The Odyssey and O' Brother Where Art Thou...

Dome Vongvises

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I just got done watching this movie last night, and I can honestly say I enjoyed it. However, I was kinda let down though because I was expecting a belly-hurtin' kind of funny. Anyway, I was curious to know about some of the parallels between Homer's The Odyssey and O'Brother. Besides the cyclops (bible salesman), the sirens (the ladies in the river), Ulysses (George Cloney), what are some other things did the Coen Brothers draw from The Odyseey by Homer?
 

tommy_esq

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the fact that the lead character is on a long journey home...
i don't get the bit about the dapper dan pomade and the hairnet, but it was a riot.
 

Mark Pfeiffer

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Rob Willey

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I was expecting a belly-hurtin' kind of funny.
Like most Coen brothers comedies, that comes with repeat viewings.
Rob
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Mark Turetsky

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Well, there's the fact that Penelope is being courted by suitors in The Odyssey, but she resists. This is slightly different in OBWAT, since she's not quite resisting her new fiance. There's also the test that Ulysses has to go through. In OBWAT, it's that he has to get back her ring, in The Odyssey, it's something to do with him proving himself to be Osysseus... It's something to do with their wedding bed. It's been a while since I've read it. I also believe there's a correlation between the Lotus Eaters and revivalists, but don't quote me on that. I also believe there was animal transformation in The Odyssey. Some of Odysseus' men were transformed into pigs by a goddess, whom Odysseus spent the next few years sleeping with. About the R-U-N-N-O-F-T thing, is that based on Greek equivalents, or on a translation of the epic?
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Dave White

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The 1963 Anchor Books edition translated by Robert Fitzgerald has the first seven lines thus:
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy. He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
(Then it continues: "in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.")
So unless Hogwallop's wife actually S-O-T-A-O-A-A'ed, we're either dealing with a different translation, another one of those legendary Coen red herrings, or (and here's the explanation I'm partial to) just some really funny dialog.
 

Mark Turetsky

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Yeah, all the translations I've seen have "Tell me, O Muse" or "Sing to me, O Muse" as the first few words. In greek, the lines are:
andra+ moi ennepe*++, mousa, polutropon*+, hos mala polla
planchthê, epei Troiês hieron ptoliethron epersen:
pollôn+ d' anthrôpôn+ iden+ astea+ kai noon egnô*,
polla d' ho g' en pontôi pathen algea hon kata* thumon,
arnumenos* hên te psuchên kai noston hetairôn+.
all' oud'* hôs hetarous errusato, hiemenos per:
autôn* gar spheterêisin atasthaliêisin olonto,
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Mark Pfeiffer

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Seth Paxton

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Let's see, well...
Odysseus arrogantly thinks he can at first OUT TALK the Cyclops, as happens in O Brother. He finds that the cyclops is better than he thought and is bested in this manner.
Odysseus and his men KILL SOME COWS (for food I think), and this ends up making Zeus destroy his boat because those cows were the sacred properity of the sun god Hyperion.
As said, his crew eats the Lotus flowers but Odysseus refuses. In the Odyssey it makes his crew lethargic, in O Brother it makes them not care about crime anymore and want to change their path.
When Odysseus first returns to his home he must sneak in among all the suitors dressed as AN OLD MAN, the exact same way he sneaks in to see his wife in the dance hall in O Brother. Then later when he reveals himself it is because he is the only one who can string his bow, which he does and then proceeds to "let em have it". Sorta like his secret strength via the hit song which he uses to dispatch his enemy.
Odysseus and his men sneak past the cyclops strapped under SHEEP, which is similar to hiding under the KLAN SHEETS. Of course in this case he still catches them. Also a bit of a Coen joke on the audiance is that Odysseus blinds the cyclops with a spear or something, but in O Brother this result is narrowly averted, teasing the audiance with what they thought would be another parallel (if you were familiar with the stories).
The TVA-induced flood could be the Charybdis (whirlpool in the ocean) to the Scylla (6 headed monster that eats men) of the policeman (who turns out to be the devil as well) and his men (weren't there 5 other men?) that are hunting the boys.
The blind sear was mentioned. In more detail Odysseus and his men go to Hades to find the old sear who tells them the future and what they must do. It could be argued that the bleak, washed-out, white-dusty hue of this point in the film gives it a Hades look as well.
Mark was onto the fact that Odysseus must prove who he is by knowing that their bed was carved from a living tree, somewhat like having to fetch their ring.
There's probably more that I'm not thinking of. Don't let the Coen's fool you. They claim to have never read The Odyssey, but clearly they at least got their hands on the Cliff Notes or have picked up a lot of the story 2nd hand throughout their life.
Of course, it's also great how they weave that story with real and semi-real characters from the depression era south, including the Governor who was closely based on the Governor of Texas in the late 30's. His name was Pappy O'Daniel as well and was also a flour baron. He also had a radio show featuring popular music. The Robert Johnson-like character who sells his soul (which legend said that Robert had done). Baby Face Nelson was from that era as well.
 

