Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

(2/25/01:  Draft:  Work in Progress)


Pete, Delmar, and Ulysses.

This movie, which debuted in theaters  January 2001, is an adventure-comedy "loosely based on Homer's epic poem THE ODYSSEY, and is set in Mississippi in the 1930s. In the film, three prisoners (George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson) escape, hoping to return home to their families. While dodging a tracker who is hot on their trail, the three men travel across the South, having wild adventures and meeting a bizarre cast of characters along the way."1

 

(For an explanation of the terms used in this review see our Archetypal Narrative.)

 

Act I:    (Separation)  Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete escape from Prison.

The Call to Adventure:  The movie begins with Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete escaping from a chain gang, for Ulysses has convinced his friends that they have only a few days to get to his money stash before his hiding place becomes flooded from a new dam.   After escaping, they attempt to board a passing train, but one of them falls, and since they are tethered together with a chain, the other two are pulled off the train and fall.  

Meeting the Mentor:  As they are walking along the tracks, they meet up with a blind black man rolling down the tracks at the controls of a railway hand car.  The blind man prophesizes they though they are seeking gold, they will have adventures in which they will find something of much greater value than gold.  He also tells them that they will see a cow on top of a barn before their adventure is through.  They wonder out loud about the old man's predictions and how he could of known that they were after money.    

Crossing the Threshold:  After walking for awhile they meet up with Pete's cousin (Wash Hogwallop) who owns a dilapidated old farm.  Wash breaks them out of their chains, gives them news clothes, and feeds them.  Given his new set of clothes, we see just how obsessed Ulysses is with his hair.  He is a "Dapper Dan" hair cream man!   After a lengthy discussion between Pete and his cousin about "how important blood relations is", our three heroes go to the Cousin's barn for a good nights sleep.  

Tests, Allies Enemies:  Later, they are rudely awakened during the night to find that Wash has betrayed them to the police for the reward money! Things look grim as the are now surrounded by the police and their nemesis Sheriff Cooley.   Just as the police set fire to the barn, Wash's son drives his pappy's car though the barn, picks up our three heroes, and escapes with them into the night.  The next day, our heroes come upon a revival and baptism meeting taking place on a river.  Pete, caught up in the religious fervor, gets in line and is baptized in the river.  Then, to the chagrin of his comrades, Pete  proclaims that everything is going to be all right, since he's been born again.  Later, our three heroes, pick up Tommy Johnson, a black blues musician, who has "sold his soul to the devil" for the ability to play guitar.  From Tommy they discover that there's a radio man down the road who's paying folks to sing into a record.  They enter the recording station which is run by a blind man, and calling themselves the "Soggy Bottom Boys", make a record.  As it turns out, their record is a radio hit, and the "Soggy Bottom Boys" become an overnight sensation.  Later that night, Tommy runs away when the police once again close in.  Our three heroes narrowly escape, and the police confiscate their car.   Walking along the road the next day, they encounter the notorious Baby Face Nelson, who is fleeing the police.  They unknowingly hop in and help drive the car while Nelson keeps the police at bay with his Tommy gun.  Later they accompany the humorous but crazed Nelson as he robs a few banks for kicks.  That evening, a depressed and morose Nelson leaves them some money and leaves.  On foot again, Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete steal a car from a gas station and head down a country road, where they hear beautiful singing coming from a nearby river.

 


Pete, Ulysses, and Delmar succumb to Temptation. 

They go down to the river to investigate, and see three beautiful women washing down by the river.  The women seduce our three heroes, leaving them asleep on the bank of the river.  When they wake up, Ulysses and Delmar can't find Pete!  All they see are his clothes on the river bank, from which a frog hops out.  Delmar thinks that the women were witches who have turned Pete into a frog, so they take frog-Pete and head towards a nearby town (Pete was actually captured and turned in by the women).  In the town, Ulysses and Delmar meet a fast talking, one-eyed bible salesman named Big Dan Teague, who lures them out to a nearby field with talk of a lucrative business proposition.  Instead of helping them however, Big Dan beats them, robs them, kills their frog, takes their money, and steals their stolen car.  Hitching a ride to town on the back of a truck, Ulysses and Delmar think they see Pete working in a road side chain gang.  Back in town, our two remaining heroes hear singing in progress where the up and coming reform gubernatorial candidate, Homer Stokes giving a campaign rally.  Homer is way ahead in the polls which has the current governor, Pappy O’Daniel, greatly worried.  When they draw closer to the stage, Ulysses recognizes the singers as his seven daughters!  When he greets his daughters, he is shocked to discover that his wife has been telling them that he was dead.  His wife, Penny, gives him a cool reception, as she is about to marry Eckard, who as Homer Stoke's campaign manager, is a more respectable man who can provide for her children.  After getting beaten up by Eckard, Ulysses and Delmar go to lick their wounds in a local movie theatre, where they see Pete in the theatre with his chain gang.  Pete whispers to them that he has betrayed their secret about where the money is buried, and that there is an ambush waiting for them, should they try to get the money.  

