Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Fargo (1996)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Fargo (1996)

In the Coen Brothers' masterpiece, a self-proclaimed "homespun murder story," it defied categorization by being a conglomerate: a film noir (with stark white vistas and backdrops), a satirical comedy, a suspenseful crime drama, and a violent mystery thriller; the film's story could be boiled down to a kidnapping gone awry, a triple homicide (a highway patrolman and two innocent passersby), two contrasting families (the male-dominated Lundegaards and the female-dominated Gundersons), the corruptible effects of fast food, TV watching and pecuniary greed, and a hapless extortion scheme:

  • in the opening credits sequence set in January of 1987, images (beautifully filmed by Roger Deakins) were of a frozen, snow-blanketed Fargo, ND and a car (with a new tan Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera in tow) emerging in the white-out blizzard conditions and making its way along the deserted highway, toward an inn (with a bar and restaurant)

Car Salesman: Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy)

Two Hired Kidnappers: (l to r): Carl and Gaear
  • the desperate, financially-impotent, disheveled and indebted Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), executive sales manager of a car dealership, met up inside with two low-life losers (and soon-to-be hired killers): Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) - a talkative, slimeball, nervous and embittered individual, and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) - a violent, tall, blonde, psychotic, quiet and grim man prone to outbursts; he offered them the new tan Cutlass Ciera and cash ("the new vehicle plus forty thousand dollars") to kidnap his own wife, Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrüd) in their home in Minneapolis, MN; she was the daughter of Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell) who owned Jerry's car dealership Gustafson's Motors; the ransom demand was to be for $80,000, to be split 50% between the kidnappers and Jerry after the ransom was paid (and the wife was safely returned without bloodshed)
  • in reality, Jerry's ill-conceived real-estate plan was to swindle and extort the funds out of his detested, wealthy, businessman father-in-law; his idea was to ask for a loan of $750,000 to build a 40-acre parking lot in Wayzata
  • Jerry's devious character was illustrated in a scene where he browbeat and scammed customers at the dealership - husband and wife (Gary Houston and Sally Wingert) were pressured to pay $500 more for TruCoat sealant for their new car purchase
  • it was also implied that Jerry was embezzling money from the car dealership and also falsifying car sales documents in order to fill in the gaps of the depleted dealership bank accounts; a lucrative real-estate deal with his father-in-law was in jeopardy, thus motivating and prompting Jerry to hatch the kidnapping scheme
  • the two kidnappers stopped for the night at the Blue Ox Truck Stop and Hotel in Brainerd, MN where they had hired two prostitutes; after vigorous sex, the two sat up in bed in their icy blue-tinged room, catatonically watching the Tonight Show
  • after hiring the two killers, Jerry learned that the real-estate deal with his father-in-law was approved, and he decided to call off his two hired thugs for the unnecessary kidnapping, but mindlessly, he realized that he had no way to contact them and abort the scheme; Jerry's original plan of acquiring $750,000 was scratched, and he was promised only a finder's fee of $75,000 dollars, plus Wade announced that he would independently process the deal without Jerry's involvement; Jerry was so upset by the news that he expressed his frustrated rage on his frozen windshield with an ice scraper
  • meanwhile, at the Lundegaard residence, masked intruder Carl with a crowbar and Gaear approached the house and broke in; Jean fled to the upstairs to try to escape through a second-story window in the locked bathroom; however, she was found by Gaear hiding in the bathtub; she screamed and fled down the hallway, tripped, and ended up unconscious after falling down the flight of stairs
Triple Murder and Mayhem by Gaear
State Trooper Who Accosted Them Shot
Two Witnesses Who Happened to Drive By Also Executed
  • that night, while transporting Jean covered in a blanket in the back seat of the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera to a cabin by Moose Lake, the kidnappers were stopped by a State Trooper (James Gaulke) asking for license and registration information; when the officer became suspicious after hearing whimpering sounds, Gaear in the passenger seat reached over and grabbed the cop's hair, slammed his head into the car door, grabbed a gun from the glove compartment and blew the trooper's brains out; as Carl attempted to dispose of the body, another car with two passengers drove by and witnessed the murder scene; after Gaear pursued the car, it turned over in a ditch; he walked up to the two victims, and saw the male driver (J. Todd Anderson) running in the snow and shot him dead, and then returned to the car to execute the injured female (Michelle Suzanne LeDoux) in the car
  • early the next morning, 7 months-pregnant Brainerd Chief of Police Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) was introduced having breakfast with her loving husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch) in her home; she was hurrying on her way to a triple homicide crime scene on the road near Brainerd, MN; at the site of the witness' deaths, she quickly surveyed everything and correctly surmised what had happened - and also stated how the perpetrator was a "big fella"; then, she was seen doubled over and bent down, supporting herself on her knee as her morning sickness overwhelmed her - instead of the tragedy of the roadside triple murder - she stated: "I just think I'm gonna's just morning sickness"; at the scene of the trooper's death, she noticed different sized prints for a second perpetrator; from the dead trooper's citation book with notes at 2:18 am, she guessed that the car was pulled over because it had Dealer plates (DLR) that had not been exchanged
  • shortly later, in an offbeat scene at the Lakeside Club in Brainerd, Marge interrogated two dim-witted hookers (Larissa Kokernot and Melissa Peterman), employed as strippers at the bar who had been "company" for the two suspects driving a tan Cutlass Ciera with dealer plates the evening before the two shootings; when she asked what the suspects looked like, one of the women described a "funny lookin'" uncircumcised male: ("The little guy was kinda funny-lookin'...I don't know. Just funny-Iookin'...I couldn't really say. He wasn't circumcised"); Marge was astonished and asked again: "Was he funny-lookin' apart from that?"; the second fella was described as "a little older - he looked like the Marlboro Man" who smoked alot; they were allegedly on their way to the Twin Cities
  • the walls began to close in on Jerry as all of his planned schemes began to collapse: (1) a distressed Carl called Jerry and reported three people dead in Brainerd, and demanded the entire ransom of $80,000 the next day, and (2) the GMAC representative (voice of Warren Keith) demanded Jerry send proper VIN numbers for a group of vehicles immediately or he would report him to the company's legal department, and (3) Jerry told Wade that the ransom amount was $1 million, and Wade insisted that he personally deliver the money rather than have Jerry be the go-between, and (4) burly Native American mechanic Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis), who worked at Jerry's dealership service garage, was suspected of being in contact with the kidnappers (he was Jerry's middleman with the killers) and thereby had become an accessory to the Brainerd murders; realizing he was in deep trouble, he looked up Carl (who was having sex with a hooker) and mercilessly beat him
  • during a deadly money-drop exchange of a briefcase on the roof of Minneapolis' Radisson Hotel parking garage, the aggravated kidnapper Carl was surprised to see Wade instead of Jerry; Wade demanded to see his kidnapped daughter Jean before handing over the money; surprised by the stringent demands, Carl shot Wade in the abdomen; as Wade was dying, he shot Carl in his right jaw and cheek; screaming in pain, Carl put more bullets into Wade, grabbed the briefcase, and drove toward the garage gate; passing Carl on his way up to the rooftop was Jerry, who found Wade's body on the ground; he placed the body in his trunk and then exited, realizing to his horror that Carl had also shot the attendant and smashed through the wooden exit gate

Bloody and Deadly Money-Drop Scene Between a Dying Wade and Carl

Jerry Realizing to His Horror the Magnitude of His Botched Schemes
Injured Carl Hiding Excess Ransom Money in Snowy Field
  • on the way back to the cabin to rendezvous with Gaear, Carl realized he had $1 million dollars in the briefcase rather than the $80,000 dollars promised; he greedily decided to keep the excess money for himself, and buried it deep in the snow next to a fence
  • after having briefly questioned car salesman Jerry earlier in the film, Marge returned to interrogate the smarmy and snippy Jerry in his autosales office, who evasively resisted her continued line of questioning about a tan Cutlass Ciera stolen from the lot: ("Ma'am, I answered your question. I answered the darn... I'm cooperating here, and there's, there's no, uhm...Well, heck! If you wanna, if you wanna play games here. I'm workin' with ya on this thing here, but, OK, I'll do a damn lot count...Yah, right now. You're darned tootin'. If it's so damned important to ya") - he then fled from the showroom, and she shockingly realized: "Oh, for Pete's sake, he's fleeing the interview! He's fleeing the interview!" when she saw suspect Jerry escaping in a car outside the auto dealership
  • once the badly-injured Carl met up with Gaear again at the remote Moose Lake cabin, he was bleeding profusely; he discovered that his insane and psychotic partner Gaear had brutally murdered Jean to keep her quiet; they bickered bitterly over splitting the $80,000 money and also dividing up the vehicle - the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera; Carl insisted on leaving with the car in his possession, as extra compensation for his facial injury; as he left, he was attacked by Gaear from behind, who swung an axe overhead into Carl's neck, like the proverbial Paul Bunyan
  • in the infamous body disposal scene outside the cabin, Marge happened to spot the tan Ciera vehicle parked in front of a cabin at Moose Lake; she approached cautiously and slowly edged her way around the lakeside cabin to discover Grimsrud supplying his wood chipper with the body of his kidnapping accomplice Carl with only one shoeless leg/foot left to be shredded; a red swatch of blood was being propelled from one end of the chipper onto the white snow; when she called out "Police!", Gaear fled onto the icy lake; she trained her gun at him, fired and missed, but then struck him in the right leg; he fell to the snowy surface, grasping at his wounded thigh
With Gun Drawn, Marge Approaching Gaear
Gaear Feeding Accomplice Carl into a Wood Chipper
  • with her mute and motionless captured murderer/kidnapper Gaear handcuffed in the back of her police car, Marge chastised the criminal, expressing her weariness, disappointment, and bitterness; she lectured him and scoffed at the kidnappers' senseless and greedy motivations ("for a little bit of money"): ("So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't understand it")
  • two days later, Jerry was arrested by two state policemen in a motel room outside of Bismarck, ND; his effort to escape out the bathroom window in his underwear failed miserably as he was apprehended
  • in the satisfying epilogue between Marge and her husband Norm, he calmly told her that he had won a design contest for the 3 cent stamp; Marge complimented him about how more people used the three cent stamp rather than the 29 cent stamp; both of them anticipated a hopeful future: ("We're doing pretty good...Two more months...")

Opening Credits

Jerry's Detested Father-in-Law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell)

Jerry's Wife Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrüd)

Scammed Customers at Jerry's Car Dealership

The Kidnappers With Two Prostitutes in Blue Ox Hotel in Brainerd, MN

Jean Attempting to Fight Off Masked Kidnappers in Her Home

Jerry's Frustration: Scraping His Car's Frozen Windshield

Brainerd Police Chief Marge's "Morning Sickness" at the First of Two Crime Scenes

The Two Killers With Their Hooded and Tied-Up Hostage Jean at Moose Lake Cabin

Marge Questioning Two Hookers

Jerry's Schemes All Unraveling

Jerry's Middleman Shep Proudfoot Also Investigated

Jerry Nervously Answering Marge's Questions About the Tan Oldsmobile Cutlass

Marge: "He's Fleeing the Interview"

At the Cabin, Carl About to Be Axed to Death by Gaear

Marge to Gaear in Her Police Car: "There's more to life than a little money, you know"

Jerry Apprehended in a Motel Room in His Underwear

Film's Prologue: "Two more months..."


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