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O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a musical comedy film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, set in Mississippi during the Great Depression. It was released in 2000.

The film stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter. The Coen brothers claim to have based the movie on The Odyssey by Homer, but admit to not having read the poem. (However, Tim Blake Nelson, who plays the rather dim-witted character Delmar, did read the Odyssey at university.) The film's American roots music soundtrack became a surprise hit, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. (See O Brother, Where Art Thou? (soundtrack).)

The hero of the film is a dapper, smooth-talking con man called Ulysses Everett McGill. Ulysses escapes from a chain gang and brings along the two fellow prisoners chained to him with the promise of recovering buried treasure from a heist. In fact, he only wants to get back to his wife before she marries someone else.

Episodes in the film resemble the The Odyssey. Ulysses Everett McGill tends to come off much worse than his mythical counterpart Ulysses. A viewer familiar with The Odyssey may often expect the hero to triumph. Typically, this does not happen, although things turn out all right later, partly because the hero is so irrepressible, partly by sheer luck. He faces:

  • A merciless Sheriff wanting to lynch him, perhaps analogous to Poseidon.
  • Sirens, who lure the hero with their singing, and treat him to corn liquor until he passes out. The sirens also have an element of Circe by appearing to transform one of his companions into an animal.
  • A cyclops, although in the movie it is the cyclops who outwits Ulysses. At one point it seems that the cyclops is about to be defeated by having a pole rammed through his eye (as in The Odyssey), but he catches it just in time.
  • A rival for his wife Penelope (Penny). Rather than slaying the suitors, Ulysses is knocked down in a boxing match, and thrown out of the Woolworth. Penny also needs some persuading to take Ulysses back.

Apart from The Odyssey, another theme of the film is the connection between old-time songs and political campaigning in the southern US. The character of "Pappy" O'Daniel, the Governor of Mississippi and host of the radio show Flour Hour, is loosely based on W. Lee O'Daniel (who was actually Governor of Texas). The real O'Daniel used a backing band called the Hillbilly Boys on his radio show, rather like the Soggy Bottom Boys that the protagonist founds in the film. Jimmie Davis, Governor of Louisiana, used a theme song You Are My Sunshine, just like the O'Daniel in the movie.

Other notable episodes in the film include the trio encountering:

  • bank robber George "Babyface" Nelson
  • a KKK lynch mob
  • a blind prophet, who foreshadows "the treasure you seek shall not be the treasure you find."

The title of the film is a reference to a satirical 1941 film, directed by Preston Sturges, called Sullivan's Travels, where a director wants to direct a film called O Brother, Where Art Thou? but is being forced to direct another film instead; the director wants to experience poverty and keeps trying to but is constantly returned to his posh surroundings. This director's experience is the opposite of that of Odysseus in The Odyssey: Odysseus wants to return home and is constantly being diverted from it. The film contains references to many other films including the Wizard of Oz and Cool Hand Luke.


George Clooney (Ulysses Everett McGill)
Tim Blake Nelson (Delmar)
John Turturro (Pete)
John Goodman (Big Dan Teague, the cyclops)
Holly Hunter (Penny)
Charles Durning (Governor "Pappy" O'Daniel)
Daniel von Bargen (Sheriff Cooley)


O Brother, Where Art Thou?O Brother, Where Art Thou? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190590/) at the Internet Movie Database

O Brother, Where Art Thou? at Video.com (http://video.movies.go.com/obrother/)

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