  Thus "In The Man Who Wasn't There, Ed Crane is a barber who longs to become a dry cleaner" not "In The Man Who Wasn't There, Ed Crane was a barber who longed to become a dry cleaner."  Proofread/edit carefully. Peter Elbow once said that submitting an essay to a teacher full of errors is the equivalent of throwing dirty socks in your mother's face and commanding "Wash these!" If you make me wash your socks, I will not be happy and will respond appropriately. The title of a movie should be in italics or underlined: Raising Arizona or Raising Arizona not "Raising Arizona." | 30%

Coen Brothers Wikipedia Entries: Four fully-researched entries (one from each category) on assigned topics from the master list you will find here for a planned Coen Brothers Wikipedia. Go here to see a sample entry | 50%

Final Exam An in-class cognitive-memory test, consisting of a variety of matching, identification, short answer questions (on authors, works, literary terms).  It will be a piece of cake for anyone who has been present and attentive in class throughout the semester. | 20%


Class format: We will follow a lecture / discussion format during most class meetings. Manuscript form: All written assignments must be word-processed and must be submitted in digital form, as a Microsoft Word or Rich Text attachment, as an e-mail sent to Please name the file with your own last name (for example: lavery.doc). Please be sure to carefully edit and proofread your own work. Do not simply rely on your computer's spell checker. (Go here to read a poem that demonstrates the untrustworthiness of spell checkers.) A list of "Things to be Aware of" as you write your essays can be found here. Reading assignments: You are responsible for having read the entirety of each assignment, including the editor's introduction to each work/author we are studying. Participation & involvement: Please come prepared for each day’s class. I encourage you to become an active participant in class discussion and to ask constructive and meaningful questions at all times--even when I appear to be "lecturing." Please do not save your best questions / comments for after class, as students so often do. Attendance: Regular attendance is essential to the ongoing progress of the course. One absence will be permitted. A second absence may result in the loss of a letter grade. A third absence may result in failure of the course. Inclement Weather Policy: Go here. Plagiarism / Cheating: The unacknowledged use of the words / ideas / insights / original research of another is, of course, prohibited. Do not assume that, like prominent historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose, you may plagiarize without fear of punishment. Should I catch you plagiarizing, or cheating in any way, you will receive a grade of "0" on the assignment in question, the violation may be reported to University authorities, and you may fail the course, as several students in past semesters have done. Students with Disabilities: Any student with a disability will be given all the rights and privileges guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act if he/she is registered with Disabled Student Services (call/contact John Harris, KUC 120/2783). University Writing Center: The University Writing Center, sponsored by the English Department and staffed by full-time and adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants, is located in PH 326. At the UWC you can get constructive help with a variety of writing problems, from pre-writing to organization to grammatical errors. (Please be aware, however, that the UWC does not do proofreading.) Grading Scale: 90-99%=A | 80-89%=B | 70-79%=C | 60-69%=D | 0-59%=F


R. Barton Palmer, Joel and Ethan Coen (Illinois U P)

Eddie Robson, The Coen Brothers (Virgin Film)


The link on each title is to its IMDB page.

Blood Simple (1984) | Wikipedia

Raising Arizona (1987) | Wikipedia

Miller's Crossing (1990) | Wikipedia

Barton Fink (1991) | Wikipedia

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) | Wikipedia

Fargo (1996) | Wikipedia

The Big Lebowski (1998) | Wikipedia

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) | Wikipedia

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) | Wikipedia

Intolerable Cruelty (2003) | Wikipedia

The Ladykillers (2004) | Wikipedia

No Country for Old Men (2007) | Wikipedia

Burn After Reading (2008) | Wikipedia

A Serious Man (2009) | Wikipedia




The link on the title of each film takes you to its PowerPoint.

Wk | Date | Subject/Screening {Running Time] | Reading | Course Requirements

1 | 1/20/10 | Introduction to the Course Blood Simple {1 hr. 34 min.} | Palmer Introduction, Chapter 1, 2, Robson pp. 9-39 | Coen Brothers Power Point
2 | 1/27/10 | Raising Arizona {1 hr. 34 min.} | Palmer Chapter 5, Robson pp. 49-73 
3 | 2/3/10 Miller's Crossing  {1 hr. 55 min.} | Robson pp. 74-99
4 | 2/10/10 | Barton Fink {1 hr. 56 min.} | Palmer Chapter 5, Robson pp. 100-29
5 | 2/17/10 | The Hudsucker Proxy {1 hr. 51 min.}| Palmer Chapter 6, Robson pp. 129-59
6 | 2/24/10 | Fargo {1 hr. 38 min.} | Palmer Chapter 4, Robson pp. 160-87
7 | 3/3/10 | The Big Lebowski {1 hr. 57 min.} | Robson pp. 188-215 | First CBW Entry Due

Spring Break (3/8-3/14/2010)

8 | 3/17/10 | O Brother Where Art Thou? {1 hr. 46 min.}| Palmer Chapter 6, Robson pp. 224-249 | Second CBW Entry Due
9 | 3/24/10 | The Man Who Wasn't There {1 hr. 46 min.}| Palmer Chapter 3, Robson pp. 250-276
10 | 3/31/10 | Intolerable Cruelty {1 hr. 40 min.} Robson pp. 277-82
11 | 4/7/10 | The Ladykillers {1 hr. 44 min.}| Robson pp. 277-82 | Third CBW Entry Due
12 | 4/14/10 | No Country for Old Men {2 hrs. 2 min.}| TBA
13 | 4/21/10 | Burn After Reading {1 hr. 36 min.}| TBA | Critical Essay Due (Drop Dead Date)
14 | 4/28/10 | A Serious Man {1 hr. 45 min.}| TBA
15 | 4/30-5/6/10 | Final Exams | Fourth CBW Entry Due; in class Final Exam