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The plot of the Coen brothers brilliant black comedy Fargo revolves around Jerry Lundegaard's desperate need for some large sum of money.

Is there any hint at all as to why he needs it or how he managed to get himself into a place where he is so desperate he is willing to trigger the whole fake kidnap?

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    The movie never says, but his wife comes from money, and I always assumed he put himself in debt trying to support her in the manner to which she had become accustomed. Apr 22, 2014 at 16:53
  • Well he needed $750,000 from his father-in-law. He also 'stole' $350,000 from GMAC. He was going to pay the kidnappers $40,000 + the vehicle. Eventually the ransom came in at $1MM (which Jerry made up to Wade, his father-in-law). So it looks like he was around $1MM in debt to "someone" who is never stated in the film. May 15, 2018 at 15:23

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I have seen the movie several times and just looked up a few reviews, and none of them explicitly mention the reason for the money. According to IMDB's exhaustive plot synopsis, the debts are "anonymous".

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I was always under the impression that the money is to pay off GMAC from the scene in the movie where he's on the phone to GMAC, and they're asking for the VIN plates of the cars he's sold (and requested finance on).

The implication is he's fudging the numbers of the cars he's requested finance on, so he could get the money from the bank, by selling cars that don't exist.

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  • But he owes the GMC dealership $350K, so he must be in deep debt to someone else to keep trying to way more than the $350K owed.
    – AGuest2
    Dec 6, 2016 at 2:28
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At first blush it seems there is no hint in the film. But the truth may be hiding in plain sight.

Personally, I, like others here, always assumed he was in deep trouble, in the form of a debt owed to dangerous people. Gambling, criminal enterprise, something surely has put his life at risk, leaving him desperate. But no such explanation is ever provided in the film, beyond his mention of being in "some trouble" at the beginning.

However, in an interview, the actor William H. Macey, who plays Jerry, suggests a simpler and much more wholesome explanation. Jerry wanted to build the parking lot (Macey refers to it as a parking structure, implying multi level garage), the suggestion is Mr Lundegaard's motivation is purely about gaining independence and success outside of his father in laws business and in his own right.

This tracks well in the film, the relief he shows when his father in law reports it looks like a good deal, his immediate interest in cancelling the kidnapping, and his deflation when it turns out his father in law wants to cut him out of the deal, leaving him with only a finders fee. Perhaps Jerry has already committed to this real-estate deal, signing an offer and submitting a (non refundable) deposit, explaining the fraudulent loans with GMAC.

In this vision we see an average, reasonably good man, betrayed by his need for capital. He is desperate not because his life or limb is on the line, but only his self image and chances of "success" hang in the balance.

He needed the money to buy that parking lot and become his own man, an equal with his father in law, and a success in the eyes of society. He was so desperate to establish himself as a "serious man", he risked absolutely everything, and lost.

Quote from the interview:

What made you want to play Jerry?

One reading of the thing and I totally understood Jerry Lundegaard. I thought: “I can endorse that.” He wanted to take care of his family. His wife is mouthy, and his father-in-law is overbearing and a prick. Jerry came up with this magnificent idea for a parking structure that was going to make somebody a lot of money, and his father-in-law, yet again, is just going to steal it from him. I think it was a good plan. It went wrong, but it didn’t need to go wrong. If it had worked and no one had known, all would have been well

https://www.bfi.org.uk/interviews/fargo-william-h-macy-coen-brothers

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He wants to open his own car dealership. It is evident when he solicits a loan from his father-in-law and his business partner Stan. As he was hopeful that they would loan it to him when they invite him for a meeting, he tries to cancel the ordered kidnapping but they were more interested in getting in the deal themselves and paying him a "finder's fee".

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    The deal he mentions to his father-in-law is for a supposed parking lot, not a car dealership. That deal is a sham, meant to get money from his father-in-law so he can pay off a debt. That debt, as I noted in my answer, is never elaborated on in the movie. Apr 6, 2015 at 20:25
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i think the implication, given jerry's behaviors, strengths and weaknesses, it's gambling debt from people he knows will likely kill him if he doesn't come up with money from outstanding gambling debt

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    Welcome to Movies & TV! We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – Paulie_D
    Jul 4, 2017 at 20:05
  • This is the most plausible scenario to me. He's willing to gamble with many peoples lives in order to cover up the debt, so it's quite likely that the nature of the debt is a gambling problem as well. There's also the character of Mike Yanagita who's very willing to lie in order to hide from the shame of his gambling debt, implying that one of the central themes of the story is the nature of people who gamble recklessly. Carl Showalter also appears to gamble a lot in the way he runs his mouth and schemes, and ends up paying the ultimate price for his final gambit. Oct 12, 2020 at 19:56
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Why did jerry need the money? It is not to pay off GMAC because he used the car to pay the kidnappers up front for the job. The GMAC only asks for numbers after he gave the car to the kidnappers. Later in the film, he thinks that he will get the money loan from step-father and tries to cancel the hitmen. The money is for an empty car lot purchase.

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According to other some other blogs, the reason for the $350 K is a Mcguffin. We do not know what it was for. We can only speculate. Like the object in the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction"

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    Welcome to Movies & TV! We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – Paulie_D
    Jun 28, 2017 at 14:24

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