The Story: Not every Coen Brothers movie has a dream/fantasy sequence. It seems almost superfluous as the Coens already flirt witht he surreal in their film-world-vision: Barton Fink might be considered an entire dream or nightmare, and the same could be said of The Hudsucker Proxy, even O Brother, Where Art Thou. The Big Lebowski has the bowling themed Busby Berkley sequence (set to Kenny Rogers). The floating hat in Miller's Crossing could be a memory or a dream, like the prologue of A Serious Man, or Mattie Ross' telling of the tale of her father's murder in True Grit. Dreams are told of like case-histories in No Country for Old Men, which also features Llewelynn Moss (Josh Brolin) waking, startled, from a dream (and shot in much the same way) as Hi does here. Perhaps his sleep is disturbed by the same nightmare—the same premonition—in a different form.
There's a manic, lunatic momentum to this sequence (as there is throughout the movie)—the speed, the angles, the narration are all over the top—that is almost cartoon-like in nature—in fact, I've always seen Cage's Hi as Wile E. Coyote in human form, tragically doomed to fail, but obsessively hopeful, nonetheless. It is exaggerated, extreme, violating laws of nature, careening down ribbons of highway and up ladders defying gravity and obstacles, following in the tire-treads of Hi's nightmarish "warthog from Hell." "Tex" Cobb by way of Tex Avery.
Carter Burwell's music is inspired, a gothic wailing version of "Down in the Willow Garden," the song that Ed sings to Little Nathan to calm his own bad dreams (a song about execution and murdered love...how "soothing") that might have invaded Hi's slumbers.
But, it's what we've come to expect from the Miller's Crossing of the Coens, Joel and Ethan—always juxtaposed at the crossroads of comedy and tragedy, sentiment and horror, urban and rural.
The Set-Up: Hi (Nicolas Cage) and Edna (Holly Hunter) just want to have a family. If you can't make one, then the ex-con and his prison worker bride decide they'll steal one. They take one of the Arizona Quints, little Nathan Arizona Jr., and almost immediatelt find themselves besieged—by Hi's prison buddies (John Goodman, William Forsythe), the impending investigation of their high-profile crime, and the hiring of a freelance bounty hunter (Randall 'Tex' Cobb) by unfinished furniture magnate, Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). That night, Hi dreams....
EXTREME HIGH ANGLE
Looking straight down at Hi, asleep in bed. It is later: filtering softly in from the other room is the end of the "Star Spangled Banner" on TV. We are craning down.
VOICE OVER That night I had a dream.
For a brief moment we see a wall of flames and hear it roar.
BACK TO HI
Still craning down.
VOICE OVER ...I'd drifted off thinkin' about happiness, birth, and new life...
Wall of flames. Deafening roar.
BACK TO HI
Craning down. The faint National Anthem ends: we hear the WEEEEEEEE of a test pattern.
VOICE OVER But now I was haunted by a vision of -
WALL OF FLAMES
Roaring. At the cut: WHOOOOOSH! a huge low-rider motorcycle bursts through the flames, its engine roaring even louder than the fire. Its driver is a huge leather-clad hellion.
The chains worn by the Biker clank ominously as he rides.
VOICE OVER He was horrible...
The Biker roars out of frame.
As the Biker roars into frame, his rear tire laying down a wake of fire.
VOICE OVER ...a lone biker of the apocalypse...
TRACKING ON BIKER
As he roars along a ribbon of desert highway.
VOICE OVER ...a man with all the powers of hell at his command.
The Biker reaches for his bullwhip.
VOICE OVER ...He could turn the day into night...
The Biker cracks the whip and, at the crack:
The sky behind him turns instantly to black. Bolts of lightning crackle across it as thunder roars.
ANOTHER DESERT SCENE DAY
Tracking with and also in on the Biker from behind as he roars along a strip of highway. He is reaching for the two sawed-off shotguns which are strapped crisscross across his back.
VOICE OVER ...and laid to waste everything in his path.
REVERSE TRACK ON BIKER
Pulling the Biker from a distance as he levels the two shotguns. The tracking camera pulls back further to reveal a running jack-rabbit keeping pace with us in the foreground.
VOICE OVER He was especially hard on the little things...
CRACK - from afar, the foreground lizard is blown away.
LOCKED-DOWN LOW-ANGLE WIDE SHOT
Of the empty desert road stretching away. In the foreground a lone desert flower blooms.
The Biker roars into frame.
VOICE OVER He left a scorched earth in his wake,
VOICE OVER ...befouling even the sweet desert breeze
VOICE OVER ...that whipped across his brow.
As the Biker roars away, the foreground flower bends with his draft and then bursts into flame.
TRACKING ON BIKER
From in front. He twirls the shotguns in either hand and reaches back to plunge them over his shoulders into their holsters.
VOICE OVER I didn't know where he came from or why...
We are moving in on his chest, where two crisscrossed bandoliers carry two rows of hand grenades, their silver pins glinting in the sun. We follow the line of one of the bandoliers up to his right shoulder which bears the tattoo: "Mama Didn't Love Me."
VOICE OVER I didn't know...
VOICE OVER ...if he was dream
VOICE OVER ...or vision...
REVERSE TRACK ON BIKER
From behind, booming down as we track. We are approaching the crest of a rise.
VOICE OVER But I feared that I myself had unleashed him...
Of the Biker approaching, craning down as he draws near.
VOICE OVER ...for he was The Fury That Would Be...
With the crane down we momentarily lose him from view over the rise; then suddenly - ROAR - he tops the rise and, wheels spinning, is airborne
As he crashes back down to earth in the foreground and roars away. Only now we are no longer in the desert:
We are looking down a twilight street at the end of which is the Arizona house.
VOICE OVER ...as soon as Florence Arizona found her little Nathan gone.
The roar of his engine and clank of his chains recede as the Biker gradually dissolves into thin air.
We are left looking at the empty street and the faraway Arizona house.
The receding roar has left behind eerily beautiful singing, a woman singing a lullaby. Faintly, behind the singing, there is also a droning high-pitched noise.
The camera starts floating forward very close to the ground, moving slowly toward the Arizona house. The high-pitched drone is becoming less faint under the singing.
The camera is accelerating. The drone is growing louder - we can now tell that it is a human scream.
As we approach the Arizona house we can see that a ladder is propped up to a second-story window.
We are moving quite fast now. The scream all but buries the singing.
We hurtle toward and then straight up the ladder with no abatement of speed, sucked forward by the deafening scream.
THWAP! - through the white curtains of the open second-story window into the nursery to reveal Florence Arizona, her back to us, screaming over the crib.
We are rocketing toward her.
She is turning to us, hands pressed to her ears, mouth stretched wide in an ear-splitting shriek
and we are rushing into an extreme close-up of her gaping mouth and her wildly vibrating epiglottis and we
EXTREME CLOSE SHOT OF HI'S EYES
As they snap open.
The screaming snaps off at the cut. The singing that the building scream covered, however, is now audible again.
Perspiration beads Hi's forehead. He looks down toward the foot of the bed.
ED (singing): ...shall walk...
ED (singing): ...to yonder scaffold rise...
HI (groggily) He all right?
ED He's all right. He was just havin' a nightmare.
ED (singing): My race is run beneath...
Hi is getting out of bed.
ED (singing): the sun/ The scaffold now waits...
ED (singing): ...for me.
He crosses to the bedroom window and cracks the venetian blind. Orange light filters in.
Beyond a clothes line and a septic tank, a huge orange ball of sun is rising. We can almost hear the roar of its burning surface.
BACK TO HI
The orange sun, rumbling, perceptibly rising.
Somewhere, a baby cries...