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Burn After Reading is a black comedy directed, produced and written by the Coen brothers in 2008. It stars some major actors such as Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Francis McDormand. (Adams 40-42) In this film, all of the characters interweave with one another and they don’t necessarily know so.
The film begins with John Malkovich as Osbourne Cox being fired from his position as a C. I. A. analyst. He then decides to begin writing his memoirs which eventually end up in the hands of two HardBodies Gym employees Francis McDormand as Linda Litzke and Brad Pitt as Chad.
Chad assumes that Cox must be someone of importance and that the information on the disk is top secret. From there, he involves Linda in black mailing him because she is in desperate need for money to pay for the cosmetic surgeries she desires.
Along side of that, Cox’s wife is planning on leaving his and taking off with Harry which is something he knows nothing of. Harry who is also married, and having an affair with Cox’s wife, is also meeting random women through an online dating service and eventually hooks up with Linda as well.
Linda falls for Harry, especially since he’s told her that he doesn’t think these surgeries that she needs are necessary.
This movie is basically a tangled web of lies, paranoia and false information, making it into one of the Coen brothers most baffling films. One major aspect of this movie is paranoia. What does the movie say about paranoia? Well, that’s a rather difficult answer to come up with considering a lot of this movie doesn’t make sense. Even the ending scene of the movie where Palmer and Gardner Chubb (both C. I. A. gents) are discussing this mess of events that has been going on say that they didn’t learn anything from this. Everyone in the movie seems to believe that someone is someone else leading to the characters to lash out with paranoid violence as if they’re left with no alternative. I think that the movie is probably trying to say about paranoia is that you can’t let it get to you because you will either end up creating scenarios leading to even worse paranoia, or you’ll end up dead. Two main focuses in the movie that seemed to harbor the most paranoia were Clooney’s character Harry and Pitt’s character Chad.
Harry plays a US Marshall who never seems to actually work (Adams 40-42) and is constantly creating more and more sticky situations. Not only is he married, but he’s having an affair with Osbourne Cox’s wife and meeting women on the internet. Every day Harry goes out on run and begins to notice what looks like a government car following him. He seems like he doesn’t really know what to make of it and ignores it in the beginning. Once the situation becomes a little more suspicious, Harry takes action and goes out to the man’s car who’s been following him demanding answers.
The man worked for a law firm and was hired by Harry’s wife to watch him to find proof that he was cheating on his wife. Little did Harry know, he wife was getting ready to file for a divorce. Harry is also paranoid about killing Chad earlier on in the movie at Osbourne Cox’s home. Him and Linda have been seeing each other and Linda eventually asks Harry if he can help her find her friend since he has no idea where he’s gone. Later in the park, Linda explains the situation a little further about what Chad was doing and where he was going and just like that Harry put the pieces together and finally found out who the person was that he killed.
He then begins to ask Linda questions about who she is and who she was hired by, Linda innocent and not knowing what Harry is talking about truthfully tells him that she wasn’t hired by anyone and she’s not after anything. Harry then runs away from Linda never to see her again. Eventually, Harry decides to up and flee to Venezuela to escape from whoever he thinks might be after him. Pitt’s character Chad who seems rather dimwitted, is trying to find a way to black mail Osbourne Cox.
Earlier on in the movie, McDormand finds his disk at HardBodies gym, Chad comes up with the brilliant idea to black mail him and Linda goes with the idea thinking that the money they receive from Cox will pay for her surgeries. He begins by making a late night phone call telling Cox that he has his disk and he demands money for the return of it. He later meets up with Cox, trying to look professional by wearing a tuxedo but riding a bike a carrying his helmet. Cox explains to Chad what could legally happen to him if he decided to try and blackmail him, then proceeds to punch Chad in the face and makes him get out of his car.
Then they come up with the idea to take the disk to the Russians hoping that they’ll somehow get money out of it that way. Chad later tries breaking into Cox’s home to find more information on him. While Chad’s in the house, Harry walks in. Cox had previously been locked out of his home by his wife who was also getting ready to file for divorce, so Harry has been staying there temporarily while his wife is off for the release of her new children’s book. Once Chad realizes that he is no longer alone in the house, he quickly hides in the closet hoping to eventually escape unnoticed.
After Harry gets out of the shower he walks over to the closet Chad is hiding in. He opens the doors and sees him thinking he’s some government spook and immediately shoots him in the head. The character of Osbourne Cox is also another example of paranoia in this film. After he’s fired from his job, gets blackmailed, and told by his wife that she’s divorcing him, he also gets kicked out of his home having to resort to living on their boat. Cox get’s fed up with it one day and decides to return home with a hatchet in hopes to find more liquor. What Cox ends up finding at his house is Ted.
Ted also works at HardBodies gym and is Linda and Chad’s boss. He’s down in the basement looking through Cox’s computer to try and figure out what exactly Linda and Chad have been up to since they haven’t exactly told him anything. Cox, who’s in a paranoid state, angrily demands answers and quickly makes the connection between Ted, Linda & Chad. Infuriated, he chases Ted all the way out to the streets where he proceeds to kill him with the hatchet out of anger. (Doom 163-174) During the duration of the whole movie Francis McDormand’s character, Linda Litzke, struggles with her own self conscious paranoia’s.
This makes Linda completely neglect what’s been in front of her face the whole time. While she’s busy obsessing over recapturing her youth, her boss Ted who obviously has feelings about her is discretely trying to let her know that. She openly speaks with him about the surgeries that’s she’s wanting to undergo and about how she’s meeting men on the internet. He explains to her that she doesn’t need the surgeries, and that online dating can be a very dangerous thing and she could end up with the wrong guy. Everything seems to go in one ear and out the other with her because she never took any of that into account.
Poor Ted even end up dead in the end of the movie because he’s trying to figure out what it is that Linda and Chad have been up to and why they say it’s so ‘dangerous’. All in all, this has got to be one of the most bizarre spy films that I have ever seen. Unfortunately in the end the only person that seems to get what they want is Linda. If it wasn’t for her self consciousness, a lot of things wouldn’t have ever happened in the first place. Yes of course Chad being the quirky guy that he is, probably still would’ve tried to blackmail Cox, but maybe he wouldn’t have gone so far with it to the point of being shot point blank in the head.
Also, nothing would’ve ever happened to Ted. All along all he was trying to do was figure out what it was that Chad and Linda were up to and once he got so involved, he also ended up dead. It seems to be that the most innocent characters of the movie, ended up getting the short straw in everything. On top of all the organized chaos that the movie entails, I find it rather bewildering that the movie is considered a form of comedy. Though black comedy is more so a darker kind, finding humor in death and despair. In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that Burn After Reading is quite possibly one of the most meaningless movies I have ever seen.
Though it is meaningless, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t entertaining and rather humorous. One thing that I did pick up on in the movie though is to steer clear from paranoia. It won’t get you anywhere but six feet under. At least unless the circumstances of this movie.
Citations Doom, Ryan. THE BROTHERS COEN: Unique characters of violence. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2009. 163-174. eBook. Adams, Michael. “Burn After Reading. ” 28th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Cenage Learning, 2009. Print. Burn After Reading. Dir. Ethan and Joel Coen. ” Focus Features: 2008, DVD.