The Coen Brothers have been evading answers for about 30 years now, since Blood Simple came out in 1984. Asked about The Big Lebowski a few years ago, Joel Coen said, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.” This is a game, and the Coen Brothers play it well.
Other artists have played the same game at even higher stakes. Thomas Pynchon has been in hiding for 40 years. J. D. Salinger hid for about 50, until his death a couple of years ago. The Coen Brothers simply hide in plain sight. They answer by not answering.
This is a good state of affairs. It is good because the Coen Brothers make many enjoyable films. And they are aware that people who make enjoyable films, like the aforementioned The Big Lebowski, should avoid discussing the serious and philosophical themes of their enjoyable films.
That’s to say, the art of many Coen Brothers films is in the artlessness. For artless artists, there is nothing worse than too much talk, too much analysis. Artless artists have felt this way for a long time.
The Roman poet Catullus had a special word for his artful artlessness. He called it “lepidus.” Lepidus is a hard word to translate. It means something like charming, witty, easy, sophisticated. More than anything, a poem that is lepidus should appear effortless, especially if it is not. Catullus worked very hard on his poetry. But he wanted his poems to read as if they’d been hardly worked upon. He wanted them to seem dashed off, cast out with a flick of the wrist on a summer’s day.
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