The Great Scenes: “Goin’ Crazy Out There at the Lake” from FARGO
The Movie: Fargo (1996)
Spoiler Level: Moderate
The Setup: Brainerd Police Department Officer Olson (Cliff Rakerd) arrives at the residence of Eklund & Swedlund’s bartender Mr. Mohra (Bain Boehlke) on a gray day in Minnesota while investigating the recent interstate murders of a state trooper and a teenage couple. In a single two-minute shot, Mohra politely recounts to Officer Olson an encounter with a “kinda funny-lookin'” little fella (Steve Buscemi) who was looking to get set up with a prostitute, noting he was “goin’ crazy out there at the lake,” while also bragging about murdering “the last guy who thought he was a jerk.” Figuring it might be related to the homicides his wife heard about in Brainerd, Mohra thinks it might help with the investigation.
Why it’s Great: For me, this scene best reflects the “Minnesota Nice” motif writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen introduce in their black comedy masterpiece, my favorite of their films. The film puts on a clinic when it comes to taking full advantage of the sense of place the filmmakers come to fully realize, perfectly utilizing the regional dialect and decency of its all-too-real characters, namely the unassuming citizens of Minnesota.
Unassuming as they may be, these proud Minnesotans are not to be dismissed by the likes of Buscemi’s scummy Carl Showalter who seemingly feels above the area and thinks he can literally get away with murder. What he fails to assume is that folks like Officer Olson (and Brainerd Police Chief Marge Gunderson, played by Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) are doing their jobs, and citizens like Mr. Mohra are going to help them do so to preserve their safe and proud quality of life.
Beyond the scene’s direct relation to the Coens’ plot, I love it for the sake of the slice of freezing but pleasant Minnesota life you get from Officer Olsen and Mr. Mohra, the latter of whom is sweeping wet snow from his driveway with a push-broom. They’re pleasant to one another regardless of the fact that they’ve never met, and not just in your average cordial way. They’re just naturally inclined to be friendly, and it’s unfortunate that something so grisly happens in their universe. But again, they’ll see that it doesn’t continue with thorough police work, from law enforcement and the community.
Even after they finish the business at hand, Mohra immediately transitions into weather discussion, a go-to topic any of us use to avoid awkward silence. But in his case, it sounds genuine. “Looks like she’s gonna turn cold tomorrow,” Mohra says, to which Officer Olson replies, “Oh yeah, gotta front comin’ in.”
“Yeah, you got that right,” Mohra then says, as the two men part ways and almost continue as if nothing ever happened.
Again, with these wonderful performances from Rakerd and Boehlke (in what I believe to be the greatest acting ensemble ever assembled) and the wintry Minnesota backdrop, the Coens never better exploit this exceptional and wholly tangible sense of place they created in the blissfully freezing Fargo.