Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Jewish physics lecturer Larry Gopnik is a serious and a very put-upon man. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job, his pot-head son, who gets stoned at his own bar-mitzvah, only wants him round to fix the TV aerial and his useless brother Arthur is an unwelcome house guest. But both Arthur and Larry get turfed out into a motel when Larry's wife Judy, who wants a divorce, moves her lover, Sy, into the house and even after Sy's death in a car crash they are still there. With lawyers' bills mounting for his divorce, Arthur's criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbour Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. And the rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still God moves in mysterious - and not always pleasant - ways, as Larry and his family will find out. Written by
don @ minifie-1
Tyson Bidner, the film's location manager, was cast as the magbiah at Danny's bar mitzvah because he had been one in real life. He said the Torah scroll was very heavy and difficult to lift above his head. See more »
Rabbis are not wearing yarmulkas (skull caps) while at work in their synagogue. See more »
Major players deconstructing the film-making paradigm
I suppose the first thing that needs to be said is that I'm not Jewish and, as such, a lot of what was obviously a deeply personal movie went over my head, and I was left feeling like an outsider, almost a voyeur.
However, perhaps as a result of this I'm able to view the film more objectively. Visually, it is beautiful. There are so many perfectly framed scenes that even when the story seems to drag it keeps you captivated.
Having said that, for me, it did drag. The central figure was a neurotic, cerebral, awkward, middle aged Jewish man. Not entirely a cinematic first. Add to this the fact that he was possibly the most passive character in cinematic history - he literally made no decisions in the entire movie until the final scene. Instead he was drawn from one catastrophe to another, on the basis that he was a good, upstanding man surrounded by stronger people.
Normally in this situation we would see the character challenged and grow, but this is the Coen brothers, so it's not going to be that simple. Instead,,we are left to squirm at the relentless nature of the man's incessant failings - a frustrating experience, particularly if you're not privy to the Jewish humour that pervades this intimate film.
It seemed to me almost as if the Coen Brothers were seeing how far they can stretch their high profile. With No Country For Old Men they robbed us of the pivotal, climactic scene and I for one left feeling cheated. Here they simply don't introduce it at all. They break every story paradigm there is, as if to suggest that they are now so great they can present a piece that has no development, no conclusion, a prologue that seems to have no relevance to the main body of the work, and no redemptive quality to extract from any of the characters. A bit like real life I suppose. But who wants to see that on a forty foot screen?
I need to lay down.
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