The Odyssey in the Coen Brother’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Andy Beal

Continuity of Classical Myth: Paper 1 Roger MacFarlane 27 September 2011 ClCv241H.002

The Odyssey in the Coen Brother’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The success of a movie depends on many elements. In the case of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, the success of the storyline came from the allusions to the classical epic poem The Odyssey that it contained. The reason the Coen brothers use characters, allusions to the myth, and an overall theme, the homecoming, similar to that of Homer’s well-known epic poem, is to give the story more power and meaning to the viewers. Myths such as these carry a lot of lessons and morals that can be taught by simply referring to them and using mythological shorthand to make the lessons more evident.

In O Brother, Where Art Thou, characters similar in name andpersonality to the original epic poem help the viewer to understand deeper meanings behind each scene by being able to refer back to Homer’s poem. To begin the movie, “the first image that is presented is the text of a quotation from the first of Homer’s Odyssey.”1 The Coen brothers show this excerpt from the actual text of the poem in order to set the viewer’s mind toward that myth and all of its meanings and contexts. This helps to set up an atmosphere in which the myth itself can be the explainer and teacher throughout the movie, helping the viewer understand what is being said better by using the context of the poemreferred to in the specific scenes.

There are many allusions to the myth throughout the whole movie and their placements are instrumental in guiding the viewers to the significance of the events that occur within that specific scene. The three main characters, Ulysses Everett McGill, Delmar, and Pete find themselves with a blind black man, very similar in character to the blind oracle Tiresias, who tells them of the treacherous journey that lies ahead for them. This scene sets up the rest of the...