The Story (continued)
That same morning, the air-headed Jean (while knitting and drinking coffee) is intently watching a "Good Morning" cooking show on TV, with the cheery hosts (Steve Edelman and Sharon Anderson) wearing aprons in a kitchen set. Through her living room window (another TV screen of sorts), she spies (and is mesmerized by) a man (Carl) wearing a full face black mask climbing the stairs up to her snowy porch with a crowbar in his hand. Open-mouthed, she is frozen in disbelief as he tries to peer in. Puzzled, she doesn't jump up and scream until the masked intruder breaks the window - and shatters her peaceful existence. She runs into another similarly-garbed individual (Grimsrud) who barges into the front door, grabs her and covers her mouth. She struggles, bites his hand, escapes, and flees to the upstairs bathroom, as the wounded Grimsrud states his urgent need for ointment for his bloody hand: "I need unguent."
Jean grabs a pink Princess phone on her way into the bathroom, and frantically dials for help. The phone is violently popped out of her hands and smashes into the door when the kidnappers pull on the phone cord from the other side of the door. As they use the crowbar on the door to break in, Jean attempts to escape out of the high bathroom window (reminiscent of Shelley Duvall's efforts in The Shining (1980)), but with no time to spare, hides behind the shower curtain in the tub, while Grimsrud rakes through the medicine cabinet to find the proper unguent. When he realizes where she is hiding, she leaps from the tub (with the shower curtain still tangled and wrapped around her like a shroud) [the scene pays homage to Psycho (1960) - the curtain is ripped from its hooks], flails into the bedroom, and then trips and tumbles headlong down the stairs. She knocks herself out - and lies unconscious at the foot of the stairs and ready to be tied up, without the kidnappers doing anything.
(Day Four - Wednesday Afternoon)
At the 2:30 pm meeting in Wade Gustafson's plush office, Jerry meets with Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg) and Wade concerning the "pretty sweet" deal. Their only request is to know the amount Jerry requires for "a finder's fee," but Jerry pathetically protests: "It's my deal here, see?" Stan reiterates their stance: "We thought you were bringin' us an investment." Jerry demands the entire principal, not just a finder's fee: "I don't need a finder's fee, I need - a finder's fee's what? Ten percent, heck, that's not gonna do it for me. I need the principal." The two wealthy investors refuse to loan Jerry $750,000 ("We're not a bank, Jerry"), and actually propose to cut Jerry "out of the loop" and "move on it independently" of him.
Jerry's lone, small figure emerges from the office building into a snow-covered, vacant parking lot - his path to his vehicle (through a cross-roads of car tracks) is photographed with a beautiful overhead crane shot. Symbolically, he is at a cross-roads in his life - he can either confess to his blackmail-kidnapping plan, or carry on with the foolhardy plan. After slumping into the front seat, his labored breathing reveals how desperate, self-loathing, isolated and frustrated he is - with both a failed business deal and an unnecessary kidnap/ransom plot in the making. He grabs his red plastic, windshield ice scraper to remove the impenetrable layer of crusted ice that has formed over his car and obscured his vision. To express his frustration, he scrapes and scrapes, until his rage overpowers him and he flails away with his arms at the thin, frozen air. But he must persevere, so he pulls himself together, lets his tantrum subside, and continues scraping away.
(Day Four - Wednesday Late Afternoon)
When he arrives home, with two bags of groceries in his arms this time, he calls out expectantly: "Hon?" Upstairs in the hallway, he is visibly upset to see the destructive evidence of the kidnapping in the bathroom - wood chips from the pryed-open door, the bent screen from the open window, the crowbar, medicine bottles strewn around, and shower curtain rings holding bits of torn plastic. [As the camera pans upward, a Playboy magazine is seen in the reading rack next to the toilet.] He cannot even imagine that he has put Jean in harm's way. In the living room, the camera pans around to find the shower curtain, broken glass, and "snow" on the TV screen, as an off-screen Jerry rehearses a grief-stricken phone call to Wade that he will be making. When he summons up the perfect anguished effect, he dials Wade -
(Day Five - A Few Hours After Midnight, Early Thursday Morning)
The screen transitions to black - it is the night sky behind the domineering, eerie-looking statue of Paul Bunyan in the town of Brainerd. The camera pans down the immense statue, in close-up, as the kidnappers' vehicle passes by (retracing their path in the opposite direction). Underneath a tarp in the back seat, Jean is heard whimpering. A state trooper's car, with twirling red gumballs and siren, flags down their car to the side of the highway in the middle of black nowhere - possibly because Carl has forgotten to put the tags on the car. Carl is confident and twice states to his silent companion: "I'll take care of this," and then calmly threatens Jean with a dead-pan warning: "Keep it still back there, lady, or else we're gonna have to, ya know, to shoot ya." The trooper (James Gaulke), with a prying flashlight beam, has stopped them on the desolate road because of a minor infraction - they aren't displaying temporary new vehicle tags. Carl shows the trooper his wallet (with a tempting $50 bill visible) and his driver's license, but the bribery ploy doesn't work. The unimpressed officer demands that Carl step out of the car, as Jean moans in the back seat.
