Raising Arizona

Still not really back yet, but I thought maybe it could be more interesting to pose this question to Forester here, inviting others to discuss as well, rather than just sending him an email. T got me the DVD of Raising Arizona for my birthday, and we re-watched it for the first time in many years. Since I know Forester is also a Coen Bros. fan, and likes Raising Arizona specifically (although probably not as much as Barton Fink), I wanted to hear his (or your) take on the following question that T & I couldn’t come to a satisfactory answer on. What is the ‘lone biker of the apocalypse‘? With the same road-runner tattoo (although over his heart, not on his arm), the bronzed baby shoes, the “Mama didn’t love me” tattoo, is he (in some secular sense) H.I.’s original sin, his carnal nature? Or does Smalls represent righteous justice and unavoidable consequences? And what is the message of the movie, in terms of the fact that H.I. was able to destroy whatever is represented by Leonard Smalls?

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12 Responses

  1. Am I allowed to answer “all of the above”?

    Part of the fun of Raising Arizona (and most Coen movies) is that it plays with images and symbols, rather than directly designating that X represents this, Y represents that, and when X wins over Y, that means that this is superior to that.

    In support of that assertion I give you the movie’s final line, which builds up to something monumental and then delivers the bathotic: “Maybe it was Utah.” There’s no great homeland, no utopia of family life just beyond, or perhaps within, reach — all that symbolism just points at a funny joke about Mormons.

    This, by the way, makes the Coen brothers better writers than I am. They can play with stories without having to make sure all the symbols line up exactly so. Firstborn perfectionist that I am, I can’t let go that easily — and so my stories lack a sense of spontaneity and fun.

    One thing you almost mentioned is the criminal element in the film. HI is a convict; his wife is a cop. Who’s going to win? Will HI preserve marriage/family by turning away from the criminality of his past? When Smalls attacks, HI sees his criminal self for what it is and turns on it, which enables him to do the “responsible” thing by returning the baby, and also gives him clarity and wisdom in assessing himself (the final conversation with Nathan Arizona, where the furniture salesman says he can’t be all that bad — recognizing the change in HI). Family life is predicated on law, not criminality — hence no wife-swapping. That’s also what makes the jailbreak brothers such losers — it’s a family connection gone awry.

    That’s my two cents. Whaddya think? Anyone else?

  2. We noticed however, that the baby-stealing concept all came from Ed, not HI, it states so in the beginning, and she admits it to Nathan Sr. at the end also, although she also has the explicit realization in the end that it was wrong. Did Law and Criminal switch places for a while, and the consummation of the movie put them back in their proper relationship again? Or was the way the law-criminal tension worked, that criminal brought law down to its level temporarily, but in the end law won (I fought the law…)?

  3. Also regarding Coen bros. not making their symbols all line up; I need to watch O Brother again; the first (and only) time I saw it, I was too busy trying to remember Homer and figure out the parallels to just sit back and enjoy the movie!

  4. A key point to remember about O Brother: many of the Homer parallels were worked in after filming started, and only because someone commented about it. They actually went back and rescripted, then refilmed several scenes in order to build in more parallels. So go very loosely with that one — they were an afterthought, and purely just for fun.

  5. Fantastic topic. Great movie. My .02.

    Despite the fact that Edwina refers to Leonard Smalls as, I believe, a “warthog from Hell.” He is, in my view, nothing other than the storm of divine judgement unleashed by HI himself. In stealing Nathan Jr., they unleashed forces on themselves that they couldn’t control and from which they could not escape. Edwina’s tearful repentance (“Let me finish … “) in the scene prior is the only reason HI is able to defeat Leornard in their battle. HI’s own personal “apocalypse” (which means, from the Greek, apokalupsis, to “take the cover off” or “reveal”) was actually his, rather violent, conversion to his own repentance, which, of course, was the safe return of Nathan, Jr., to his parents.

  6. So you’re going with an external consequences vs. internal demons interpretation. Do you think that (despite the fact that the Coen brothers are in all likelihood not Christian) the theme essentially pictures a Christian redemption? I guess there’s a limit to how far I should stretch common grace by seeking Christian messages in worldly media (although I’ve got a few more up my sleeves…)

  7. BTW, welcome to blogorrhea, and what’s the 522 on your .01.?

  8. External consequences, absolutely. Is there such a thing as internal demons? Sin is internal but its consequences are external, though we’d rather not talk about that in polite company. Every story is really the Gospel story, I think. I love this topic of common grace being so big that even the most hateful atheist holds God’s truth somewhere deep in his dark little heart. Our movies and books reflect that.

    I don’t think the Coens are Christian but a movie like Fargo is interesting from this point of view as well. Sin will find you out (is it hot in here or is it just me?). It is interesting that, in most films, no matter how base, wickedness is typically punished. Even profoundly twisted anti-heroes — like, say, Jason from the Friday the 13th movies — reflect this. Wasn’t it always the bad, promiscuous kids who ended up getting chopped up at that camp? Even pagans realize that wickedness vet what it deserves. A good guy to read on stuff like this is Brian Godawa over at Chalcedon. His reviews are great little worldview lessons.

    PS, I don’t understand your .01 question ??? But then, I was never the sharpest knife in the drawer.

  9. Are you as smart as a box of rocks, with all the smart rocks taken out?

    You said Raising Arizong is “My .02.”. So whatever you meant by that, what is your “.01.”?

  10. Well, as my mom used to say, I’m dumb, but I’m not stupid.

    My .02 referred to “my two cents.” As in: here’s my two cents on this topic. Perhaps it was only worth one cent …

  11. Aha — I thought you were saying Raising Arizona was your second favorite movie of all time. Regardless, it was worth at least fiddy cent.

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