Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1990s Movies, Crime Drama, Film Criticism and Analysis, Overrated

Why Very Few People Got the Mike Yanagita Plot Point in Fargo (1996)

Mike Yanagita from Fargo (1996)

Mike Yanagita from Fargo (1996)

Problem #3: There Were No Parallels Between Mike and Jerry Lundegaard

When you get down to it, Mike Yanagita and Jerry Lundegaard are two completely different characters from two different walks of life who are a part of Marge’s storyline in two completely different capacities. One was a high school classmate she lost touch with and hadn’t seen in the ages; the other guy is a local businessman that she’s never met before. One guy wore his heart on his sleeves, crying in public; the other one acted like a wide-eyed, innocent babe in the woods. One was a sociopath who hired two hoods to kidnap his wife in an extortion scheme; the other was just a goofy nerd who simply lied to get into Marge’s pants.

Because these two characters were so different in terms of purpose and background, it was not apparent to the average moviegoer that Mike’s subplot had anything to do with Jerry, so they weren’t able to connect the dots. What the movie needed to do, precisely because these characters were so different, was draw a parallel that would’ve made Marge’s epiphany about Jerry even more “gettable.”

For example, imagine that Mike had been portrayed as a completely normal, average run-of-the mill successful businessman with a perfect family and kids and a normal, unassuming life. However, he’s run into some financial trouble. At the restaurant, Mike says something like, “My business partner totally screwed me over and now I’ve got debts a mile long trying to fix the mess he made. I was wondering if you could help me out or maybe ask everyone around town to lend me a coupla thou?” Marge declines but offers to ask around town for anyone willing to help him out.

Now, imagine the next day, Marge calling up one of her friends for just that, as in, “I just heard from Mike Yanagita. I heard he’s doing so well, married so-and-so and owns his own business but he’s having trouble financially,” and then the friend responding with, “Huh? I heard from a friend that he was a high-powered executive at a Fortune 500 company but was then fired for embezzlement. It was gambling, you know. He spent money on the races and was so hard up that he started stealing on the job. Last I heard, he was just let out of prison and is selling timeshares. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust him if my life depended on it!”

Had this subplot played out this way, it would’ve immediately dawned on audiences what Mike Yanagita was all about and why he was in the movie. The reason, to emphasize, would’ve been the obvious parallels between Jerry and Mike as respectable, unassuming businessmen in fields associated with double talking and sleazy deals. As it stands, like I said earlier, there’s such a huge disparity between both characters that only in picking the screenwriter’s brain would someone have made the connection between Mike’s lies leading to Marge’s epiphany about Jerry.

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