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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for A Serious Man can be found here.
Yes. Although the film was written, produced, and directed by American film-making brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, the story is loosely based on the Old Testament Book of Job.
You can read it online here.
The film is set in June 1967. There are a number of anachronisms in the film, most notably the reference to the albums Abraxas by Santana and Cosmo's Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival which weren't released until 1970.
Probably. Earlier in the movie the letters were referred to as being eloquently written by a native English speaker, and Sy does seem to have an eloquent way with words throughout the film. However, at one point after Sy dies in a car crash, Larry is told that the tenure committee is still receiving the denigrating letters. This could point to someone other than Sy writing the letters, or it could just mean that Sy wrote them before his death and it simply took a few days for them to be delivered. Since the time between Sy's death and Larry being told that the committee is still receiving letters is only a few days at most, it seems very possible that Sy did indeed write the letters.
Also, during Danny's bar mitzvah, Judith mentions to Larry that Sy had such respect for him and had written letters to the tenure committee.
goy: non-Jewishhashem: literally "the name"; a euphemism for God, used in ordinary conversation in which the name "God" itself is inappropriate.dybbuk: In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is usually a spirit which inhabits the body of a living person so that the soul can complete its function; however, here it is presented as a dead man somehow come to life.rabbi: Jewish religious teacher whose activities (at least in recent centuries) are similar to those of a Protestant pastorget: document granting a divorce; required if one is to remarry in the faithbar mitzvah: meaning "one to whom the commandments apply"; a boy of 13 who participates in the synagogue service for the first time as an adult.
The opening in which a wife stabs a man supposed to be dead, believing he is a dybbuk (evil spirit in Jewish mythology), is according to the Coens just supposed to establish the tone of the movie. "We thought a little self-contained story would be an appropriate introduction for this movie. Since we didn't know any suitable Yiddish folk tales, we made one up," they said. Roger Ebert offered an alternative interpretation that the scene was the origin of a curse.
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