Comparing Edward Hopper & the Coen Brothers

Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. Oil on canvas. 84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.)signed l.r. “Edward Hopper”Friends of American Art Collection, 1942.5. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Arguably Edward Hoppers most iconic paintings, “Nighthawks” encompasses “… a feeling of loneliness and detachment [that pervades] Hopper’s works in the second half of his career” (Levin). To start off, the café is composed in such a way that there are no entrances or exits visible, the figures seem to be forever trapped in this moment. There is no evidence of communication between the figures in the café; each one a solitary entity that the audience is looking on to. Hopper has captured this “audible silence and pregnant pause” (Edward Hopper Master of Silence) between these figures, giving a more harsh reality than the regionalists at the time. The audience is not being told a story, but instead acting as the onlooker of this moment in the figures minds. It makes the audience uncomfortable, and question the reality in which is portrayed in this scene. Is this what true reality looks like, or is it a realism not bound by reality? (Edward Hopper Master of Silence).

Edward Hopper. Office at Night, 1940. oil on canvas. unframed 22.1875 × 25.125 × inches. The Walker Art Center.

Hopper’s “Office at Night” shows again the momentary of the scene and the never-ending pause that takes up most of this scene. He utilizes composition to make viewer feel like an outsider looking in, creating a voyeuristic relationship between the audience and the figures. Although a completely different setting than “Nighthawks”, the “Office at Night” shows Hopper’s repetitiveness and tendency to paint people waiting for something to happen (Jackson). The angle elicits feeling of discontinuity between the woman and the man. The man seems to be working; yet the woman looks at the man, seeming to be waiting for something. Even though they are in this confined space, only the woman is acting on this pause, and the man seems oblivious to this intimacy. This discontinuity separates the woman in the painting, alienating her and her thoughts. Even though we as a viewer see this disconnect, we are not relieved from it or given an explanation for it. We are simply passing strangers, who look greedily at them for more.


This scene in Fargo shows the same themes in Hopper’s pieces that are intertwined within the movie. Here we see Jerry Lundegard at the left end of the table, his wife, son, and father-in-law. Usually when the phrase “family dinner” is mentioned, in the Midwest it conjures up images of loud voices, hungry hands, and chewing mouths. Here again the Coen brothers take this stereotype and create and awkward and interesting scene. No one at the table is looking at one another, creating a Hopper sense of disconnect. The composition is also reminiscent of Hopper with its geometric entrapment and it’s view on the family as being an outside spying on them.

Like Wood, the Coens have used this scene to portray regionalism through costume and setting; the thick turtlenecks of the figures surrounded by beige walls with wood trim. But as stated before, this scene seems to isolate the individuals, instead of bringing them together to portray the Minnesota family.

Edward Hopper. Interior, 1925. Watercolor with touches of gouache, over graphite, on ivory wove paper. 354 x 506 mm. Olivia Shaler Swan Memorial Collection, 1933.487. The Art Institute of Chicago.

“Interior” by Edward Hopper delves into the idea of the viewer a voyeuristic entity even farther. We are the unnoticed outsiders looking in, with the figure placed in this enclosed composition like an animal on view at the zoo. The woman is given no power in this painting, she sits unknowingly and almost naked in the corner, while we the audience look on to her without any remorse or humility. There is a feeling of another pause in this intimate moment, that at some point this woman will turn around and see that she is not alone. We also don’t see her face, and even though we are given the power to look, we don’t have the power to see who this individual is or what she is thinking.


In this scene, we as an audience are given a way out with the door in view, however Marge’s husband Norm isolated in a cramped space. As we are caught in a moment in “Interior”, the Coens have the audience caught in the mundane everyday life of Marge and Norm (mostly Norm). Here we can see two different worlds: the world inside and the world outside. The character Norm seems contently entrenched in this indoor world, with the warm robe, warm coffee, walls to shield him from the elements, and a content (and even blank) stare. The Coens have created a scene where we get a sense of Norm and Marge’s a-typical relationship. While Wood and Grant have portrayed women as someone background and the men as working, the Coens created a couple where the women is the sole income to the family, while the husband spends his days at home doing his hobby of painting ducks. But the similarity lies in the way the viewer looks onto this scene as a passerby; a visitor in Marge and Norm’s world.

Edward Hopper.Early Sunday Morning, 1930. Oil on canvas. Overall: 35 3/16 × 60 1/4 in. (89.4 × 153 cm). The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Edward Hopper takes a different approach of portraying reality and urban regionalism with his painting “Early Sunday Morning”. He keeps with his geometric compositions and forms, yet emphasizes the uniformity and the mundane in these shops. What lacks completely in this painting is any sign of life. There is no foot traffic in and out of the shops, no one passing by on the sidewalk, or driving on the road. Although these storefronts are connected, they are still isolated and alien to the viewer, as if we were looking at a moment in a ghost town.


In this scene, the Coen brothers have given us a glimpse of Jerry Lundegard and his inevitable demise. Although this is just a still from the scene, we the audience get a literal window into Jerry’s world. The repeated straight lines that entrap Jerry in a harsh geometric cage gives a tension and feeling that something is wrong. Like Hopper, the audience does not see an entrance or exit for Jerry. He is alienated in his own, claustrophobic world. The scene as a whole shows Jerry’s breakdown after his plans have gone awry, but the still shows this inevitable break down through the tension of the claustrophobic space and the way Jerry is trapped (literally and figuratively) in this still.

Edward Hopper. Night Shadows, 1921. Etching on white wove paper. 175 x 210 mm (plate); 256 x 280 mm (sheet). Gift of the Print and Drawing Club, 1944.156. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Hopper’s “Night Shadows” is an etching that is simplistic, yet has all the themes that are apparent in his paintings. We get a severe aerial view of the figure that blatantly isolates the figure. This birds-eye-view, coupled with the severe shadows from the street lamp give an eeriness and uneasiness to the view and make us question the figure and the piece as a whole. Why is he alone? Why is there no one else on the street or no cars passing by? Hopper puts us in the position of looking at the figure in a specific moment in time, making us look at this continuous pause. The figure is literally mid step, and we as the audience wait and wait for the release of another step, but are never given it. We continuously hold our breath, waiting for something to happen, for something to change, and for the whole scene to be explained.


The Coen brothers, like Hopper, give us an aerial view of the snow-covered parking lot, intentionally isolating the figure (aka Jerry). This still is an interesting mix of both Wood and Hopper’s themes. The uniformity of the potted trees alludes to strict and looming geometry in Hooper’s paintings. The white ground, however, alludes to the stark and isolated landscape of Minnesota, highlighting regionalist themes as in Wood’s artwork. The viewer also wonders about the isolated figure and his thought process. Unlike Wood and Hopper, the Coens have created a dynamic (and dimwitted) character Jerry, that we see evolve in the movie and physically see his thought processes. And we don’t question his intentions often, we don’t even question his half-baked plan to hire someone to kidnap his wife in order to split the ransom his father-in-law will pay to get her back. But here, in this moment, we question why he parked in such an isolated spot if the lot was so empty. Is he intentionally isolating himself? Or is this another way to add some dark and twisted comedy into the movie?

Edward Hopper. Automat, 1927. Oil on Canvas, 36 x 28 1/8 in. Des Moines Art CEnter Permanent Collections, Purchased with funds form the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 1958.2

Automat is one of Hopper’s paintings that intimately portrays not only the woman’s alienation towards society, but it also represents the emotions of America as a whole during that time. The woman sits alone, under harsh white lighting of the automat, staring at her hands. There is no one else around her, and the reflecting lights off of the window behind her extends the space into a dark abyss. The woman appears neither stressed or relaxed, happy or sad. She is displaying a sort of “cool” that American society adopted in the 20th century through “… [the] tensions between modernism’s codes of visual autonomy and emotional restraint, and its unsettling and unpredictable dynamics” (Doss). Hopper portrays this cool not only through the lonely figure of the girl, but by literally using cool colors, and distorting the perspective and placing the woman asymmetrically off to the corner of the canvas. The space, like all of Hopper’s works, is also confined and shows no apparent exit for the figure to escape.


In this scene, Carl and Gaear are attempting to kidnap Jerry Lundegard’s wife, who ironically and hilariously was hired to do so by Jerry himself. Gaear, in the process, gets bit by Jerry’s wife, allowing her to lock herself in the bathroom. Carl gets the door open and sees that the bathroom window is open and frantically runs downstairs, while Garear scrounges around to find a cream to cover his injured bitten hand. This still shows his pause when he closes the medicine cabinet mirror, eerily staring at himself. Here, like in Hopper’s Automat, Gaear is neither angry or happy, he seems to convey an uneasy cool as he stares at his own icy blue eyes. To add to this uneasiness, the angle allows the side reflection to look at the main reflection, which in turn looks out at himself and the audience. The viewer can’t help but wonder what this silent brute is thinking about, and what he is capable of.