Without hesitation, Grimsrud solves their tight dilemma with the simplest, most reliable and explosive method he has available to him. With his left hand, he grabs the officer's hair through the open window, slams his head against the door, and then reaches with his right hand for his revolver in the glove compartment. He shoots the trooper, point-blank, in the back of the head - causing blood to spurt all over his astonished buddy, Carl ("Whoa, whoa daddy"). The inarticulate killer, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, ridicules his partner: "You'll take care of it. You are smooth, smooth, you know."
As Carl hoists the heavy corpse off the remote, snowy Minnesota road and struggles to drag it away, he is interrupted - and frozen in his tracks like a defenseless deer - by the headlights of another oncoming car. The second car slows down as the two occupants witness the grisly scene - the driver (J. Todd Anderson) quickly U-turns and accelerates away. Grimsrud slides over into the driver's seat, relentlessly pursues them down the empty road, and watches as the red tail lights of the vehicle in flight fish-tail into a skid in the far distance and disappear. Their car churns into a deep snowfield on the side of the road and flips over. Without doing anything a second time, he has succeeded in capturing his intended victims. Grimsrud calmly brakes when he spots their car, gets out with his gun, shoots the red-parka wearing driver (in the back) as he struggles to run in the deep snow, and then murders the injured, trapped female passenger (Michelle Suzanne LeDoux) in the wrecked car. The scene turns to black at the sound of the gunshot, culminating the bungled abduction and triple killing of a highway patrolman and two innocent people.
The horrific scene is followed by a scene of domestic marital tranquility, in the middle of the same night. The camera pulls back from an oil painting (resting on an easel) of a mallard duck landing in a swampy marshland. As it pans slowly to the right, it reveals various models of ducks, oil paints and brushes, and a bedroom where a couple are sleeping together in bed. The loud ring of the phone awakens the wife, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who reacts to the caller (Gary):
Oh my. Where? Yeah? Aw geez. OK, there in a jif. Real good, then.
(Day Five - Early Thursday Morning)
As the local Brainerd Chief of Police, she is summoned to the "triple homicide" crime scene. Her pajama-wearing, loving husband, wildlife artist Norm (John Carroll Lynch) insists on getting up and preparing her a breakfast of "some eggs" before she leaves. As she stands, there is the first indication that she is about seven months' pregnant. At the table, she is dressed in her gray police uniform. After eating very little breakfast, she dresses for the cold (including a hat with earflaps) and exits to her police car Prowler, but returns shortly afterwards to tell Norm that the battery of the "Prowler needs a jump."
She drives her police squad car in the early morning light and cold to the roadside where she meets her deputy Lou (Bruce Bohne), whose ability includes carrying styrofoam cups of coffee. She surveys the wreckage by the side of the road, where an ambulance and two other police cars are parked. She waddles down in the snow to the overturned vehicle, looks out at the body of the man with the red parka lying a short distance away, and then kneels down by the car to peer in and see "the second one." Her analytical skills are already deducing: "It's in the head and the hand, there. I guess that's a defensive wound." In a few seconds, the logical, thinking cop correctly describes the scenario that led to the killings and the size of the killer, and concludes that the suspect is not local:
OK, so we got a trooper pulls someone over, we got a shooting. These folks drive by, there's a high-speed pursuit, ends here, and then this execution-type deal...I'd be very surprised if our suspect was from Brainerd...And I'll tell you what, from his footprint he looks like a big fella.
