Movie beat: Geoff ‘Hollywood’ Bokuniewicz and the Coen brothers

When I was a precocious 17-year-old, not much younger than this incoming class of newbies, I had the good fortune and good insight to go see “No Country for Old Men” at the little art theater off of Kingston Pike.
At the time, the theater had a policy of not allowing 17-year-olds into R-rated movies. My friend and I went to buy our tickets, but we were turned aside by the box office attendant. In my haste I had pulled the wrong ID for my wallet, the one that properly identified me as 17-year-old Geoff Bokuniewicz and not my alter ego, who was 22 and thus fully equipped to see all the violence and nudity he wanted.
We were dismayed, but not disheartened. For one, we drove 30 or 40-minutes from Kingston; and, secondly, we thought it made for quite bad press if anyone ever found out that we were rejected from an art-house cinema. That seemed like a direct affront on our intelligence and culture.
So, we asked a middle-aged man outside if he would buy our tickets for us. We went up to the same window, accompanied by the middle-aged man, and he informed the ticket-lady that we were his YMCA wards and that he would be purchasing our tickets for the evening. I had to give the man credit for that bit of showmanship, but took marks off for purchasing himself a ticket to a different movie. The ticket-lady scowled.
As my friend and I took our illicit tickets and settled down for a nice film, a wiry-looking fellow paced up and down the aisles until he found me. He asked to see both of our IDs again, which confused me, as he didn’t look old enough to see an R-rated movie himself. I decided not to check his ID and gave him mine, which identified me as cultured, intelligent, capable of discerning the finer points of obscene material, and 22. We were in the clear.
Why the long digression on the journey instead of the actual movie. The digression actually had a point. Joel and Ethan Coen, known commonly as the Coen brothers and the directors of “No Country for Old Men,” have a filmmaking ethos that views the journey as much more important than the final result.
That’s not to say my journey was a perfect example. The journey being privileged above the end result is not a unique theme to the Coens by any means. No, they would have probably written a bad ending to my attempted identity switch and laughed about it.
Their work is characterized by what looks to be a pessimistic or nihilistic outlook, but that view doesn’t quite capture their essence. Instead, their view is essentially a comedic one, similar to “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Louis” (the television show) and some of the work of Franz Kafka.
Summed up, the view presented in the works of the Coen brothers is this: the world is an amoral and unforgiving place, and man’s attempt to tame it generally leads to bad consequences for the would-be tamer, and there is no way to ultimately tell what one ought to do or how one ought to do it. Furthermore, we are going to spend our lives, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, banging and knocking on a door that will almost never open, and, if it did, we’d find that it opens up to a place that we either don’t know or didn’t expect. Very rarely, it can open up to where we want it to be, but that takes a lot of luck, and it might not take any knocking at all.
And, to the Coens, this is hilarious. Absolutely jaw-droppingly funny. The point of this article is to explain a little bit of their philosophy and, hopefully, get you interested in finding out more about their filmography. To that end, I would start with the aforementioned “No Country for Old Men,” but I would also encourage seeing “The Big Lebowski,” “A Serious Man,” “Burn After Reading” and “Fargo.” They are all legitimately four-star movies and they’re all laugh-out-loud funny. They might not make you happy once you start thinking through them, but they will make you laugh.
To illustrate this, let me return to my story. The movie went by, and I was enthralled. As “No Country for Old Men” ended, there were scattered murmurs of “That’s it?” from the audience, which dismayed me, as most of them had had their skin-and-gun permits for many years now.
I was in shock at the suddenness of it all, but I remember not being able to shake the movie from my brain. I just had to know more! What did it mean? Is the world really like that? What should I do? I was not sure then, nor am I now, but at least I had started asking the right questions. In true Coen brothers fashion, I don’t suspect I’ll find the answers, but I do know that I have to try. That damn door has to open sometime, doesn’t it?

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