THE MOVIE CHALLENGES

FARGO AND NEOCON TOM TOMS

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In the end the Civil Servant was important. Two scenes dominate the last episode of the third series of Fargo. Both are simple and both consist of no more than a face-to-face conversation between two people, the type of thing that pretentious Civil Service managers used to call bi-laterals. The Civil Servant in Fargo wears a suit and has neat hair. He is ordinary and dull and that makes him unusual because in Fargo most of the characters are either eccentric or savage.   The series has had poignant moments because there is a weird empathy amidst all the dark humour. But if there is compassion for the ordinary, the dark humour denies the citizens of town Fargo our respect. This is what makes Fargo quirky. The characters are both pathetic and sympathetic. They tilt their heads, frown, and worry about what might happen next. Most of us, though, will be indifferent to the secure Civil Servant.

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This is what he said. It is worth remembering because he provides a good description of how modern capitalism works. Imagine a finance company approaching a normal business and making a $1m loan to that business.   They introduce a partner who then borrows money, say $4m, using the original business as security. The business now has to pay interest on the original $1m loan plus the extra $4m debt. The company struggles and is sold for a price well below what it was worth when it received the $1m loan. Meanwhile the finance company has pocketed the $4m that was borrowed in the name of the business plus some assets that have been stripped out of the business. Workers may have been laid off but everybody else is happy. The new owners have a company on the cheap, the original owners get a commission on whatever was borrowed, the finance company has the largest share of the $4m and sales of assets, and the bank has new owners that will continue paying the interest on the loan.   In Fargo the example and the explanation is a little simpler. In that case the $1m loan is repaid before the bad guys arrive and the role of the bank is never mentioned. Because making money this way is easy for rich people, they do it often. It keeps them busy, and, because they are always busy, the rich tell themselves that they work hard.

FARGO -- Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX

The second important conversation occurs in the final scene and is between Gloria Burgle and V M Varga.  Burgle is working for the Department Of Homeland Security but before that she was a policewoman in Fargo, the place where Varga killed and swindled people. Varga is head of a finance company and what he does is unusual because the killing of people to protect profit is normally done by governments operating on behalf of the finance and large global companies.  Varga describes himself as a simple salesman. He does not have a conscience about the loss of life in the town of Fargo. ‘Human beings have no inherent value other than the money they earn,’ he says. If this sounds extreme, last weekend Will Tanner, a policy expert within the British Conservative Party, wrote in The Observer, ‘It (the Conservative Party) should prioritise the opportunity for the young and the hardworking over security for the old and the undeserving.’ We have heard of the undeserving poor before. Ever since rich people have been able to make money without actually doing anything of use they have been irritated by what they call the undeserving poor or the lazy, confused, alienated, sick, disabled and old. The above nonsense appeared in a liberal newspaper because, and this is almost as hard to believe as the Columbo raincoat that Varga wears in Fargo, Will Tanner is from the left wing of the Conservative party.   The people who really hate the poor have been told to keep quiet. God help us, which is how Gloria Burgle feels listening to Varga quote his self-serving rubbish.

The series and scene end with Burgle watching the clock tick inside the police station. Varga has promised that powerful friends will have him free within the next five minutes. Knowing that series 4 awaits, we stare at the clock. What has just happened is complicated. Unlike the scene with the Civil Servant, which is basic exposition for those who are unwilling to read an economic text, the final scene between Burgle and Varga has mystery and irony. It is not clear whether Varga will be rescued and, if he is, will it be because he is powerful or because he works for really rich and powerful people. Up to that point Varga has created mayhem and appeared to be omnipotent. But we leave the scene and the series wondering whether even Varga may be no more than a lackey.   The ticking clock may also be a reference to the nuclear countdown. Push the powerful too much and this is what will happen.

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Throughout the three series of Fargo the characters have witlessly engineered their doom.  Not only are the surprises entertaining they signify the delusion of ambition in the modern world. The system rather than ourselves determines our lives. The heroes of Fargo do not have ambition. The rest are either evil or misguided. Burgle challenges Varga when he describes his plans and mentions his powerful friends. Her words imply that the value of her life exists in normality and community. She is looking forward to taking her son to the State Fair. This is what decent parents do; they share the innocence of their children.  Burgle is loyal to her country and committed to her child and the future. She works for the Department Of Homeland Security.  Burgle will resist the threat of people like Varga, a British villain who describes himself as a ‘citizen of the air’.  The notion of American victimhood at the hands of foreign capitalists feels odd and it may be included in the scene so that we cannot make simple conclusions about heroes and villains. Burgle identifies Varga as a threat to American decency. Well the rich and powerful are a threat, and it may be that Varga is only British because David Thewlis is too good an actor to resist.   But the Department Of Homeland Security uniform is a peculiar choice for the steadfast Burgle. The example that the Civil Servant described to Burgle is not limited to financial dealings within a border. Developing countries have been suckered into initial investment from the West, burdened with heavy debt repayments, witnessed their economies subsequently falter and then been visited by the IMF insisting their governments have to privatise and that those contracts should be open to American companies. When none of that works and the local President thinks his country can exist as an independent state with nationalised utilities, the CIA provokes disruption. Gloria Burgle may be a nice person but she is more than innocent. She is naïve, and so are we if we take this fine scene at face value. It can only make sense if there are more surprises to follow.

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So far Fargo has revealed neither optimism nor naivety. The folks of Minnesota have homes, food to eat and cars to drive home. They are, though, powerless and unaware of how the world around them operates. What happens in Fargo is decided by someone on the end of a distant telephone and not the citizens of the town. There is what once may have been a famous quote by Albert Camus. ‘Other men will make history. All I can say is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims – and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of pestilence.’ We have all seen snow but most of us also see it fade away at some point in the year. In Fargo the snow only disappears when people step inside a building. The snow settles and remains on the ground like a pestilence. Fargo residents shuffle around, shovel snow and refuse to complain. They may have mistaken ideas about how they can determine their fate but none of them are making history. They endure the pestilence and, thanks to their willingness with shovels these victims are also on the side of the pestilence. And that may be why poor heroic Gloria Burgle is now obliged to wear a Department Of Homeland Security uniform. She resists evil without ever understanding the nature of her perpetual compliance. The tom toms of neoconservatism have been beating since 1979. For almost forty years we have been told to believe that people like Varga are at their best when unregulated.  In that time inequality has increased. The courtesies, trust and good manners of the deceived have facilitated measures that reduced their standard of living. Well away from them people like Varga made telephone calls, spouted nonsense about free markets and the invisible hand, took government subsidies, relied on bankruptcy law and limited liability and pretended they were men and women of risk. The rest of us have been shovelling snow and been lied to about what caused the pestilence.

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The TV series Fargo is at an important point in its development. So far it has had off the wall surrealism, great actors and improving photography. No hero or villain has continued into a subsequent series. This time, though, neoconservatism is in crisis. More and more people are resting on their shovels and having a good moan. Gloria Burgle should abandon her Department Of Homeland Security uniform and return to Fargo and series 4. But maybe the mysterious final scene was no more than a rare happy ending for a hardworking single mother. Burgle has had a lucky escape. We have to hope another policewoman will continue to probe and investigate just what is the pestilence that reduces and sometimes extinguishes the lives of her good neighbours.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

 

 

 

 

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