Act II   (Descent)

Approach to the Inmost Cave:  Later that night, Ulysses and Delmar break Pete out of the prison and escape into the night.  Pete apologizes to Ulysses for having "spilled his guts" about the hidden money. Ulysses quickly forgives Pete, and tells him that the money never existed in the first place.  The story about there being money was only a ruse to get them to escape with him, so he could prevent his wife from marrying Eckard.  This enrages Pete, as he was only 2 weeks from serving his sentence, and now his life is ruined!  Ulysses and Pete's fighting is soon interrupted by the glow of a large cross burning and the eerie chants of a nearby Klu Klux Klan rally.

The Ordeal:  They creep up to the edge of the rally to see what is going on and discover that their friend Tommy Johnson is about to be lynched.  Without hesitation Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete catch three clan members and don their robes in order to infiltrate the K.K.K. rally.  They come up behind Tommy who is being led to the gallows and attempt to rescue him, when Big Dan Teague (in Klan regalia) smells Ulysses' Dapper Dan hear cream and exposes them as imposters.  In the ensuing commotion, they clobber Big Dan with the burning cross, rescue Tommy, and expose the identity of the Grand Dragon of the K.K.K., as being  none other than the leading gubernatorial candidate Homer Stokes.   

Back in town with Tommy, our three heroes disguise themselves as musicians in order to enter a concert event, so Ulysses can try one more time to reconcile with Penny.  Governor Pappy is there at the concert as well to attempt to meet the public and possibly salvage his campaign. Once on stage, Tommy, Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete sing their trademark song, and the crowd realizes that they are the Soggy Bottom Boys.  As the crowd goes wild with excitement, Homer Stokes arrives, hopping mad from his Klan Rally fiasco.  He recognizes our heroes as the one's who interrupted his rally and tries to call them down as outlaws and misfits.  However, Homer's attempt backfires as the crowd turns on him and runs him out on a rail for being a racist and a bigot.  

Reward:  Governor Pappy, realizing that his opponent is finished, thanks the Soggy Bottom Boys, and gives them all pardons.   Ulysses, now a respectable man, reconciles with Penny, and they make plans to re-marry.  As they are walking out of the building they see a posse marching down the street with the now captured Baby Face Nelson in chains.  Nelson is ecstatic and is hollering how wonderful it will be to get electrocuted.  He screams with delight and tells the crowd that soon there will be lightning bolts flying from his eyeballs and fingertips when they pull the switch on him.  Never has Nelson been so happy.  

Act III (Return)

The Road Back:  As Ulysses and Penny discuss their upcoming wedding, Penny insists that he wed her with her original wedding ring, which is located at their old farm house. (The same house where Ulysses supposedly hid the money. The same house where an ambush awaits).

The Resurrection: Ulysses, Delmar, Pete, and Tommy all travel back to Ulysses' farm to retrieve the ring.  When they arrive, they are ambushed by Sheriff Cooley who makes plans to hang them on the spot.  At first, Ulysses tries to talk their way out of it by saying that they've all been granted pardons by the Governor, but Cooley does not care.  He is going to hang them all anyway.  With all hope seemingly lost, Ulysses kneels down and prays, telling God that all he ever wanted was to just see his family again and to  "please let me see my family again."   Just then the flood waters from the dam hit, wiping out everything in its path.   As the flood waters calm down,  only Ulysses and his friends emerge from its depths.  They are as if reborn.  As they float down the newly formed reservoir, they see a cow standing on top of a barn, and they realize that the wise man's prophesy has been fulfilled.

Return with the Elixir:  Ulysses returns with the ring, a symbol of his love, and he, Penny and their seven children walking to their wedding.  In the background the old black man on the railway hand car sings a song.

 

Characters

Ulysses: Hero:  
Pete & Delmar:  Allies / Heralds / Threshold Guardians:  
Blind Black Man  Herald / Mentor:  
Wash Hogwallop Threshold Guardian:  
Sheriff Cooley Threshold Guardian:  
Tommy Johnson Ally:  
Baby Face Nelson Mentor:  
Big Dan Teage:  Shapeshifter:  
Homer Stokes Shadow:  
Penny  Herald / Threshold Guardian:  
Eckard Threshold Guardian:  
Pappy O’Daniel Mentor: