47 Great Movie Moments #47 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?

And we conclude this series of 47 moments in film that I love. (Why 47?)  I am almost not 47 anymore, so it’s time to finish these!  Here is #47!

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

Three chain gang prisoners escape an embark on a nigh-mythological quest for a lost treasure. 

The Set Up

One of the prisoners, Pete (John Turturro) has been recaptured, but his friends Everett (George Clooney) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) are under the mistaken impression that he was turned into a toad and then killed. Everett then tries to reconnect with his wife and children, only to discover that she has told his kids that he is dead, and wants nothing to do with him. Everett and Delmar take refuge in a movie theatre during a screening to figure out what to do next, when all of a sudden the film stops and a sheriff with a rifle stands in the doorway.

The Moment

The sheriff blows his whistle and a chain gang shuffles in and stands by their seats. Another blow of the whistle and the group sits down, and the movie restarts. Everett and Delmar attempt to lay low, scared of being recognized, when suddenly a voice begins to hiss at them from behind.

“Do…not…seek…the treasure.”

They turn and are startled to see Pete, both human and alive, staring at them earnestly. He repeats his warning, and adds more information, all in urgent whispers—“It’s a bushwack! They’re fixing an ambush! Do…not…seek…the treasure!”

Delmar and Everett are frozen in confusion. Finally, Delmar replies.

“We…thought…you…was…a toad!”

The expression on Pete’s face is priceless, but he stays on message, while Delmar continues to try to explain himself until everyone is hushed by the guards.

I love O Brother, Where Art Thou? This scene is beautifully shot, taking advantage of the lighting of the movie projector shining over Pete’s head, and the imposing silhouettes that are created when the prison guards stand in the doorways. But it’s the comedy that arises from the discord of what’s going on that makes it work. Everett and Delmar are just concerned about being recognized, when all of a sudden this message emerges from the darkness, as an oracle was being given by a ghost. Each group is baffled by what the others are doing and saying, and the situation makes a real conversation impossible. It’s very funny, thanks to the Coen Brother’s classic direction and editing, and especially to some committed performances from Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro.

The Payoff

Everett and Delmar break Pete out of prison, and the trio is finally to get on the same page. “We didn’t abandon you, Pete,” Delmar explains. “We just thought you was a toad.”

“No, they never did turn me into a toad,” Pete replies.

“Well, that was our mistake then,” admits Delmar.

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