And then she doubles over, bends down, and supports herself on her knee as her morning sickness overwhelms her instead of the tragedy:
I just think I'm gonna barf.
After combating the urge to upchuck, she further investigates the tell-tale signs near the state trooper's car. Dogged and tenacious, she gets on her hands and knees by the cop's frozen and bloodied corpse to analyze more clues to the killers, while her useless deputy stands watching with a cup of coffee in each hand:
There are different footprints here, Lou...Yah, this guy's smaller than his buddy...
According to her incompetent deputy, the last vehicle that the trooper cited was "a tan Ciera at 2:18 am. Under the plate number, he put DLR - I figure they stopped him or shot him before he could finish fillin' out the tag number...So I got the state lookin' for a Ciera with a tag startin' DLR. They don't got no match yet." Considerate of her partner's low aptitude and poor policework, she demonstrates her superior observational skills - along with a joke:
Marge: I'm not sure that I agree with you a hundred percent on your policework there, Lou.
Marge: Yah. I think that vehicle there probably had dealer plates. DLR?
Marge: Say Lou. Did ya hear the one about the guy who couldn't afford personalized plates, so he went and changed his name to J3L 2404?
Lou: Yah, that's a good one.
On the way home, she thoughtfully intends to get her husband "some night crawlers" at a fishing supply store.
(Day Five - Thursday Midday)
In a restaurant in Minneapolis, Jerry discusses the disappearance of his wife and the payment of a ransom of a million dollars with an irascible Wade and subdued Stan. Wade demands that they call in professionals, but Jerry argues that the kidnappers said "no cops - they were darned clear on that." Stan sides with Jerry, to his utter surprise:
Stan: We gotta protect Jean. These - we're not holding any cards here, Wade. They got 'em all, so they call the shots.
Jerry: You're darned tootin'!
According to Jerry, the crooks will be calling with "instructions for a drop" the next day. The toothy, glad-faced, blonde waitress who rings up the bill at the register asks an incongruent question: "How was everything today?" When Stan asks about Scotty's well-being, Jerry is suddenly reminded that he has completely forgotten about the effect of the kidnapping on his son.
In his bedroom, decorated with posters of Whitesnake and Frankie Stivic - the Accordian King (a Bavarian dressed accordianist - Scotty also plays the accordian), Scotty weeps over the possible fate of his mother. When Jerry assures him in a face-to-face conversation that "these men, they-they just want money," Scotty speculates: "What if somethin' goes wrong, Dad?" Jerry offers his hopeful prognosis in car-dealer talk: "We're gonna get Mom back for ya, but we gotta play ball. Ya know, that's the deal here."
The tan Ciera drives into a woodsy, snowy, rural lakeside area, and pulls up to a hideaway - a yellow cabin. The kidnappers drag a black-hooded Jean (with her hands tied behind her back) from the rear seat. Carl finds it humorous when she gets away and aimlessly runs around in the snow, like a chicken with its head cut off - staggering, stumbling and lurching about.
In the Brainerd police headquarters, Marge opens her office door where Norm is waiting to share a take-out, junk food lunch from Arby's with her [in every scene, they are either eating or sleeping together]. She presents him with a half-full paper bag of squirming nightcrawlers, and then inquires about his painting. He fears some competition from the Hautmans who are also "entering" a painting this year, but she is encouraging: "You're better'n them." When Norm kisses Marge, she lovingly snaps back: "Ya got Arby's all over me." Lou provides Marge with her next lead at the "trucker's joint out there on I-35" - "No motels registered any tan Ciera last night, but the night before, two men checked into the Blue Ox registering a Ciera and leavin' the tag space blank...the owner was on the desk then, said these two had company."
(Day Five - Thursday Afternoon)
In one of the film's most memorable scenes, the genial, dead-panning police chief questions two strippers (Hooker # 1: Larissa Kokernot and Hooker # 2 Melissa Peterman) at the Lakeside Club. The two are the hookers who were apparently hired to service the hired goons (one who was "funny-lookin'", and the other who was older and "looked like the Marlboro man") before the kidnapping and murders in the Twin Cities:
Marge: OK, I want you to tell me what these fellas looked like.
