The Coen brothers are famous for their use of symbolism in their films. They connect the
concrete to the intangible as to connect key ideas. In their piece, Miller’s Crossing, the Coen
brother’s show a scene of an early 20 century fedora dancing in the wind, as is tumble through a
wood. We later discover that this was a dream that the protagonist, Tom Regan, had. The Coen
brothers use the hat as a symbol of the life of a gangster. The hat represents crime, sin, and power
in this film and the viewer gets a sense of whom the characters are and what they hope to be
based on their relationship with “the hat.”Appropriately, the drifting of the hat along the wind is
a symbol the represents Tom’s sentiment towards the aforementioned lifestyle.
The movie opens with, a scene emerges that introduces Leo, the crime boss of the
fictional town this movie takes place, Johnny Caspar, the leader of a gang controlled by Leo,
Eddie Dane, Casper’s right-hand man, and Tom Regan, Leo’s advisor and the film’s main
character. After tension ensues between Leo and Caspar over the forfeiture of Bernie Bernbaum,
Leo’s girlfriend’s brother and Caspar’s adversary, Caspar a storm out. Before he leaves however,
he tells Leo that he’s, “sick of the high hat!” Immediately after, Casper puts on his hat and
prepares to leave. Before he departs, Leo says, “Johnny, you’re exactly as big as I let you be, and
no bigger, and don’t forget it, ever.” These exchanges introduce the connection between “the hat”
and the power-struggle within the world of crime. The viewer sees this world to be violent and
disorganized right off the bat, contrasted with Tom who stands calmly in the background. Leo
along with Caspar and Dane all appear power-hungry and irrational.
That night, Tom heads to the tables to gamble and ends up passing out drunk on a couch.
This is the slumber with which he had his dream. Tom wakes up to the slap of a bartender and
quickly discovers that he lost his hat to Verna, Leo’s girl, the night before, and goes to her place
to retrieve it. When Tom arrives to Verna’s door, he knocks and when she comes Tom says, “I want me hat,” Verna asks if that was all he came for and when he says yes, Verna said it
belonged to her because she won it. Tom then asks “what are you gonna do with it?” and,
slamming the door in his face, Verna responds, “drop dead.” This shows Tom’s relentless desire
for his hat, which symbolizes his connection to power and to Leo. When Verna asks, “is that all
you came for?” she shows her disinterest towards the hat, which extends to her disinterest with
the life that came with it. Tom then knocks again and asks for a drink, Verna lets him in saying,
“Why didn’t you say so?” This shows that Verna is interested in more than the hat, which in this
case happens to be the man under it. The next seen is a close-up on Toms hat with a mirror
behind it depicting Tom as he lays in bed smoking a cigarette with Verna lying next to him. Tom
is seen to be in great contemplation at this point. The contrast between the hat and Varna shows
that Tom’s introspection could be between living a life with Leo, crime, or living a life with
Verna, love. This theory is even more legitimized when a knock comes to the door and it happens
to be Leo looking for Verna. Their conversation consists of Tom bashing Verna trying to make
Leo less infatuated with her and convincing him that Verna is just working and angle. Ironically,
Leo tells Tom that he knows more about angles than anyone. With Leo’s girlfriend and Tom’s
lover in the next room, Tom is working an angle of his own. However, Tom’s angle isn’t
calculated. He is torn between two different lives and he doesn’t know which one he wants.
Throughout this whole conversation, Leo is holding his hat in his hand while Tom’s is back in
the bedroom with Verna.
The next scene shows Tom at the Shenandoah Club, Leo’s headquarters, as he runs into a
man named Mink, who apparently is a “friend” to Bernie. Immediately, Mink says, “see you got
your hat back,” this again shoes the connection between “the hat” and the mobster life. Later, in
the bathroom, Tom finds Verna and threatens her to stop toying with Leo’s head. She denies of these allegations, but Tom still thinks she’s working some kind of angle on himself and Leo.
However, after some back and forth, Tom grabs her, tells her he loves her and kisses her. Later,
when Tom goes to Verna’s place to confront her about the death of Clarence “Drop” Daniels, the
man hired by Leo to follow Verna. However, Tom and Verna get close again and begin to kiss.
Right when they start, Verna grabs Tom’s hat and throws it on the chair right beside them. This is
yet another example of the gab between Verna and “the hat.” The scene promptly switches to
Leo’s house whereas the viewer initially hears a man being murdered by some of Casper’s hit
men, both wearing hats, who came to kill Leo. In this situation, the hat acts as a direct
transitional vice that divides the two worlds of this film.
Later, Tom goes to Leo and tells him how he and Verna have been fooling around. Leo
couldn’t see that Verna was capable of dis