O Brother, Where Art Thou? - From Greek Classic to American Original

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O Brother, Where Art Thou? - From Greek Classic to American Original

In the winter of 2001, American audiences initially paid little attention to Joel and Ethan Coen's Depression era, jail-break, musical "buddy" comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou? The film's reputation lingered, however, and over the next seven months O Brother eventually grossed a significant $45.5 million (imdb.com). Loosely adapted from Homer’s The Odyssey, the film focuses on Ulysses Everett McGill’s (George Clooney’s) journey from the jailhouse back to both his home in Ithaca, Mississippi, and to his wife Penny (Holly Hunter). Along with his two sidekicks, Delmar and Pete (Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro), Ulysses encounters not only characters from the
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One example of Joel and Ethan Coen’s collective comedic sensibility is the way in which they duped Fargo audiences by asserting the film was based on true events when it was not. Their joke on the audience in O Brother is that they claim never to have read The Odyssey. Regardless of whether they have actually read the epic poem or simply the Cliff’s Notes version, by combining their working knowledge of the tale with a strong musical accompaniment, they have managed to stay truer to the original’s form than they might have had they attempted to slavishly mimic Homer’s epic style and story.

According to Dudley Andrew’s definitions of adaptations, O Brother is a “borrowing,” meaning “the artist employs, more or less extensively, the material, idea, or form of an earlier, generally successful, text” (30). In a borrowing, Andrew explains, “the main concern is the generality of the original … its existence as a continuing form or archetype in culture” (30). By ignoring vast sections of the original text, yet incorporating some of the most memorable characters and incidents, the Coen brothers achieve this effect, especially with the addition of the powerful soundtrack. Additionally, in the grand tradition of canonical literary works one is supposed to have read in college, people often obtain a hazy knowledge of the classics through oral accounts from person to person. I imagine this use of the oral tradition would not entirely displease

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