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Persuasion Through Needs is Achieved in the Film Fargo
The film Fargo, an Academy Award winner for Best Picture in 1996, has several characters that exemplify the first process premise of needs, in turn making this film persuasive. This film is based around the life of a man named Jerry Lundegaard, whom is deep in debt and is married to a woman whose father has no respect or admiration for him. His typical day at work involves ripping customers off at the car dealership where he works as the head sales manager. His need for respect and money leads him to hire an ungainly pair of men to kidnap his wife so that he can collect ransom money. Unfortunately, his personal needs lead to a homicide spree throughout Fargo, North Dakota. Determined to solve any case bestowed upon her, Marge Gunderson, the police officer from Brainerd, Minnesota, seems to walk onto the scene of a multiple homicide – which sparks her quest to find the murderer. The two whom kidnapped Lundegaard’s wife seem to end up in more trouble than the ransom money is worth. Eventually, Lundegaard is taken in for conspiring and kidnapping, while the other two hoodlums that carried out the kidnapping and murders throughout the movie, one dies at the hand of the other, and the surviving one is taken to jail.
Process premises are very relevant to this movie’s persuasive appeal - as several characters appear to be engulfed by their own personal needs and desires. “Process premises rely on psychological factors that operate in nearly all persuaders (Larson 147).” In this movie, the director uses several process premises to persuade our emotions into allowing us to relate to and enjoy this film. Specifically, needs, the first process premise, are used as a persuasive tool, “Each of us has a set of individual needs. Some of them are critical to us – we can’t live without them (for example. food, water, clothing, and shelter). Others are not critical – we can get along with out them, at least for a while (Larson, 152).” This type of persuasion is key, “To be really effective, persuaders [authors, producers, or advertisers] must successfully determine their audience’s needs (Larson, 152).” Due to the individual nature of human beings, we all have several different priorities. However, the needs that we all feel are similar in nature and can be explained by several different theories.
Through examining the first process premise of needs, Packard’s Eight Compelling Needs expose several needs when looking at the personalities and emotional needs of two main characters in the film Fargo. Lundegaard and Gunderson, both fulfill several of Packard’s Eight Compelling Needs, which are:
The need for emotional security, the need for reassurance of worth, the need for ego gratification, the need for creative outlets, the need for love objects, the need for a sense of power, the need for roots, and the need for immortality (Larson, 152-160).
The need for Emotional Security is defined as the need to know that one is safe and secure in a world that has an abundance of threatening characteristics. Stability and long-term prospects often are not experienced, while financial strain and personal relationships sometimes go awry. Many different factors put our emotional security at risk. Lundegaard, his wife and one son are not doing very well financially and his work situation seems to be deteriorating (Weaver). His security for his family and self are not just at risk, but in a more miserable state - his security has been torn. Leaving him no choice but to seek out other ways of ensuring emotional security, Lundegaard stages a kidnapping in order to receive ransom money from his wife’s father with the hopes of alleviating his problem and gaining back his emotional security.
The need for Reassurance of Worth can be described as the need to feel that you have accomplished something and that the tasks, which you complete, are of value. This concept is well described by Packard:
…people need to feel valued for what they do – whether it is in a factory, at a desk, in a classroom, or in a day-care center. Housewives, blue-collar workers, managers, and public sector workers all need to feel that they are accomplishing something of value, are needed by their families and organizations, and are appreciated by others (Larson, 155).
Lundegaard is subject to this need for similar reasons as the first need of emotional security. His job, even though he is the “head sales manager,” does not give him any fulfilling rewards or any sense of accomplishment that Packard outlines as important feelings that are desired and needed by all persons. As a way to battle his lack of worth, you can catch the character’s eyes gleaming with joy and his face light up with a smile when he has accomplished something that he feels as important. In his own way he is attacking the lack of accomplishment and through his outwardly appearance, this is notable. One of the key reasons that Lundegaard stages the kidnapping is to hide from his wife that he is having financial troubles and to reassure her that he is capable of supporting the family. This reason stresses the need for reassurance of worth- a need that many people feel lacking in their own lives.
Ego gratification is the third need that Packard believes is a need shared by all individuals. This need states the simple fact that people like to be brought up emotionally, and given extra value through compliments, which will increase their own self worth and ego. Self perception is often the culprit of a low self-esteem – this issue can often be alleviated through the careful “’stroking’ [and making the person]… feel as if they are really special – a step beyond mere self-worth. (Larson, 156)”
Gunderson’s job as police officer in a small town in Minnesota leaves her ego slightly battered due to a lack of uplifting comments. The film does not state whether she has a family- so it is safe to assume that ego gratifying comments must come from friends or colleagues. However, working for a police force in a small town probably does not give many chances for these types of comments. Gunderson uses her own expertise and the way she carries herself throughout the movie to give a boost to her ego. Gunderson “just goes about her everyday business, eating (in nearly every scene), talking to the people in the community, and examining bloody corpses as if no day is different from the next (‘Fargo’).” However, she does take a rather stern tone with Lundegaard when she is interviewing him about the murders, this tone signifies one of her many attempts to gain ego gratification.
