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.
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Although Homer is given a co-writing credit on the film, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen claim never to have read "The Odyssey" and are familiar with it only through cultural osmosis and film adaptations.
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According to Joel Coen, there was a snake catcher on set. "We hired this guy and he came to set with a golf club and what he would do is he would look around for snakes. If he saw one he would rope it with the golf club and put it in this bag. I asked him what you called somebody with this profession, and he said, 'An idiot.'"
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About 350 extras were hired for the Klan rally sequence. Many of them were members of a military formation troupe, and many were African-Americans! Joel Coen later recalled hearing one say, 'This is the freakiest thing!'
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George Clooney agreed to do this film without having read the script. The Coen Brothers visited him in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney's hotel room table, the actor said "Great, I'm in." He stated that he liked even the Coens' least successful films.
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George Clooney, upon reading the script did not immediately understand his character and so sent the script to his uncle Jack, a tobacco farmer who lived in Kentucky, and asked him to read the entire script into a tape recorder. Unknown to Clooney, in his recording, Jack, a devout Baptist, omitted all instances of the words "damn" and "hell" from the Coens' script, which only became known to Clooney after the directors pointed this out to him in the middle of shooting. Jack had never been on a plane before flying in for the premiere.
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George Clooney practiced his singing for weeks, but in the end his singing voice was dubbed by country blues singer Dan Tyminski.
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The song "Man of Constant Sorrow" was first published in 1913 by the blind Richard Burnett.
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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 (1981). Joel Coen was the assistant editor on that film, his first feature.
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The prisoner's musical chant from the beginning of the movie (and soundtrack) was actually an old recording of a chain-gang.
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Tim Blake Nelson's actual singing voice is heard during "In The Jailhouse Now."
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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."
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The gravediggers are three of the Fairfield Four, a gospel group that's been around for over 90 years.
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The historical Baby Face Nelson was a homicidal gangster named Lester M. Gillis, who was known for his hot temper and itchy trigger finger. He was shot by FBI agents and died of his wounds in Wilmette, Illinois on November 27, 1934, three years before the setting of this film.
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Christy Taylor (Siren) on seducing Tim Blake Nelson: "I really made him blush. It was very sincere."
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George Clooney based his dance on clog dancers he saw growing up in Kentucky. "It's sort of like Lord of the Dance...none of their upper body moves, their legs are going nuts."
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"Po Lazarus" is a recording of actual prisoners from Parchman Farm prison in 1959. The Coens tracked down one of the prisoners, Joe Carter, and paid him $20,000 for using his voice.
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Despite the fact that Ethan Coen described the Odyssey as "one of my favorite storyline schemes" neither of the brothers had read the epic and were only familiar with its content through adaptations and numerous references to the Odyssey in popular culture. According to the brothers, Tim Blake Nelson (who has a degree in classics from Brown University) was the only person on the set who had read the Odyssey.
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George Clooney was Ethan Coen and Joel Coen's first and only choice for the lead. Both had been impressed with his performance in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998).
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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).
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John Turturro told Tim Blake Nelson on set, "Look, the way it works with their movies-and I've been in enough of them to consider myself an authority-is that you take the script and the movie is gonna be two times better than the script. And this script is a classic. Tim, we're going to be part of a classic."
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The film playing in the movie theatre is Myrt and Marge (1933), which featured Eddie Foy Jr., Ted Healy and The Three Stooges.
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One of the notable features of the film is its use of digital colour correction to give the film a sepia-tinted look. Joel Coen stated that this was because the actual set was "greener than Ireland." Cinematographer Roger Deakins stated, "Ethan and Joel favoured a dry, dusty Delta look with golden sunsets. They wanted it to look like an old hand-tinted picture, with the intensity of colours dictated by the scene and natural skin tones that were all shades of the rainbow." Initially the crew tried to perform the color correction using a physical process, however after several tries with various chemical processes proved unsatisfactory, it became necessary to perform the process digitally.
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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.
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J.K. Simmons auditioned for multiple parts, but backed out when the one character the Coens were leaning toward casting him as was too similar to Vernon Schillinger, his racist character from the HBO show Oz (1997). The Coens would later cast him in The Ladykillers (2004), Burn After Reading (2008) and True Grit (2010).
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Dan Tyminski, the mandolin player in the concert rally scene, is in reality the voice for the George Clooney character when he sings "Man of Constant Sorrow". Tyminski toured occasionally with other members of Union Station as "The Soggy Bottom Boys" when on hiatus from his long-time gig as male lead vocalist with Alison Krauss.
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The woman who asks the Woolworth's clerk about the Soggy Bottom Boys is Gillian Welch, one of the artists on the film's soundtrack.
