O Brother, Where Art Thou? starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson presents the Coen brothers take on Homer’s The Odyssey. This Dust Bowl era story follows three escaped convicts in search of a treasure while being pursued by relentless lawmen. Throughout their journey, the rich sounds of 1930s music surrounds them and even comes to their rescue. Whether the mellow sounds of a lone banjo or the enchanting song of the sirens, the colorful music of 1930s Mississippi effectively portrays the mood of the Great Depression and sheds light on how highly these blues filled songs were regarded in this era.
The Coen brothers use this type of blues and country to depict how important music was during this difficult time. This is just one way music is used as logos throughout the film. Because this movie is set in the past, the soundtrack is used to help the audience better understand society and the mood of this time period. Logos is also utilized in this film when the song matches what is happening in the scene. For instance, when the three men are in the woods, they come across a church congregation dressed all in white. They all ignore the men and keep walking past while harmoniously singing “Down In The River To Pray” by Alison Krauss. This can be used as logos because the church group is singing this song while heading to the river in order to become baptized. Its rhythm and the lyrics also help create a more cheerful mood in the story. At this point in the film, the three adventurers have just learned that their car has broken down and they are still hundreds of miles from where the treasure is buried. After being engulfed by this congregation, Pete and Delmar become entranced by the song and rush down to the river to become baptized, giving them hope for the rest of their journey now that they believed that they had been saved by God.
Another prime example of ethos and logos in this film is when the soothing song of the sirens helps set the mood and add to the mystery behind these women. While driving, Everett, Pete, and Delmar hear a chorus of enchanting voices singing down near the river. Once they go and investigate the source of this enigmatic song, they come across three beautiful women bathing and washing their clothes in the river. While the three men stand there, awe struck by these beautiful women, they continue to sing the song, “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby” by Emmylou Harris. The rhythm and the soothing sounds of this song correlate with the characters singing it, letting the audience know that these beautiful women resemble the sirens from The Odyssey.
One last scene that uses music in order to enhance its effect on the audience is when Everett, Pete, and Delmar stumble onto KKK rally in the middle of the woods. When the group happens upon this gathering, the members of the KKK are chanting and stomping their feet, creating a dark, ominous tone that lets the audience know the impending trouble. Suddenly, the clan members stop their stomping and chanting, and their leader starts into a lonesome solo entitled “O Death” by Ralph Stanley. Once he begins this song, the members of the clan bring forth Tommy, the black guitar player who had sold his soul to devil to learn how to play the guitar, and are about to lynch him until the three men rescue him. The music in this scene effectively portrays the mood of the scene and foreshadows to the audience what is going to happen in the scene.
Unlike many films, O Brother, Where Art Thou? does not use many songs without lyrics, but instead uses old folk, blues, and religious songs to portray the meaning and tone behind each of the scenes. While these songs do not utilize pathos in their persuasion to the audience, they successfully use ethos and logos to guide the audience and describe the mood of each scene.
I would rate this soundtrack 4 stars because while each song has a specific meaning behind it, it does not bring in any songs that would be immediately recognizable to the average viewer, thus not utilizing a very important tool.