Creative Outlets is a need, which many movie viewers can easily relate to. This need is one where we seek to be recognized for out own individual accomplishments. Straying away from Lundegaard and Gunderson for a moment, the role of the 2 kidnappers must be evaluated regarding this need. The 2 kidnappers represent a stark contrast in personalities. One is a very quite, large, bold, and threatening looking man that tends to keep his public appearance in check throughout the movie. The disparity between the two is seen in the second kidnapper’s personality and attitudes. He is maintains a smaller build and can be characterized as a hyper and attention seeking individual. Through the second kidnappers attention seeking comments – we can see his desire to be recognized for his ideas, reasoning, and general beliefs. Several instances when the two are traveling together, he will make a comment; when he is ignored by the first kidnapper, the second kidnapper will make a comment about him [the first kidnapper] not listening to him. Further, he will badger him for being so quite and uses this type of communication to stress that he is capable of formulating ideas on his own.
The need for Love Objects is experienced through Gunderson’s relations with a past friend from her earlier years. The importance of love objects is felt by any person whom seeks the feeling of belonging. Gunderson seeks this feeling, and in trying to fulfill it she meets up with an old friend. The feeling is felt- but too strong for her own comfort when then guy she is meeting comes on to her and tries to put his arm around her. This is an example of a failed attempt to fulfill one of Gunderson’s needs.
Power is one of the most important aspects of conversation and even broader, our existence in society (Anjek). The need for a Sense of Power goes beyond control, and into the realm of satisfying several other needs by establishing power. Lundegaard seeks out the fulfillment of several needs; emotional security, ego gratification, and reassurance of worth through the use of money to establish power. He believes that money will be the encompassing solution to his problems. The ends do not justify the means, however, in this situation. Kidnapping and holding his wife ransom to gain financial power is not justified by his need for gaining financial power. The relevance of his needs to the viewers of this film is summed up through Larson’s statement; “We Americans, perhaps more than members of any other culture, seem to be programmed to chase potency and power to gratify our need for them symbolically (Larson, 159).”
The need for Roots is one need that many people experience when they move away from home or work for a company that tends to transfer them to a different location frequently. “In the decade following college graduation – The average American moves at least a dozen times (Larson, 160).” The town of Fargo is portrayed by the director in a washed out tone though the blinding white of the snow. Occasionally the film’s director paints the scene with the dull grays and browns of police uniforms and winter jackets. The slow pace of the film reflects the town’s remote location and unhurried ambiance. The town is a perfect stereotype of the small town that many people in America have left behind as they have grown older and moved to more populated areas of the county. This setting offers viewers a chance to relate and reflect on their own experiences, further persuading the viewers to feel the needs and emotions felt by the characters in the film.
“None of us wants to believe in out own mortality (Larson, 160).” The need for Immortality is a need shared by the characters in this film and the majority of the persons viewing the film. “Studies have show that only the fear of giving a speech, exceeds the fear of dying. (Larson, 160)” The fear mortality shines through Lundegaard and Gunderson in their quests for an ego boost, love, self-worth, and the realization of most of the needs outlined by Packard’s Eight Compelling Needs. At several points in the film, each of them say, do and make decisions that will prolong or enhance their lives.
Although Packard’s Eight Compelling Needs explain the motives of the characters in the film Fargo, it is important to note that these needs also coincide with Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. These needs include from the lowest level to the highest: Basic Psychological needs, Safety and Security needs, Belongingness and Love needs, Esteem Needs, and Self-actualization needs (Larson, 161-166). Maslow argues that humans will first fulfill the needs at the bottom of the pyramid, or the basic psychological needs. Moving up, eventually to self-actualization needs, people move through several different needs, each one requiring different solutions and fulfillment strategies. Each of Packard’s Eight Compelling Needs concur with Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, however Maslow goes further to explain the order which people will fulfill these needs.
The persuasive strategies used in the film Fargo take advantage of the Process Premises, specifically needs, outlined by Packard and Maslow. The persuasive techniques used in Fargo rely heavily on its audience. “…The first premises serve as springboards for persuasion in enthymemes…these needs whether identified by Packard’s list or Maslow’s Pyramid or some other model, are strongly felt by audiences (Larson, 166-167).” Our emotions allow us to relate to the characters and the needs, which they seek to fulfill. When the audience of a film can relate to the characters, they are persuaded to emerge themselves into the film and experience the same feelings and emotions of those characters. Audiences of this film were divided when it was release, many could not grasp the comedic seriousness of the movie, but the persuasive power of relating to the viewers general needs allowed for the films success. The needs and desires of each character, specifically, Lundegaard and Gunderson, outline these persuasive strategies.
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