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John Turturro has called this movie "a hillbilly musical comedy adventure."
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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.
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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).
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Joel Coen revealed that the film was inspired by The Wizard of Oz (1939). "It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home-let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.'"
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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.
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The scene where Everett, Pete and Delmar are approaching the Hogwallop cabin is from another Eudora Welty photograph, "House with Bottle Trees, 1941."
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Tim Blake Nelson was Joel Coen's neighbor. Joel hadn't really seen him act in anything. When the Coens sent him the script, he thought they were asking his advice as a former Classics major.
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The film soundtrack's official website ran a trivia contest to promote the film, giving winners canisters of Dapper Dan pomade.
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In an interview in the Sept. 14, 2009 issue of GQ, Joel Coen said, laughing, 'All we've been doing for the last twenty-five years is remaking The Wizard of Oz (1939). It's true. Sometimes consciously, and sometimes we don't realize until after we've made the movie. Consciously in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Oz is the only film we just rip off right and left.'
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The bluegrass trio The Peasall Sisters provided the singing voices for George Clooney's daughters, the Wharvey Gals, 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)).
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When Everett jumps into the freight train car and talks to the hobos, they are leaning against bags of Pappy O'Daniel Flour.
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The three little girls singing "In the Highways" at the political rally are a nod to the Carter Family, as the song was written by Mother Maybelle Carter, and was often performed by her daughters (Helen, June and Anita Carter (June later married Johnny Cash) when they were about the same age as the girls in the film. There are recordings online of them singing this song in 1939, and they sound identical to version in the film.
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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 The Light Crust Doughboys as the band to advertise Burrus' Light Crust Flour on a radio show for which he was the announcer, and he ultimately hired Bob Wills to front the band. O'Daniel started W. Lee O'Daniel's Hillbilly Brand Flour in 1935. Wills took the majority of The Light Crust Doughboys with him when he and Pappy parted ways, bitterly, to form Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The replacement band was known as W. Lee O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys and he 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, beating Lyndon B. Johnson, then a congressman, in 1941.
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The cow that gets run over is a CGI creation made by Digital Domain. Fortunately the company already had cow designs in their files having had to create one being eaten by a crocodile in Lake Placid (1999).
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"O Brother Where Art Thou?" comes from the title of the movie-within-a-movie in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (1941).
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There is a bust of Homer in the restaurant behind Pappy O'Daniel.
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Tim Blake Nelson said that this is the Coen Brothers' least violent film.
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Joel Coen said that this is "a Three Stooges movie in a lot of ways."
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The popularity of this movie spawned interest in several pomades, Dapper Dan and FOP, both able to be purchased over the Internet. A new UK company, formed in 2011, is called the Dapper Dan Company, and sells a variety of grooming products. Amazon.com carries both Dapper Dan and FOP pomade on its website. A U.S. company claims to manufacture and sell Dapper Dan since the 1920s.
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The Sirens all appeared in a photo spread for Maxim magazine in 2000.
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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. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen 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 flooded Mississippi River 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 we're honeymooning at. Your friend (Mrs.) Vernon Waldrip'."
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In the Coen Brother's film Raising Arizona, John Goodman's character is tracked by the smell of hair dressing, much like Ulysses.
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In the scene at the Woolworth store, Ulysses calls his wife Penny a "lying inconstant succubus." That is about as refined a curse as a PG-13 movie will allow. An "inconstant" woman is a faithless woman, and a "succubus" is an ancient reference to an evil spirit who seduces men in their sleep in order to have relations with them.
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An MTV video was made for the song "Man of Constant Sorrow", using clips from the film. About halfway through is the scene of Ulysses and his friends performing for Pappy O'Daniel, and the line "Hot damn! It's the Soggy Bottom Boys!" is re-dubbed as "Hot DOG! It's the Soggy Bottom Boys!"
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Everett later identifies himself as Jordan Rivers. The Jordan River is where Jesus was baptized.
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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.
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The character of Pappy O'Daniel is based on W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel, who served as Governor of Texas (not Mississippi) from 1939-41 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.
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The "picture show" that Ulysses and Delmar are watching before the chain-gang gets marched into the theater is "Myrt and Marge", an American Pre-Code Universal Studios feature film. The film is of interest today because it co-stars Ted Healy and his "Stooges", shortly before the trio split from him and became the "Three Stooges", (Larry, Moe and Curly). The team included Bonnie Bonnell, who was a short-lived female Stooge.
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"A man of Constant Sorrow" , became such a hit that it has led to at least 5 Covers of the song including bluegrass, country, a harmonica a Capella and even a heavy metal version.
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Tim Blake Nelson based his accent on people he had heard while visiting relatives in rural Oklahoma.
