• Fri. May 20th, 2022

Is Fargo based on a true story?

Fargo’s opening claims it’s based on a true story. While the public wonders whether or not this is a lie, the answer is rather complicated.

The 1996 crime thriller Fargo was one of the first big hits of the Coen brothers, who went on to make films such as The great Lebowski and There is no country for old people. With Fargo revered as some of their best work, questions still linger around the plot. During the opening titles, the film claims to be based on true events, but the characters and storyline seem a little too absurd to be real.

Fargo tells the story of weasel salesman Jerry, who plans to have his wife kidnapped and exchanged for her stepfather’s money. However, things quickly take a turn when the two kidnappers he hired are arrested and forced to murder a police officer to escape. With Jerry’s terrible lie and the obvious trail of the kidnappers, the police eventually catch up with them and arrest the one who is still alive.


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The first thing seen on screen is “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987”, setting the tone for the film to be potentially dark and depressing. However, the on-screen text goes on to say that the names have been changed, but the rest of the film is “told exactly as it happened”.

With the release of the movie, people started looking for this 1987 crime and found nothing. Shortly after, the Coen Brothers announced that the story was made up and that the opening titles were there purely to set the tone for the film. While it’s somewhat debatable to lie about the story, there’s no law preventing a movie from claiming to be based on true events.


For years people have accepted that Fargo was pure fiction. However, a 2016 interview of the Coen brothers with The Huffington Post reveals that there is actually some truth to the story. Speaking of the “true story,” Joel Coen explained, “There are actually two small elements to the story that were based on actual incidents.”

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He claims the first such incident occurred in the 1960s or 1970s, when a man “used serial numbers for cars and scammed the General Motors Finance Corporation. There was no kidnapping. There was no murder. What Joel Coen describes vaguely resembles Jerry’s plan with the money he tried to ransom. But it’s still far from the story depicted in the film.


The other event Fargo was allegedly inspired by a murder in Connecticut, “where a man killed his wife and disposed of the body – put her in a wood chipper”. This references the murder of Helle Crafts in 1947, and although that’s what Peter Stormare’s character does at the end of Fargothis is still only a small aspect of the film.

And so not only Fargo not based on a true story, it barely looks like a true crime. Still, there’s no denying that the claim sets a specific tone for first-time viewers, and it’s undoubtedly a bold move for the directors to start their film with an obvious lie. Interestingly, the opening has become so memorable that the most recent Fargo The television series use the same misrepresentation.


The Fargo movie is currently available to stream on Netflix, while all four seasons of the series are available on Hulu.

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