VIEWING CUES: RAISING ARIZONA
The main character in the Coen Brothers' 1987 film Raising Arizona is introduced as a repeat offender who sees his role in life as a convenient store burglar. For the majority of the film, he is dressed in an open Hawaiian shirt with a wife-beater. His hair is perhaps his most distinguishing feature and is always unkempt and disorderly. He is referred to in the film in abbreviated form (H.I.), which also serves to emphasize his informal, common personality.
The character does not seem very realistic and borders on comedic. It is not likely that a man who repeatedly robs convenient stores would last that long on the streets, regardless of whether his gun was loaded or not. Physically, the character is tall and unusually lanky. Though slightly comedic, however, he shows serious dedication to his wife and his temporary family. He is a rebel but one who chooses to break laws for universally accepted values. This aspect of the character is very real and I can readily empathize with it.
The most ordinary facet of the protagonist is his ultimate devotion to the protection of his wife and temporarily attained family. An extraordinary trait of the main character would be his unyielding will to affirm this devotion. An example of this is seen at the end of the film as he faces off with a gigantic man whom he dubs “the lone biker man of the apocalypse.” These traits achieve a delicate balance.
The protagonist can most accurately be defined as singular. He is singular in that his relationships with other characters are very poor and never reach complete solidity. This quality suggests that the human values of the film are very sparse and far between. The character gains coherency toward the end of the film when he decides, with his wife, to return the toddler to its original parents. At this point, the protagonist has decided that the benefits of living legitimate far outweigh those of living illegitimately and on the run.
The main character of the film is contradictory regarding the ultimate ends he hopes to achieve and the means by which he will achieve them. H.I. must steal something and break the law in order to reach balance and harmony. To carry out what is deemed an illegal act to reach personal happiness and satisfaction reflects a theme of rebellion and living life for its resulting pleasant emotions.
The most important minor characters represent the usual obstacles that are commonplace in anyone’s lives. Their motivations are presented just as legitimately as the main characters’ and are not necessarily evil or bad but inconvenient.
The most explicit social hierarchy suggested by the character groupings in this film is that of family. The main character spends a good deal of time with his family and fighting for his family, albeit an illegitimate one.
STORY, PLOT AND NARRATION
The main events in Raising Arizona are a robbery, a chase and a final, very physical, battle. Since this is a very contained movie, there are few events that are left implied. If there is one, however, it deals with the police and FBI’s search for a missing toddler. The most significant details of the story are the unique character traits as they contribute greatly to the events of the story. There were very few insignificant details as everything seemed to fulfill an essential role in the movie.
The story of the movie basically concerns the theft of a toddler and the challenges the anti-heroes, who have stolen the toddler, must overcome to escape the authorities and reach safety. The plot begins with a summary in which the protagonist H.I. describes his life as a criminal up to the present. The rest of the plot is primarily from his point of view as he faces unexpected situations and characters. The plot presents the events of the story chronologically which guides easily and does not confuse.
As the plot centers, for the most part, on the main character’s point of view, the movie revolves around his experiences as a criminal and how he deals with the events that unfold. The themes that seem to be the most present are those of chance, redemption and resolve through naked force.
The film’s narration is most prominent as a header and footer. The perspective of the narration comes from the protagonist, the anti-hero of the story. The narration is very subjective and is intended to reveal how foolhardy and common the main character is.
The traces of old heist narratives can be found in this film. These historical precedents come from older Hollywood-style films. This is especially reflected in the sequences of the narrative which could only be presented in the film medium. The robbery, the chase and the final brawl are very action-oriented and dynamic visually, but add little to the narrative of the film.