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A From 0 Brother, Where Art Thou? script is winking. 0 Brother becomes a postmodernist potpourri, in which distinctions between original and simulacrum evaporate, and everything is leveled to play. But to what end? The Odyssey and the Depression are not so much reinterpreted as merely recycled. In Barton Fink, the Coens appropriated the myths and conventions of Hollywood and other movies about Hollywood to create a fresh meditation on the relations between art, love, loneliness and success. But their latest feature reverses Sturges’ trajectory in Sullivan’s Travels; instead of rejecting escapist entertainment in order to confront the harsh realities of contemporary society, Joel and Democratic? Pro-Life? Ethan Coen embrace escape. It is the first act we see on screen, when Everett, Pete and Delmar break away from their chain gang. The moviemaking brothers begin by mocking Sturges’ earnest, awkward title, 0 Brother, Where Art Thou?, and end in madcap inundation, overwhelming their viewers with the zaniness of it all and their characters with the overflowing waters of a newly obstructed river. Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative ought to be prosecuted, or perhaps it is punishment enough for them to be missing the merriment. All the other texts that echo through the length and breadth of 0 Brother are merely pretexts for a giddy plot, in which a toad is mistaken for a man, a man risks all for the perfect pomade, and even the secret, lethal rituals of the KKK can be savored for their lunatic choreography. 0 Brother is most memorable for its music, which, composed in part by T-Bone Burnett, echoes with the hard times of a sorry era. Pretending to be the “Soggy Bottom Boys,” Everett, Pete and Delmar bellow out the blues and save their lives. The wonder is how well Clooney, Turturro and Nelson imitate an authentic country style. Or are they imitating the ersatz Blues Brothers, movie actors who sing with such panache that distinctions between imitation and original become moot? “You are my sunshine,” sings everyone in a final reconciliation. But, since the sun generates its own radiance, it would be more accurate to shift the metaphor to light reflected from a secondary body. 0 Brother, Where Art Thou? is made of splendid moonshine. Steven G. Kellman is professor of comparative literature at The University of Texas at San Antonio and the author, most recently, of The Translingual Imagination. JANUARY 19, 2001 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21