Hooker #1: Well, the little guy, he was kinda funny-looking.
Marge: In what way?
Hooker #1: I dunno, just funny-lookin'.
Marge: Can you be any more specific?
Hooker #1: I couldn't really say. He wasn't circumcised.
Marge: Was he funny lookin' apart from that?
Hooker #1: Yeah.
Marge: So - you were having sex with the little fella, then?
Hooker #1: Uh-huh.
Marge: Is there anything else you can tell me about him?
Hooker #1: No. Like I say, he was funny lookin'. More n' most people even.
The information from them proves useful to Marge: "Oh you betcha, yah."
(Day Five - Thursday Evening)
Inside the lakeside cabin, Carl swears ("Plug me in, man, give me a f--kin' signal...Plug me into the ozone, baby, come on") as he bangs at the inoperative black and white TV set (displaying snow), while Grimsrud sits stone-faced and gazing straight ahead, with Jean bound in the kitchen. The closeup of their snowy TV signal is replaced by the reception on the TV in the Gunderson's home. The affectionate couple, after eating potato chips, are watching a nature show on television from their bed, but Norm has already fallen asleep. The subject of maternity intrigues Marge:
Narrator (Don Wescott): The bark beetle carries the worm to its nest where it will feed its young for up to six months. In the spring, the larvae hatch, and the cycle begins again.
(Day Five - Thursday, 10:45 pm)
After they have fallen asleep, the phone rings and Marge answers - it's Mike Yanagita, an old high school friend (who used to know her as Margie Olmstead) who is visiting the Twin Cities. He had watched Marge on a TV report (off-screen) in connection with the shootings in Brainerd, and was inspired to call after seeing the publicity (and realizing her fame).
(Day Six - Friday Morning)
During days six and seven, events begin to accelerate with short segments and sequences in Brainerd and Minneapolis (and points between). On the Gustafson Motors sales floor, Jerry is again hawking a "loaded" vehicle to a gullible customer "with a heck of a sealant, this TrueCoat stuff, it'll keep the salt off." He takes a phone call in his cubicle from Carl and is bluntly told, in Old Testament terms, that he is being ransomed for more money, to be exchanged the next day:
Circumstances have changed...beyond the, uh, acts of God, force majeure...she's (Jean's) alright, but there's three people up in Brainerd who aren't so OK...Blood has been shed, Jerry...and we need more money...I'm not gonna debate you, Jerry...We now want the entire eighty thousand...Blood has been shed. We're incurred risks, Jerry.
After hanging up, the phone rings again almost instantaneously - a second call from Reilly Diefenbach at GMAC informing Jerry that if the promised vehicle IDs don't arrive by mail by the next afternoon, he "will have to refer this matter to our legal department." The camera moves to the interior of the showroom and views an exasperated Jerry within his office - without hearing his frustrated anger, he picks up his desk blotter and pounds it onto his desk.
(Day Six - Friday Midday)
At an all-you-can-eat buffet or smorgasbord restaurant with wood-paneled walls, Norm and Marge are sliding their trays and serving themselves (cafeteria-style) along a wide variety of steam-table food choices, each with labels: CHICKEN & DUMPLINGS, CHICKEN FRICASSEE, FRIED TORSK, BROILED TORSK, SWEDISH MEATBALLS. When they seat themselves at one of the tables, with huge piles of food in front of them, Officer Gary Olson (Cliff Rakerd) presents Marge with information about calls made from the lobby pay phone of the Blue Ox to Minneapolis, the night that the two suspects were there. After lunch, Marge plans to drive to the Twin Cities to speak to the recipient of one of the calls - "Shep Proudfoot."
At the table over a meal in the Lundegaard house, Stan, Wade, and Jerry talk about the delivery of the ransom money. Determined and accustomed to running the show, self-made millionaire Wade insists on personally delivering the money: "It's my money. I'll deliver it - what do they care?...They want my money, they can deal with me." Jerry is ineffectual in changing Wade's mind about how "dangerous" the criminals are, while Wade puts down his son-in-law and refuses to use him as a middle-man: "Look, Jerry, you're not selling me a damn car. It's my show here."