Hail, Caesar! is a strange film to discuss. It is perhaps the most ironic movie ever made, as it is a celebration of film that laughs at the ultimate meaninglessness of the medium. The Coens have constructed a narrative that forgoes all conventional ideas of drama (that of conflict being the driving force that propels a story compellingly forward) and instead has every problem resolved with the greatest of ease. Yet, it remains a highly enjoyable experience. One that I’m not sure I cared for.
Far be it from me to question the ultimate genius of the Coen Brothers, who are perhaps the greatest living American filmmakers, but this aesthetically warm film felt uncomfortably cold at times. Perhaps the issue lies within myself, as it is possible that in attempting to intellectualize what was going on, the easygoing comedy of the film sailed over my whirling, dizzy head.
The Coens are no strangers to subtracting a plot to its barest dramatic parts, as in Inside Llewyn Davis, one of my favourite movies of all-time, sacrifices simplistic drama in favour of a poignant character study in which nothing is learned, and thus the only progress is regression. However, in Hail, Caesar! it becomes much more difficult to suss out the intent behind the lack of drama. It’s been said by film critic Devin Faraci that this movie is ultimately about the redemptive power of cinema. While I can see the reasoning behind this idea (the final sequence being a prayer to film), I do not see what Josh Brolin’s character, Eddie Mannix, is being redeemed from. It’s noted that his greatest sin is lying about smoking a couple of cigarettes, and maybe taking a job with an admittedly evil company, Lockheed Martin.
But, again, this all plays into the brothers’ dry sense of humour that movies, while ultimately pointless and silly, at least aren’t as bad as a nuclear bomb.
Or, maybe, I’m missing the point entirely. Maybe the point is that there is no point, and that movies are just an enjoyable ride through the best humanity has to offer. And it is in this regard that I most enjoyed the film, as it reminded me of reading Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a travler, a fantastic novel that explores the beauty of books and the act of reading. For, in it, as you the reader make your way through it, each odd numbered chapter presents you with a the first chapter of an entirely different story, and it is only in between these chapters that you get a semblance of a coherent story; you attempting to read If on a winter’s night a traveler.
Much like Calvino’s head trip of a novel, Hail, Caesar! takes the time to revel in the magic of early cinema, jumping from stage to stage, on set of different productions. It is in these small moments really shine, as whenever we were dragged away from these scenes (especially that of Merrily, We Dance, where Alden Ehrenreich’s hillbilly character attempts to act in a prestige drama) the film slows down in order to follow its borderline unnecessary plot of abduction. Though, in saying this, the plot itself provides some of the biggest laughs in the film.
So, I guess, the idea I’m trying so hard to convey is that the film is almost as much a mystery as Barton Fink, an earlier Coen film with which Hail, Caesar! shares many ideas and visuals. Ultimately, the Coens have given us another film with which to busy ourselves discussing as we plod our way to the inevitable dirt. And maybe, that’s enough. For in film, we have life everlasting.