Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Serious Man

A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009) [8]

I've had my issues with the Coen's more serious material but have seen to turned a corner after loving NCFOM and finding Burn After Reading lackluster. A Serious Man is a bleak yet blackly comic story of a physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) who finds his life engrossed in a series of Job-like tribulations. His wife has divorced him, his tenure at the university he teaches at is trivialized by anonymous disparaging letters and a troublesome student, and his unemployed brother (in a great small role by Richard Kind) in legal trouble. It's a series of trying experiences that Larry can't comprehend and seeks guidance through a trio of rabbis, whose interactions are the comedic highlights of the film. The film has Jewish characters and is set in the Midwest of the late 60s so a lot has been made of it being somewhat autobiographical in regards to the Coens. Knowing their films, I don't see much other than using time and place to tell a standard Coen Brothers story. Judaism is prominent but is never the featured element of the story as the tenets of faith are used for Larry to question whether he is really a serious man. I happen to feel the film treats Judaism lovingly but isn't afraid to throw a barb or two in. The scene near the end with Rabbi Marshak and Larry's son Danny is superb. It circumvents the notion of this esteemed man being someone of great insight or resolution. The film ends with little explanation for Larry and the viewer for why he had to go through with this exactly. Questions are never answered and perhaps that's a good thing. Like the Uncertainty Principle, the closer the film gets to knowing one element, the less everything else becomes.

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