Broken Dreams: The Coen Brothers’ To The White Sea

July 17, 2016
With Hail, Caesar! hitting Digital, DVD and Blu-ray this week, we take a look at one of The Coen Brothers’ projects that didn’t get off the ground.

The notoriously tough and rambunctious James Dickey, renowned author of Deliverance, joined the Army Air Corps at a young age, serving with the night fighter squadron in WW2 and with the Air Force in Korea. So, when he penned To The White Sea, a novel about an American gunner shot down over Tokyo in 1942, he knew what he was writing about. In Dickey’s book, the soldier, Muldrow, heads north, using his survival skills to reach his native Alaska and escape the Japanese. He leaves behind him a trail of dead bodies, some killed in self-defence, some killed in questionable desperation.

The saga of the film adaptation dates back to a 1996 screenplay by David and Janet Peoples (writers of Twelve Monkeys), which was to be directed by The Coen Brothers. They’d planned to film it in 2001, once they’d completed The Man Who Wasn’t There. Brad Pitt had signed on, and all seemed well until budgetary disagreements with the studio stopped the project dead. The script continues to be lauded by film fans who lament the lost project, praising its adherence to the book (David Webb Peoples also adapted Blade Runner for the screen, and penned Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven); after the first ten minutes or so, there is practically no dialogue for the rest of the film. Amongst the projects that The Coen Brothers are reported to be currently and actively working on, To The White Sea is nowhere to be seen. With its twelve years of on-and-off development, however, and its studio-scaring silence and violence, this will likely be The Coen Brothers film that will never be. “Brad Pitt wanted to do it, and he has this sort of remorse or regret about it. But he’s too old now,” Ethan Coen told Time Magazine in October 2007.

Leave a Comment