Love and Bullshit in Santa Rosa: <i>Pastiche</i> in <i>The Man Who Wasn’t There</i>

George M. Wilson

in Seeing Fictions in Film

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199594894
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731440 | DOI:
Love and Bullshit in Santa Rosa: Pastiche in The Man Who Wasn’t There

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Among contemporary American directors, the Coen brothers are particularly reputed to favor pastiche as a narrative strategy. Pastiche is the mixing of incongruous genres, normally joined with the aim of subverting the traditional values and assumptions associated with the relevant genres. Their 2001 film, The Man Who Wasn’t There, can seem to be a paradigmatic example. It mixes the style and content of film noir, in the fashion of James Cain, with a narrative resolution that trades on elements from “alien invasion” movies from the early 1950s. Examining the structures of the narrative and the idiosyncratic narration of the movie closely, the author argues that the film has a thematic unity one would not have expected. The protagonist’s alienation is so deep it seems to take aliens from outer space to rescue him. Moreover, it offers an odd affirmation of married love as potentially a respite from the incessant “bullshit” that expresses the empty and manipulative social order of “modern man.”

Keywords: Coen brothers; The Man Who Wasn’t There; pastiche; alienations; aliens from outer space; bullshit; Harry Frankfurt

Chapter.  11363 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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