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Framing Religion in Amoral Order
Edited by Elijah Siegler
Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, True Grit—Joel and Ethan Coen make movies. They make movies that matter. But do these movies matter for religion?
Coen is a masterful response to this question of religious significance that neither imposes alien orthodoxy nor consigns the Coens to religious insignificance. The Coen movies discussed each receive a chapter-length investigation of the specific film’s relation to the religious. Far more than just documenting religion in all Coen films—from blink-and you’ll-miss-them biblical references to gospel tunes framing the soundtrack—the volume, cumulatively, mounts a compelling case for the Coens’ consistent religious outlook with an original argument about precisely what constitutes religion. The volume reveals how Coen films emerge as morality tales, set in a mythological American landscape, that critique greed and self-interest. Coen heroes often confront apocalyptic and unredeemable evil, face human limitation and the banality of violence, and force audiences to wrestle with redemption and grace within the stark moral worlds portrayed on screen. This is religion on Coen terms.
Coen teaches its readers something new about religion, about film, and about the kind of world-making that each claims to be.
Introduction: Are the Coen Brothers Religious Filmmakers? Or How Simple Is Blood Simple?
Act One: The Early Films: Reading Religion as . . .
1. Morality in Raising Arizona
2. Theology in Miller’s Crossing
3. World Creation in Barton Fink
4. Community in The Hudsucker Proxy
First Intermission: So Are the Coen Brothers Religious Filmmakers? Fargo between Christian Moralism and Post-Modern Irony
Act Two: The Middle Films: Analyzing Religion and . . .
5. Fandom in The Big Lebowski
6. Race in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
7. Money in Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers
8. The State in Burn after Reading
Second Intermission: Are the Coen Brothers Formally Coherent? No Country for Old Men between Time and Eternity
Act Three: The Later Films: Theorizing . . .
9. Transcendence in The Man Who Wasn’t There
10. Hermeneutics in A Serious Man
11. Death in True Grit
12. Absence in Inside Llewyn Davis
Epilogue: Hail, Caesar?
"Elegantly conceived and consistently provocative, this is the definitive work on the religious and moral aspects of the Coen Brothers oeuvre. In their range and dexterity, these essays work with the Coens’ capacious irony. In turning each of their movies anew, the collection sheds light on the particular genius of two American masters."
—John Modern, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of Religious Studies, Franklin & Marshall College
"A tour de force not just for cinephiles and students of religion, Coen: Framing Religion in Amoral Order is compelling reading for anyone seeking meaning, identity, and purpose in the contemporary world. Each chapter dives deeply into a Coen film, illuminating how the brothers, and by implication, all of us, tease transcendence from the heartbreak of everyday life."
—Diane Winston, Knight Chair in Media and Religion, University of Southern California
"This immensely readable work is a stunning success of eloquent writers tackling riveting topics. Each of the Coen brothers’ movies, the hilarious and the harrowing treated in chronological order, receives careful critical analysis that sheds blazing light on the dark genius of these filmmakers."
—Terry Lindvall, Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"The Coen brothers are not just two of our finest filmmakers, but two key figures in the making of American mythology. Elijah Siegler and the splendid team of scholars he has assembled for this volume help us to better understand the vision and films of the Coens. This is a marvelous book, as much about our American selves as it is about religion and film."
—Amir Hussain, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University and Editor, Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"Taken as a whole, the essays in Coen offer a lively conversation (indeed, the contributors edited one another’s essays, and several of the published texts contain helpful intertextual comments) about the ways in which filmmakers, audiences, and scholars all imagine interactions between film and religion. As a compilation of criticism on the Coen filmography, the collection organizes and reframes an expansive bibliography. As works of scholarship on religion, its essays imaginatively connect critical theory of religion with cinema studies scholarship, applied in clever and illuminating readings of the Coens’ oeuvre."
—Geoffrey Pollick, The Revealer
"...[Coen] offers an unexpected number of insights beyond the Coens and their films."
—Christian Wessely, Journal for Religion, Film and Media
Elijah Siegler is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the College of Charleston.
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