“I Just Don’t Understand It” – The Marge Gunderson Factor

“There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.” – Marge Gunderson, Fargo
        I’m a little embarrassed to admit I waited nearly twenty years to watch Fargo. One day it pops up on my Netflix “recommended for you” list, and it occurs to me that I’ve enjoyed nearly every Coen Brothers film I’ve watched, so how have I not watched one of their most lauded? I suppose it’s better I waited till now. I doubt I would have understood the film’s deeper meaning when I was much younger. 

        Fargo takes place in Minnesota during the late 80’s. In a nutshell, it tells the tale of some guys doing very stupid things for money. It’s a theme that’s echoed in thousands of films and television shows and novels, but for some reason, the way it’s presented in Fargo strikes me hard, like an unexpected blow to the cranium. 

        The lead character, Marge Gunderson, sums it up so well at the end, as she echoes what I’d been thinking through the whole movie – “Well, I just don’t understand it.” What’s interesting is the preamble to this exasperated expression – “There’s more to life than a little bit of money…” The “little bit” she speaks of happens to be a million dollars. Unless you’re Bill Gates, a million dollars is more than a little bit of money, and the character of Marge Gunderson is certainly not Bill Gates. Quite the opposite, she’s an expectant mother living on a public servant’s salary. So, what’s all this “little bit of money” business?

        When Marge voices her lack of understanding over the greed of the murderous thief in the back of her police cruiser, I’m reminded of the occasions when Jesus expressed frustration with the people of his day – “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I put up with you?” he says at one point. He could have easily been saying, “You people just don’t get it!” 

        It’s a wonder Jesus didn’t spend the preponderance of his time on Earth lamenting in this way. It must have been difficult walking around as he did, a free man among slaves. A master artist among belligerent children, more apt to break a pencil than draw with one. I’m amazed he doesn’t give up on us. 

        I’ve been having a lot of my own Marge Gunderson moments lately – those moments when I shake my head and say, “I just don’t understand it.” The statement itself isn’t new, of course. We all tend to say things like that when we find ourselves at odds with people, but it’s been different for me these days. It isn’t frustration over differing social, moral, or political beliefs that draws me to lament; rather, it’s bewilderment over motivations. It’s my heart saying, “Why does this (fill in the blank – money, idea, social standing, or any other in a series of perishable things) still matter to you?” 

        Perhaps it’s a good thing I find myself in this state. Maybe it means I’m waking up a little bit more, just like Marge Gunderson, as she’s giving that murdering thief a lecture in the back of her cruiser. “And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.” Indeed it is, Marge. Indeed it is.   

4 replies »

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I have those moments more and more these days. I like to think its a sign of maturity, wisdom, perspective, etc. as I try to figure out how best to tackle the next phase of life.

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