References to Homer's Odyssey: - The names of George Clooney and Holly Hunter's characters (Ulysses and Penelope) - one-eyed Big Dan as the Cyclops (blinded with a burning pole) - the three girls by the river as the Sirens - Ulysses' wife marrying someone else when he comes home - the old-man disguise - the changing of one of Ulysses' companions into an animal - the Baptists as the Lotus-eaters - the Ku Klux Klan has a rank of Grand (or Exalted) Cyclops - they catch a ride on a hand-pumped railway that is being operated by a blind prophet, who tells them that they will not find the treasure they seek. The prophet character in the Odyssey was Teiresias, whom Odysseus consulted in the underworld when he needed information on how to get home again - the movie theater scene as the trip through the Underworld. - Odysseus nearly drowned, but clings to a piece of wood. - Odysseus and Everett both reveal themselves by performing an act no one else could: Odysseus strings a special bow and fires it through seven rings; Everett sings "Man of Constant Sorrow" as only the leader of the Soggy Bottom Boys can. - "Pappy's" given name, Menelaus, is the same as the king who declared war on Troy in the first place. - the Latin equivalent of the Greek name Odysseus is Ulysses. - "Sing in me O Muse...", the line at the beginning of the film, is the first line of the Odyssey. - the killing of the cattle of Helios by the "fools" in the Odyssey is mirrored by Baby Face Nelson shooting the cows. - every time Ulysses falls asleep something bad happens. - the song which plays throughout the movie is called "Man of Constant Sorrow," Odysseus means "man who is in constant pain and sorrow." - a man of constant sorrow is also a description of Odysseus. - Pappy's opposition for Governorship has the first name Homer. - when Ulysses first meets Big Dan in the restaurant there is a statue of Homer in the background. - There is a "Blind Bard" who pays the boys to "sing into his can." Homer was often (and probably erroneously) thought to be a blind bard who told his stories verbally to his students. - Much like the KKK scene, Odysseus and his men hide from the Cyclops by dressing as sheep. - A visual connection to the Odyssey appears during the evening following George Nelson's third bank robbery, when Ulysses is seen sitting on a destroyed Greek column, the bottom of which is still upright besides Ulysses.
George Clooney had a relative in Kentucky (his native state) record himself reading the script, so that Clooney could work on his accent. When Clooney received the recording, he discovered that his relative had in fact removed all of the curse words and replaced them with something else.
The film's soundtrack became an unlikely blockbuster, even surpassing the success of the film. By early 2001, it had sold five million copies, spawned a documentary film, three follow-up albums ("O Sister" and "O Sister 2"), two concert tours, and won Country Music Awards for Album of the Year and Single of the Year (for "Man of Constant Sorrow"). It also won five Grammys, including Album of the Year, and hit #1 on the Billboard album charts the week of March 15, 2002, 63 weeks after its release and over a year after the release of the film.
The character of Sheriff Cooley, who is never referred to by name, fits Tommy Johnson's description of the Devil exactly: "He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound." Sheriff Cooley is also a tribute to Boss Godfrey (played by Morgan Woodward), the sinister chain-gang boss in Cool Hand Luke (1967). Like Godfrey, Cooley's eyes are never seen, and his mirrored sunglasses reflect his surroundings (usually fire). (In "Cool Hand Luke," Boss Godfrey is referred to as "the devil" by several of the prisoners.)
The American Humane Association, an organization that protects animal rights, mistook a computer-generated cow in the movie for a real animal and demanded proof before they would allow the use of their famous disclaimer, "No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture." After seeing a demonstration at Digital Domain of how the cow was created, the Humane Association added the now-familiar (but then much rarer) "Scenes which may appear to place an animal in jeopardy were simulated."
Shorty after Pete and Delmar get baptized in the river, the boys pick up Tommy Johnson and drive on to a radio station, where Everett introduces himself to the blind radio station owner as Jordan Rivers. The Jordan River runs through Israel and it's where people have gone since ancient times to be baptized wearing the traditional white robes.
In one montage sequence we see Everett, Pete, and Delmar pass two African-American boys on a country road. Both the boys are carrying large blocks of ice. This appears to be a visual reference to a famous Works Progress Administration photograph by Eudora Welty.
At the end, Everett's line, "Finding one little ring, in the middle of all that water, is one hell of a heroic task," is a reference to the legend of Theseus, who had to find a golden ring at the bottom of the ocean to prove he was the son of Poseidon.
