This snowy, barren, endless landscape that opens and permeates the film is the image of Minnesota the Coens want to leave us with. Having grown up there, they know it well. As we mentioned in our "Symbols" section, they describe it as like Siberia, but with more family restaurants. The locals are smart—they're bundled up against the cold in oversized parkas and fur hoods. Carl and Gaear don't have that protection. They're outsiders and don't know the weather or aren't smart enough to deal with it. The desolate white landscapes give the film an eerie feeling. No wonder Marge and Norm like to cozy up under the covers.
GAEAR: We stop at Pancakes House.
CARL: What are ya nuts? We had pancakes for breakfast. I want to go somewhere I can get a shot and a beer, and a steak, maybe. No more f***in' pancakes, c'mon man. C'mon man! Okay here's an idea. We'll stop outside of Brainerd. I know a place there we can get laid. What do ya think?"
When you're in the North Country, eating pancakes is a classic move—just like Paul Bunyan did. This hulking sociopath having a hankering for pancakes is one of the absurdist elements that the Coens throw in.
MARGE: Yah. Yah. Home of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
This is Brainerd's claim to fame, hosting a famous American tall tale. It's a small place, but this helps give it some kind of folkloric distinction. We also see evidence of the North Country in Marge's "yah." You'll hear tons of them.
JERRY: You goin' to the Gophers on Sunday?
SALESMAN: Oh, you betcha.
JERRY: You wouldn't happen to have an extra ticket?
SALESMAN: You kiddin'!?
Before the Minnesota Wild NHL team came to Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota's hockey team (the Golden Gophers) formed the center of the hockey-loving culture in the North Country. They're still extremely popular. You betcha everyone goes. Jerry knows that Gopher tickets would be something anyone in town would want.
MARGE: Oh, you betcha. Yah.
This is just one classic example of the exaggerated Minnesotan accent used throughout the movie. Apparently, it derives from the way Scandinavian settlers in the region ended up speaking English. "Yah" does sound a lot like the Swedish word "Ja," after all. The directors used the book How to Talk Minnesotan as their dialect guide. It's hilarious, btw. Or, as the locals would say, "not too bad."
MIKE: Ya know, it's the Radisson, so it's pretty good.
The fact that Mike thinks the Radisson is pretty good might be a snobby little gag. Radisson is a mid-level hotel chain, not generally considered to be a high-end place.
MR. MOHRA: Yah, right-o. Well, so, I'm tendin' bar down there at Ecklund & Swedlund's last Tuesday and this little guy's drinkin' and he says, "So where can a guy find some action? I'm goin' crazy out there at the lake." And I says, "What kinda action?" And he says, "Woman action, what do I look like?" And I says, "Well, what do I look like? I don't arrange that kinda thing." And he says, "But I'm goin' crazy out there at the lake," and I says, "Yah, but this ain't that kinda place."
Not only does Mr. Mohra have a strong Minnesotan accent, but he also expresses the hometown morals of the place. Carl's search for a prostitute shocks Mohra's sense of propriety. Another Minnesotan gem is when the cop and Mohra, bundled up and buried in parkas against the weather, comment that tomorrow, it's gonna get cold.