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
Fyvush Finkel, the actor in his late 80s who plays "Groshkower" in the Yiddish-language scene of the film, started his acting career at 9 years old playing child roles in the Yiddish theater industry that once thrived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. See more »
Larry's first name is spelled differently throughly the course of the movie. The sign on his office door reads "Prof. Lawrence Gopnik", but the letter from Meshbesher is addressed to "Laurence Gopnik" . See more »
Let me say up front that most fans of the Coen brothers' early films might be disappointed if they're expecting "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski" or even "O Brother". Unlike those movies, here we don't have a lot of plot, comedy or action. The message of the film is very challenging, and it requires a lot of thought to figure out what they're saying.
I'd say this movie is for fans of the recent American films "Synecdoche NY", "Doubt", and the recent Japanese films "Departures", "Yureru" and of course the classics by Kurosawa like "Rashomon". What I'm saying is that this is a film that tackles philosophical questions of perception, faith, and in particular, uncertainty.
If you've had some physics, you're in for a real treat because much of the theme centers around Schrödinger's "Uncertainty Principle", briefly touched upon in the Coens' excellent 2001 film "The Man Who Wasn't There". Here they give us a more powerful dose. If you've never heard of this principle, don't worry, you can look it up on Wikipedia or you can accept my synopsis of it, which I'll warn you might be flawed because I ain't no physicist:
The Uncertainty Principle (or "Schrödinger's Cat") proves mathematically that certain events are unknowable. It proposes the idea of a cat that might be alive or dead, but we cannot know without looking inside the cage. At the same time, the minute we look inside the cage, the cat will be killed by a toxic gas. The bottom line: we can't know the answer. Ever.
From there, the movie explores how different people react when confronted with the unknown. Some form prejudices. Some fall back on faith. Some become faithLESS. And some just don't care.
This is a beautifully crafted film that shows us the nature of human beings in that respect. No, there's not really a story. But it does even better than that: it challenges our minds to see elements of our own lives within the life of this ordinary schmuck. I am truly amazed at the Coens' accomplishment, and I hope they continue in this direction in the future, though I'm sure it may hurt their mainstream appeal.
If you see this film & like it, I think you'll really enjoy the other films I've listed as well as the Hungarian masterpiece "Werckmeister Harmonies", anything by Wim Wenders ("The End of Violence" touches on the same Uncertainty Principle) and Orson Welles' "The Trial".
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