Richard Kim

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Knowing how disgusting pomade can be, the bits of humor about it were just hilarious.
On the O Brother soundtrack CD, there is a screensaver which features a closeup of Dapper Dan's pomade. On it it says "contains seal oil."

Did anyone notice that the sheriff was supposed to be Satan?
He was just as Tommy described (a white guy with a hound).
I am confused as to why the Coen Bros included this in the film, since it had nothing to do with the Oddysey.
 

tommy_esq

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seth- thanks for the insight! i've read 'the iliad' but never 'the odessey'. maybe someday i'll get around to it...
 

Seth Paxton

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Richard, maybe you missed where I said this
The TVA-induced flood could be the Charybdis (whirlpool in the ocean) to the Scylla (6 headed monster that eats men) of the policeman (who turns out to be the devil as well) and his men (weren't there 5 other men?) that are hunting the boys.
And in my last paragraph I was talking about how they tied in 30's America truth and legends with the Odyssey to create a new folk tale for America. They used the 30's depression era in the south, I think, because it is just far enough back in time to be slightly outside the collective conscience of Americans, where folk legends still can exist, yet as modern as it could get without moving out of that folk-legends era.
I really think that was their intent, to make an American Odyssey, thus the inclusions of those characters. I think Old Scratch is much more of an American folk tale character than Poseidon or Zeus are.
So, to me, that was why they included him as that character, the "god" that keeps putting Ulysses off his course, just like it went for Odysseus.
You can see why I think so much of this Coen film even among their own work. Funny as always, but very ambitious in it's goals of creating a modern American folk epic.
 

Andy Sheets

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Did anyone notice that the sheriff was supposed to be Satan?
He was just as Tommy described (a white guy with a hound).
I am confused as to why the Coen Bros included this in the film, since it had nothing to do with the Oddysey.
Between this guy, Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona, and, uh, that menacing bald guy in The Hudsucker Proxy, the Coens do seem to enjoy putting Devil figures in their movies

Another nod to The Odyssey: Pappy O'Daniel's son first refers to his father as Governor Menelaus Pappy O'Daniel. IIRC, Menelaus was one of the kings who started the war with Troy because his wife, Helen, had been kidnapped by Paris of Troy. I don't know how that fits in with the Coens' movie aside from the character's name
 

RAF

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I love this freakin' movie and now that I have had a chance to study it on DVD I love it even more with repeated viewings.
Let's also not forget the homage paid to The Wizard of OZ. Besides the beginning which transforms from B&W to color there is the most obviously parallel when our boys discover the KKK meeting. The camera angles are the same and I half-expected to see a lion's tail sticking out the back of one of the "colorguard's" capes.

Good show!
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Parker Clack

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Raf:
This movie had so many great laughs in it and one of them that got me rolling was the KKK meeting. What a riot.
I too expected them to start singing "Oh E Oh...... Wo........... O"
Parker
 

Guy Martin

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Govenor Pappy O'Daniel's first name is Menaleus, who was a king in the Odyssey.
- Guy
 

Hugh Jackes

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Not exactly an Oddysey reference, but did amybody else notice that the sheriff persuing them (who turned out to be the devil) seemed to be a tribute to The Boss With No Eyes from Cool Hand Luke?
 

JonZ

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I love to see homages like that. Did any one else notice The Big Lebowski/Mr Potter in Its A Wonderful Life similarities?
Ive used Dr Strangelove in a comic book I created way back.
While not as gutwrenching as Big Lebowski(one of the funniest movies Ive ever seen)this was very enjoyable and most of the jokes were very subtle as if the Coens said"Lets see how many get this"when they wrote it.
Theres alot more Öbviously you are not a golfer"humor-most of the laughs come from the dialogue and the portrayal of the characters.
Spoilers
"You cant display a toad in a fine restaurant like this....."
"Well, If that is Pete, I am ashamed of him.Fornicating with some whore of Babylon, these things dont happen for no reason,its obviously some sort of judgement on Petes character ......"
"So I borrowed it until I was sure"
"They loved him up and turned him into a horny toad"
I enjoyed O Brother.... Some amazing dialogue, good performances, and great cinematography in this movie.
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RAF

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And let's not forget that Pappy O'Daniel's opponent was named Homer.
Also, I loved Steven Root's portrayal of the Radio Station Man. Looks like his career has him typecast!
All we needed was Andy Dick as a hick!

And, The Big Lebowski

Let's just say that "The Dude abides."

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RAF
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