Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Up is down, Black is White

The meeting will now come to order. If you're not a Miller's Crossing fan, go become one and then come back.

Now then, gentlemen: I had a satori the other night about this classic film, one that borders on tinfoil-hat kookery, yet has a certain whiff of the kind of truth the Coen Brothers would probably quietly endorse. Put simply, it's this:

I believe Mink and Verna were having an affair.

This would explain, among other things, why Mink shot Rug: as nervous a guy as he was, he would likely be even more nervous about being followed - because he knew that if Leo, The Dane, or even Tom found out he was makin' it with Verna, his life might be in danger.

It's a major dangling plot point that went unresolved, and Tom himself even brings it up at the very end, asking Bernie "Why did Mink shoot Rug, anyway?" Look at Bernie closely. He lowers his eyes, lowers his voice, stammers a bit, "I don't know. You know Mink - hysterical, skin full of hop, head full of boogeymen." Bernie knew. He knew but he didn't want to tell Tom because he thought admitting he knew all along might get him shot. Which, of course, he was anyway.

The Coens even telegraph this message from the very first scene, practically yelling it from the rooftops with a megaphone. When Tom asks who made off with his hat in the drunken poker game, Tad says "Verna and Mink", then shouts their conjoined names again, this time reversed, for emphasis - "MINK AND VERNA."

But since Mink is gay, why would he lay down with Verna? Well, there's always room for experimentation - after all, Bernie is also gay, but admits at one point that Verna, his own sister, tried to teach him "a thing or two about bed artistry."

And Tom said it himself: "you're a fickle boy, Mink."

Of course, there's always that wild card when love is involved: is it possible that Verna is actually a highly passable transvestite male? Ask yourself why, when Leo says "I can trade body blows with any man except you", Tom looks at him pointedly, and says "And Verna." Was the casting of the rather brusque and mannish Marcia Gay Harden more significant than is immediately obvious on the surface?

As the Dane says, "Up is down, Black is White". And the movie poster tagline for the film's original theatrical release extended it further: "Up is down, black is white, and nothing is what it seems."

In the context of the sexual-secret-agent milieu of Miller's Crossing, anything is possible. After all, the homosexual relationship between Mink and the Dane is treated nonchalantly by all the film's characters, even though this is a time period when you would expect these old gritty mobsterly tough guys to be not quite so liberal about such things. The final tear Tom sheds could be for Verna, now that she's gone away to be Leo's wife - but the scene really makes us feel like the tear is over Leo himself.

Verna was never Tom's true love. It was Leo.

Too far-fetched? Probably. But let the words the Dane used to describe Tom echo in your head just a bit: "Straight as a corkscrew, Mr. inside-outsky".

- - JSH

No comments: