[watch] Envy: Green in the Films of the Coen Brothers


Green is the color of health. It’s the color of wealth, of prosperity, of growth, of fertility. Green means go, furthermore it means go safely: you’ve got the green light, there’s nothing in your path. Green is verdant and eternal, green is the color of life.
But green is also the color of rot. It is the color of mold, of something spoiled, something good gone bad. Green is sickness, green is the color before the blackness of death.
In either extreme, green is subtle. It is not glaring to the eye, it does not stand out among the others because it is perhaps the most natural color we know, next to blue, it is a color that is so much a part of our everyday that when we come across it in films, it doesn’t leap off the screen like red does. But that’s why red gets the glory, the attention, because red is loud and boisterous, while green prefers to linger in the background, a silent observer whose symbolism speaks for it.

In the films of the Coen Brothers in particular, green is a recurring symbol across the majority of their filmography – omitting THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, which is of course black & white, O BROTHER, which washes everything towards a yellow tint, and TRUE GRIT, which again favors yellow being that its environment is arid and eremic – to reveal the multitude of ways they employs its vast symbolism. By isolating the color in scenes, Jacob T. Swinney withdraws the subtle shade from the background and make it primary in our vision, allowing us to better see its intended effect.

Clips from all the Coens’ films, excluding those above and up through their latest, HAIL, CAESAR!, have been spliced in here, thus also granting a look at the evolution of how and for what the Coens have used green across the breadth of their well-cultivated careers.

The Coen Brothers: Green from Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist