Coke or Pepsi? Sox or Yankees? Take your spouse to dinner or hire someone to kidnap them? We all face these difficult choices in life. In Fargo, we get to see how Jerry handles that last one. His decision to order the kidnapping of his wife in order to trick his father-in-law into giving him money ends up destroying everything. The consequences are nothing like what he expected—seemingly random twists of fate throw everything off track.
The same goes for Gaear and Carl: their decision to accept Jerry's offer ends up going in a completely unanticipated direction (not that these guys seem particularly good at or interested in anticipating anything).
We're responsible for the decisions we make. You reap what you sow, and all that. Like Jerry.
Sometimes, acts of God or twists of fate intervene to such an extent that you seem to reap bad consequences regardless of the choices you make. Like Jean.
The movie centers around a crime: Jerry ordering the kidnapping of his wife in order to swindle his father-in-law out of the ransom money. But it doesn't depict crime in a conventional way. The criminals aren't smooth, cool dudes. In fact, they're not very bright. Jerry might be a little more normal than Carl and Gaear, but, overall, he just seems desperate and clueless. They all share the qualities sociopaths—total disregard for others, impulsivity, poor judgment, inability to learn from experience lack of remorse. Does this describe our bad guys? You betcha.
There's no glamour to the criminal underworld in Fargo. It's just ridiculous and pathetic.
Ultimately, no one in the film gets away with his crime. There's justice in the world, yah.
There aren't many in-between characters in this movie. They're either monstrously bad or real good, then.
In Fargo we see Marge and Norm in the process of building a family… and we see Jerry effectively dismantling his own family, concocting a scheme that will inadvertently lead to the deaths of his wife and his father-in-law. They're starkly different pictures.
Marge and Norm seem content with the way things are; they're living within their means and enjoying the simple things. By contrast, Jerry is frantically attempting to pay off a debt and get quick cash, which brings his world collapsing down around him. The movie juxtaposes these two images of family life, providing some teachable moments. Watch and learn, young padawans.
Marge's family life is portrayed as corny, uber-conventional, and unsophisticated: mediocre art on the walls, too much TV, low-end restaurants. We're meant to be judgmental about it.
Even though it's corny and unsophisticated, the film's message is that this is what a happy life is really about. We feel guilty for being judgmental about it.
In early Christian teachings, greed was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. In Dante's Inferno, the fourth circle of hell is reserved for greedy people. In Fargo, greed lives up to its nasty rep as something that ends in disaster for everyone, starting with Jerry Lundegaard.
We don't get to see why Jerry needs money—maybe it's because he's about to get nailed for extortion by taking those loans on the non-existent cars—we just see the consequences. The more he desperately tries to cover his losses, the worse things get.
Everyone in the film who's motivated by money comes to a violent end, even Wade, whose business is completely legal. Jerry's wife is collateral damage in this greed-fest. Only Marge and Norm, with their ability to enjoy a simple life, seem to have the right idea. They seem pretty happy with what they've got.
The fact that Jerry's father-in-law is wealthy doesn't help matters for Jerry; it just pushes him to do crazy things for money.
Greed, being an "extreme" kind of motivation, is totally out of place in the modulated emotional lives of the everyday Minnesotans in this film. It's just not done. It ain't that kind of place.
Fargo is full of things that are a little off—strange bizarro gags; juxtapositions of incredibly different images and events; unlikely scenarios. The whole movie involves a kidnapping plan that spirals off into absurdity, culminating with a grotesque, yet somehow bizarrely amusing sequence, in which Carl's corpse gets stuffed into a wood chipper.
There are tons of odd moments like that (Gaear, a murderer, wanting to eat pancakes for breakfast and lunch; a pregnant chief of police, Mike Yanagita) and together they create an image of a very random and unexpected universe. Maybe it's not totally random—there's still justice in it, since all the bad guys get their just desserts. But it definitely feels off.
The film's moral is that there's no explaining life or people. Things fall apart, people do inexplicable stuff, and all you can do is hang on for dear life.
If it weren't for the character of Marge, the absurdity would get out of hand and the movie would slide off the rails.
One of the main things that makes Fargo unique is its setting. If it had been set in L.A. or New York, it might've been a somewhat more typical crime drama. But the fact that it's set in an out-of-the-way area, like small-town Minnesota (though Minneapolis isn't quite so small), helps make it more unsettling.
It changes everything—the way the characters talk, the way they relate to each other, the things they value, and… did we mention the way they talk? It helps make the whole texture and vibe of the movie genuinely different. The Minnesota accents constantly remind us where we are.
The film suggests that "Minnesota nice" is just a screen for fear and resentment bubbling below the surface.
The image of Marge and Norm cozying up in bed is the film's antidote for the cold and barren landscape outside.