Going through their back catalog a second (or, in most cases, a third or fourth) time, I found that the Coens have always kept their eyes and ears alert to the broader social climate. Their first film, Blood Simple, opens with a monologue contrasting America and the Soviets: “In Russia,” M. Emmet Walsh’s private detective says, “they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else—that’s the theory, anyway.” In Texas, on the other hand, he says, setting up the selfish follies to come, “you’re on your own.” In Raising Arizona, a movie partly about unequal distribution (a wealthy couple has five kids, thanks to fertility treatments; a poorer couple can’t have any), Hi says he “tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn’t easy with that son of a bitch Reagan in the White House.” […] The Big Lebowski is a buddy picture about a bellicose, self-righteous Vietnam veteran and a left-leaning former protester, united against an old white man living off the wealth of his dead wife while spouting up-from-your-bootstraps clichés. Burn After Reading (2008) not only sends up the idiocy of Hollywood spy movies but also depicts the ruthlessly efficient incompetence of the CIA—and the widespread loneliness of our shallow, paranoid age. […]
I don’t mean to suggest that the Coens’ movies are narrowly political, just that Joel and Ethan, as storytellers, have a wide scope—and a broad range: Few filmmakers have a body of work that is at once as varied and as unified as theirs (something delightfully demonstrated by this well crafted YouTube montage [above]).