One final allusion in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I’ve never seen anyone comment on this before, but doesn’t the series of arches in the final moments of O Brother, Where Art Thou? remind you of the series of axe heads (the ring holes) that Odysseus (aka Ulysses, the main character’s name in the Roman version of the epic poem Odyssey, and also George Clooney’s name in this movie very much based on that poem) shoots an arrow through just before he slaughters all of Penelope’s suitors? I’m doing class prep for my film and media studies class, which (yikes!) meets in 20 minutes, and one of the clips I’m organizing in the queue is this fabulous behind-the-scenes look at the digital color-grading intermediary technique pioneered by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins in this film. (Included below in case you’d like to watch.)

Anyway, that reminded me of the film’s ending moments’ allusion to the Odyssey, which, again, O Brother is based on, and which, as I also said above, I’ve been disappointed never to have seen anyone talk about, because I thought it was really cool.

First, here is the “contest of the bow” as it appears in the 2017 film Troy: The Odyssey. When Odysseus finally makes it home to Ithaca 20 years after leaving to fight the Trojan War, no one recognizes him except his dogs (those must have been some remarkably long-lived dogs!). His wife, Penelope, is beset by suitors who are harassing her to marry one of them in order to gain ownership of Odysseus’s kingdom. Penelope finally says she’ll marry whoever can string her husband’s bow and shoot an arrow through the holes of 12 axe heads (rings in this movie, but holes in the axe blades in the poem). None of them can do it. Then Odysseus, the recently-arrived stranger (as they all believe him to be), asks to do it and, well, see for yourself. He gets that bow strung with brute strength and then sends his arrow sailing right through the series of rings.

Now check out the series of arches from the end of O Brother, Where Art Thou? echoing those rings (axe heads).

Don’t you agree that this long passageway of multiple arches has to be a deliberate allusion to the ending of the Odyssey? And before I run off to class, here’s a longer take of that ending (in case you’d like to watch it 🙂 ). Bye!!!

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Movies and film, Popular culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to One final allusion in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  1. Wyrd Smythe says:

    One of the key lessons I learned in film school was that there are (almost) never coincidences in a film. Every element is intended, and I’d think that with the Coen brothers that’s especially true, so I don’t doubt at all that you’re quite right. The characters are even talking about a ring!

    Wonderful film, by the way, and the second one ever that, while watching it in the theater, I realized I needed to go out the next day and buy the soundtrack. (Which now I want to go listen to!)

    Liked by 1 person

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