The Coen Brothers always pack a punch. Though some would critique Raising Arizona as lacking in depth, it has plenty to offer in the areas of cartoon-violence, exaggerated characterization, quirky dialogue, and tricky camera work.
H.I. McDunnough and Ed(wina) played respectively by a young Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter, are an unlikely pair who meet in prison. H.I. being the convict and Ed being the police officer. Smitten with Edwina from the moment she takes his first mugshot, H.I. continues to hold up gas stations, maybe in an attempt to satisfy some wreckless ambition, maybe because getting in trouble is the thing H.I. feels he does best, but most likely because its the only opportunity he gets to see Ed. H.I. proposes to Ed on his third incarceration, and upon entering the hole finds he actually has something to look forward to. H.I. and Ed soon marry.
Fast forward to the first year of their relationship, and H.I. and Ed desperately try to conceive for months only to find Ed is barren. The news is broken in a pastel green Doctor’s office, who breaks the news while Ed wails. All goes silent for H.I. except for the sound of wind scraping a dusty, sad, desert. The effect is comedic, while still effective in that it lets us know that there is something beyond H.I.’s seemingly vacant stare. They try adoption, but due to H.I.’s convict past, can’t even get past the application process. When they return home they see news on television of Nathan Arizona’s quintuplets. Nathan Arizona is the owner of a huge Unpainted Wood store. Not only has Nathan been blessed in the area of material goods – which he values highly – but he has been blessed in progeny. With the logic that Arizona and his wife received five beautiful boys and couldn’t possibly handle all five themselves, H.I. and Ed hatch up the brilliant plot to one of their babies and raise him as their own.
Though Ed and H.I. appear disgruntled enough to fit the archetype of someone who would steal a child, they are written endearingly. H.I.’s internal conflict between wanting more than a life of crime and prison for himself and becoming a family man is apparent. As an audience we can sense his growing sense of overwhelming claustrophobia. Maybe the majority of us desire more for ourselves than a life of chasing behind children, and working a nine-to-five. We begin to understand H.I.’s overpowering urge to escape from the time his boss Glenn enters H.I.’s trailer with his five terrible children in tow; vandalizing and abusing everything in sight. The irony of this script is that, although the most economically dispossessed couple of the entire film, the least knowledgeable, and the most likely to be seen as “unsuited” for parenthood, H.I. and Ed are the most qualified, loving, and doting parental units of the entire film. They love the baby they steal with the passion of parents who have been denied a child of their own, and show the baby the most care and protection, perhaps even more than Nathan Arizona himself, who seems to care more about his material possessions than anything else.
What I found most interesting in the movie, was that by H.I.’s defeat of the “Lone Rider of the Apocolypse” who bears the same Woody the Woodpecker tattoo, H.I. squashes his instinct of rebellion and destruction. Irresponsibility and crime seem to no longer compute after he conquers the Lone Rider – a personification of H.I.’s yearning beyond the the prison of everyday life. After conquering the Lone Rider, H.I. conquers a peice of himself, and matures. As he dreams that night with Ed by his side, he no longer sees visions of a violent outlaw, with a taste for blood, but sees a future for he and Edwina where not only are they parents, but grandparents. A nuclear-family and it’s subsequent generations flood the doors of H.I. and Ed’s tiny trailer. In H.I.’s dream “All parents are strong, wise and capable.” And all children are “happy and beloved”. In this way I believe H.I. will be a good father someday. He must first however, stop stealing babies.
H.I.’s environment is one of paradoxes and corners. There is no in-between for a man who can choose between the imprisonment of a dead-end job, and an actual prison. H.I. feels regardless of what he does he is doomed to fail. Will H.I. return his stolen son to Nathan Arizona, return to a life of crime, or give-in to America’s idea of a nuclear family?
An interesting point of The Coen Brother’s film is also that the camera work employed throughout. Frequently the film’s camera takes on a seperate entity unto itself, immersing the audience in whatever P.O.V. the Coen Brothers feel is necessary to understand the scene. At times in the movie we are in the position of an newborn crawling on the ground and conspiring against H.I., while in others we see the film’s “Lone Rider of the Apocalypse from the P.O.V. of an innocent lizard…that is soon to be blown up.
Slap-stick violence, quirky dialogue, masterful camerawork, and cartoon-esque characters make Raising Arizona hilarious, charming ride.