Study Guide

Fargo Setting

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Minnesota, 1987

And Best Actor Goes to… The State of Minnesota

It's a teensy bit of a cliché to say, "[Name of place] was like a character in this movie." That being said, Minnesota is definitely like a character in this movie.

Of course, it's all a little exaggerated. The accents aren't really quite so heavy in real life… but most observers seem to agree that it's not inaccurate. The movie gives a pretty good depiction of "Midwestern nice," the polite way that Marge, the airport parking lot attendant, Reiley Diefenbach, and others have of dealing with people.

Many of the characters are pleasant, yet very reserved. They're not overflowing with emotion or conversation. Carl is kind of the exception, being explosively irritable and extremely talkative, but he doesn't have the accent. It's unclear if he's even a Minnesota native—we're guessing not, because doesn't have the strikingly Scandinavian surname.

Despite the title, most of the film's action doesn't really take place in Fargo, North Dakota, a town on the Minnesota border. It's mostly centered around Minneapolis and Brainerd (known as the home of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox), though there's a foray into Fargo, where the kidnapping deal is arranged. The movie was actually filmed primarily around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Ain't That Kinda Place

In reality, Minnesota is the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" with plenty of forests. But judging by the movie, you'd get the impression that its just one vast, bleak, frozen plain, covered with a few feet of snow.

Evidently, the Coens wanted the viewers to see it this way—desolation is what they were after. It gives the movie a blank canvas on which the devious actions of human beings twist around until they chart their own end. The Coens were actually raised in Minnesota, which they once described as "like Siberia but with more family-style restaurants." And a remote, desolate, Siberian atmosphere definitely permeates this film.

Additionally, the smaller settings within the film create a definite vibe. The abundant TV, junk food, and obsession with cars locate the film squarely in the 20th Century.

You get a sense of the culture of the place from the buffet where Marge and Norm eat, the José Feliciano concert where Carl takes an escort, the seedy motels, and the bar where Jerry meets Carl and Gaear at the beginning. Apparently it has a criminal underbelly, but Minnesota is really all about the small town values. As the bartender, Mr. Mohra, tells the hooker-seeking Carl: "Yah, but this ain't that kinda place."

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