A man wanders out of the desert not knowing who he is. His brother finds him, and helps to pull his memory back of the life he led before he walked out on his wife and son four years before... See full summary »
Harry Dean Stanton,
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
Yes, it's not for everyone. A strong grasp of both Jewish tradition and quantum physics would do the potential viewer well in getting the absolute most out of the film. But, as someone who is by no means an expert in either area, this one hit me on quite a base level in its unflinching and very true-to-life depiction of a man's life coming apart at the seams and all the existential angst that ensues. The wonderful thing is, A Serious Man is not only deeply resonant and moving, but quite hilarious as well- in that dark, dark way that may be just a little too dark for some.
The Coens have always caught some flack for their supposed misanthropic elitism; or, in other words, what has been seen by some critics as a sort of contemptuous mocking of the characters they depict on screen, the two directors never fully granting their filming creations emotional sympathy. If it was previously easy to debunk this claim, it is now, with A Serious Man, a piece of cake. Has there been a performance in recent years more gut-wrenchingly honest and genuinely pathos-exuding than Michael Stuhlbarg here as protagonist Larry Gopnik? That the narrative thrust of the film is essentially centered around all the horrifying and humiliating events that befall Gopnik does not necessarily mean that the Coens thumb their noses down at this character. If we take into consideration the personal nature of the film (set in a time and place very much like when/where they grew up, and populated by characters probably not unlike those they knew), then it comes as no surprise that A Serious Man is the most studied and 'serious' Coen brothers film to date.
Simply in terms of sheer film-making craft, this is the Coens, and certainly cinematographer Roger Deakins, at the peak of their respective crafts. The recreation of a late 60's heavily Jewish Midwestern locale is pitch-perfect (minus a few very small anachronisms). Not a scene feels wasted, not a shot superfluous; the picture is beautifully symmetric in structure and full of little rhymes and rhythms and repetitions, plenty striking and quasi-iconic images (Stuhlbarg on the roof as pictured on the DVD and promotional poster being one of many), and lots of likely soon-to-be classic dialogue infused with both the Coens' trademark deadpan humor (a la The Big Lebowski) as well as the film's broader thematic concerns.
Then there's the ending, or perhaps as some would say, lack thereof. Not unlike the ambiguous note that No Country For Old Men went out on, the final moments of A Serious Man will probably leave many angered, many confused, and many disappointed. But I don't think there was any other way to close such a film, one largely concerned, as it is, with all the great uncertainties that plague life-- what more appropriate way to end it than with the greatest cinematic uncertainty of all? The final shot is, I think, one of the most haunting in cinema history. I've seen the film three times in the theater, each time leaving awestruck and emotionally drained as the various events of the film, its haunting score and its devastating philosophical implications swirl around my head.
A Serious Man, then, is truly a serious film, with the (black) humor only arising naturally from the utter tragic unfair-ness of life as seen through the protagonist's eyes, and not forced on the situations irreverently as in a lot of films. Given the uncompromisingly bleak nature of the film, perhaps it's best summed up by an old and rather cliché platitude (not unlike the one the film somewhat ironically opens with): When you feel like crying, laugh instead.
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