Ethan Joel Brother
Similarities between Ethan and Joel Coen's, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Homer's, Odyssey
After watching Ethan and Joel Coen's movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? and understanding bits and pieces of Homer's Odyssey, there are many similarities that are found. First from the very start, both works begin with the line “Sing to me of the man, Muse". Next from Wikipedia, “Ulysses is the Roman name of Odysseus.” Our antagonists in each work are, Ulysses Everett McGill from O Brother … and Odysseus from Odyssey. The Coen Brothers used a bit of a play on words there to name their star.
One similarity that stands out to me is the sirens, in both O Brother … and Odyssey having the same basic role, using song to lure the protagonist and his crew away from his mission or quest if you will. The sirens in O Brother … also represent other characters from Odyssey. The sirens are washing the laundry like Nausicaa and her daughters from Odyssey. There are also some elements of Circe from Odyssey, when it appears in O Brother … that the sirens turned Pete into a frog. In Odyssey, we learn that Circe turned all of Odysseus' men, except Odysseus, into pigs with a wave of her wand.
Another correlation between Coen's O Brother … and Homer's Odyssey is between the Cyclops, Polyphemus in Odyssey and the one-eyed Bible salesman Big Dan Brown in O Brother …. Both of the Cyclops' use a club as a weapon. They both have one eye although Big Dan Brown wore an eye patch instead only having one eye as Polyphemus does. Ulysses almost put out Big Dan Brown's eye out with a flagpole, in Odyssey Polyphemus lost his eye from Odysseus and his crew with a sharpened smoldering log.
From the time when Ulysses and his crew make a break from the chain gang, there is the sheriff wanting to catch them. The sheriff can take on two different personas from Odyssey, Poseidon, who throughout is trying to prevent Odysseus from reaching his destination or the sheriff could be Satan as he is alluded to in the movie, his ever present hunting dog lends itself to Cerberus, the three headed dog that guarded the entrance to Hades. Ulysses mentions in O Brother … that Satan carries "a giant hay fork”. This is in effect a trident, that both Satan and Poseidon carry. I noticed that the sheriff seemed to be shown with fire reflected in his sunglasses at both of the barn burnings, which would hint at a supernatural like Satan/Hell connection.
The next easy to spot character in both Coen's O Brother … and Homer's Odyssey that I found was the suitors in Homers work and the suitor in Coen's; they are both rivals for the protagonists attempting to win their wives. In Homer's Odyssey Odysseus, kills the suitors and in O Brother … the suitor was simply embarrassed and pretty much run out of town for being affiliated with the gubernatorial candidate that Everett Ulysses McGill helped to oust from town. Not killed per-se, but he is no longer “bona-fide” as Ulysses' daughters have pointed out and is as good as dead when it comes to being a suitor.
It has been said that Coen never read Homer's Odyssey when he wrote O Brother … That may be, but I am sure that he had to have at least seen or heard some of Odyssey and I am convinced that the Odyssey did have some influence on O Brother …, in fact according to Wikipedia:
The movie titles acknowledge that the work is "Based upon Homer's Odyssey." In interviews, the Coen brothers say that they never actually read the Odyssey, but the film patterns many of its characters and situations upon that ancient work… The Coen's claim to having gleaned most of the incidental details of Homer's epic from the 1955 filmed adaptation (Ulysses), starring Kirk Douglas.
I find this an interesting fact, that the Coen brothers give credit to Homer's wonderful work yet admit that they have never even read it. Rather they watched a movie based on Homer's Odyssey, and then they made a movie based on Homer's Odyssey. There might be just a bit of irony there.Works Cited
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 27 Feb 2007, 05:45 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 1 Mar 2007. <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=O_Brother%2C_Where_Art_Thou%3F&oldid=111271573>.
Article name: Ethan Joel Brother essay, research paper, dissertation