The whole film was graded digitally on computer. The negative was scanned in with a Spirit Datacine at 2K resolution and then colors were digitally fine-tuned. The process took several weeks. The resulting digital master was output on film again with a Kodak laser recorder to create a print master. It was the first time this had been done for a whole film in Hollywood (but not in other countries).
The character of Tommy Johnson is based on a famed blues guitarist of the same name who, according to folk legend, sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads in exchange for his prodigious talent. Robert Johnson, another bluesman and a contemporary of Tommy's (but no relation), borrowed the legend and wrote a song about it (and so the soul-selling legend was subsequently, wrongly, attributed to Robert Johnson).
The bluegrass trio, The Peasall Sisters, provided the singing voices for George Clooney's daughters, the Wharvey Girls, but didn't appear in the film. They were told they didn't look pitiful enough to get the part (according to their documentary, The Peasall Sisters: Family Harmony (2005)).
The historical Baby Face Nelson was a gangster named Lester M. Gillis (a.k.a. George Nelson, "Big George" Nelson, Lester Giles, Alex Gillis, etc.) who was known for his hot temper and itchy trigger finger. He was killed in Barrington, Illinois, in November of 1934 - three years before the setting of the film.
The song "You Are My Sunshine," used as Governor Pappy O'Daniel's theme song, was the theme song of Louisiana's "Singing Governor" Jimmie Davis. It was made one of Louisiana's official state songs in 1977.
The THREE gravediggers were from the gospel group The Fairfield Four. However, the FOUR in the name doesn't refer to the number of members, but to the number of vocal parts in the song (Alto, Tenor, Bass etc).
When the "Soggy Bottom Boys" are recording "Man of Constant Sorrows," Pete and Delmar sing a phrase echoing the last line of each verse, but somehow manage to sing three vocal parts between the two of them.
The song recorded by the Soggy Bottom Boys ("I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow") , contains the line "I bid farewell to ol' Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised." George Clooney, who played one of the Soggy Bottom Boys, was born in Lexington, Kentucky.
Director Trademark: [fricassee] Dan Teague tells Everett "Thanks for the fricassee," in the picnic scene under the tree. The Coens also included this dish in "Fargo" when Margie and Norm are eating in a restaurant and another cop asks her, "How's the fricassee?"
The character, Pappy O'Daniel, was a direct reference to Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel who was sales manager for Burrus Flour Mills in Ft. Worth TX around 1925. He hired Light Crust Doughboys as the band to advertise Burrus' Light Crust Flour on a radio show that he served as announcer for, and ultimately hired Bob Wills to front the band. He started W Lee O'Daniels Hillbilly Brand Flour in 1935. Bob Wills took the majority of the Light Crust Doughboys with him when he and Pappy parted ways, bitterly, to form Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys. The replacement band was known as W. Lee O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys and used his power to buy advertising to promote Western Swing music, religion, his flour and himself. He used his notoriety as a radio host to successfully run for Governor of Texas, twice. He also served as Senator from Texas for two terms, once beating Lyndon B. Johnson in 1942, then a Houston school teacher.
The whole concept is loosely based on author Howard Waldrop's novella, "A Dozen Tough Jobs," which recounts the labors of Hercules in a similar Mississippi setting, albeit ten years earlier. The Coen brothers tip their hat in Waldrop's direction through the name of Penny's suitor, "Waldrip." Another possible link comes from the William Faulkner short novel, "Old Man." In it a convict survives an Odyssey like adventure. The "tall convict" in the story is carried away on the flooding Mississippi of 1927 and struggles to return home. At the very end of the story he remembers the only sweetheart he had before being incarcerated and how she stopped visiting him in prison or returning his letters until finally sending him a postcard. "It was a postcard, a colored lithograph of a Birmingham hotel, a childish X inked heavily across one window, the heavy writing on the reverse slanted and primer-like too: This is where were honnymonning at. Your friend (Mrs) Vernon Waldrip."
The character of Pappy O'Daniel is based on W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel who served as Governor of Texas (not Mississippi) from 1939-1941 and later as U.S. Senator. He was a flour baron with a radio show and sang with the Light Crust Doughboys. He was famous for refusing to vote in protest of the poll tax.
Ulysses Everett McGill's childhood home shown at the end of the film, where they go to search for the ring, is actually based on the cabin from The Evil Dead. Joel Cohen was the assistant editor on his first feature film The Evil Dead (1981)