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In this movie Charles Durning plays a dancing/singing Governor of Mississippi Pappy O'Daniel based on a real life singing politician from Texas who served as both a Senator and Governor of Texas. He previously played a singing/dancing governor of Texas in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)" .
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This is the first adapted screenplay by the Coen Brothers
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The scene in which Everett and Delmar are communicating to Pete in the movie theatre is an homage to a scene in the TV show Taxi in which Christopher Lloyd's character Reverend Jim takes his driver's license test.
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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).
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Sheriff Cooley wears mirrored glasses and is called "the devil," just like Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke (1967).
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George Clooney's character is best known by his middle and last names, Everett and McGill. This name may be in reference to actor Everett McGill. McGill appeared in Dune (1984), opposite Clooney's uncle, José Ferrer, and on the cult television series Twin Peaks (1990) with Clooney's cousin Miguel Ferrer.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2004 list of 400 movies nominated for the top 100 America's Greatest Music in the Movies for the song "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow."
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This was The Coen Brothers first film to be shot in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio through the Super 35 format.
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This is John Turturro and John Goodman's third collaboration with the The Coen Brothers since Barton Fink (1991) (1991) and The Big Lebowski (1998) (1998).
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The idea for the film arose spontaneously. Work on the script began long before the start of production in December 1997, and was at least half-written by May 1998.
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In this film, Michael Badalucco plays infamous crime figure Babyface Nelson. In the year prior, he played another criminal David Berkowitz (aka the Son of Sam) in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (1999).
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The lyrics in "Man of Constant Sorrow" reference leaving the singer's home in Kentucky. George Clooney is himself from Kentucky.
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Mr. French, the record distributor, tells Mr. Lund, the radio station manager who recorded the Soggy Bottom Boys' rendition of "A Man of Constant Sorrow," that he (Fox) has to find the Soggy Bottom Boys because the state is "going apey" over the song. The phrase dates back to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century in the U.S., and means that everyone is enthusiastically overboard about the subject of the reference. A related parallel phrase is "going bananas," and both connote excessive overreactions attributed to these primates.
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Ray McKinnon previously appeared in Dead Man's Walk (1996) and subsequently in Comanche Moon (2008), the former also featuring Tim Blake Nelson. Both films were about a young Augustus McCrae, a character originally played in Lonesome Dove (1989) by Robert Duvall, cousin of cast member Wayne Duvall. McKinnon also appeared in The Stand (1994), which featured George Clooney's cousin, Miguel Ferrer. Additionally, prior to the production of The Stand (1994), Stephen King (author of the novel on which it was based) stated a desire to see Robert Duvall play the story's primary antagonist, Randall Flag.
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The scene where John Goodman is attacked by Tim Blake Nelson, and finally throws him off his back, is almost verbatim to his scene with Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona (1987), also directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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George Clooney, Charles Durning, and Michael Badalucco previously appeared in the movie "One Fine Day" (1996).
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Charles Durning, uses the phrase "Cast the first stone", referring to the tale of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, now widely regarded as a forgery due to early manuscripts lacking it.
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Joel Coen: [fricassee] Dan Teague tells Everett "Thanks for the fricassee," in the picnic scene under the tree. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen also included this dish in Fargo (1996) when Margie and Norm are eating in a restaurant and another cop asks her, "How's the fricassee?".
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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.
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Another possible interpretation of the Sirens' actions at the river is that, by giving Pete over to the police, the women 'turn Ulysses' men in to pigs' as Circe does in The Odyssey.
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At the KKK rally, the chant is reminiscent of the chant used by the witch's soldiers in Wizard of Oz. Also when the three main characters ambush clan members and don their capes and hoods, it is reminiscent of the lion, tin man and scarecrow dressing in the soldiers uniforms in order to gain entrance to the castle, or in this case the Klan rally.
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In the scene where the three are around the campfire eating pie, Everett briefly looks at, and then throws, a newspaper in the fire that shows the story headline: "T.V.A. FINALIZING PLANS FOR FLOODING OF ARTABUTTA VALLEY". This foreshadows their "miraculous" escape towards the end of the film. When that page of the newspaper burns away, the page behind it shows the story headline: "Soggy Bottom Boys A Sensation, But Who Are They?"
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The use of the name "Soggy Bottom Boys" for the band actually foreshadows the end of the film, when the four band members find themselves at the "Soggy Bottom" of a lake.
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Almost at the end of the film, just before George Clooney shows Holly Hunter the wedding ring he has retrieved, they walk past a multi-tiered and arched arcade between two buildings that seems an obvious reference to Raphael's famous Vatican fresco "The School of Athens"
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