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A Serious Man (2009) Poster

(2009)

Trivia

Jump to: Spoilers (6)
The Coen Brothers stated that the opening scene was nothing more than a little short that they made up to get the audience in the proper mood, and that there is no meaning behind it.
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In his argument with the Columbia House records employee over the phone, Larry Gopnik repeatedly rejects the album "Abraxas" by Santana. Abraxas is a Gnostic term for God, particularly a God who encompasses all things from Creator of the Universe to the Devil, and an etymological root for "abracadabra". It is thus implied that Larry Gopnik is vehemently rejecting mysticism, pantheism, and magic.
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Sarah Gopnik repeatedly talks about going to "The Whole". The Whole is the music club in the basement of the University of Minnesota student union. It opened in the 1960s.
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The names of the characters who ride the school bus with Danny Gopnik are the names of children that the Coen brothers grew up with.
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Most of the doorposts throughout the movie (including the Gopniks' and Mrs. Samsky's) have a small box attached to them. This is a mezuzah, a case containing passages from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21), which Jews traditionally affix to the door frames of their houses as a constant reminder of God's presence. A mezuzah also functions as a sign that a Jewish person occupies the house or works in the building onto which it is affixed, so in this movie, the frequent sight of mezuzahs on doorframes is one of many indications that most of the characters are Jewish.
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Sy Ableman says mathematics is "the art of the possible", a paraphrase of a quote by Otto von Bismarck, who called politics "the art of the possible".
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A law firm called Tuckman Marsh is mentioned at one point. It was also mentioned in the Coens' previous film Burn After Reading (2008).
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The cast contains very few Coen regulars, and most of the actors in the film are relative unknowns.
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Red Owl was a real Midwest grocery store chain, with several stores in the Twin Cities area, including Knollwood Plaza in St. Louis Park, about two miles south of the Coen family home. The Red Owl mentioned in the film is identified as being in Bloomington, suburb some ways to the south of St. Louis Park. The significance in Rabbi Nachtner's anecdote is that Sussman's investigation of the teeth mystery takes him on a drive in the middle of the night that would have taken about an hour and a half round trip: far enough to seem just a little obsessed, but not too much. The Red Owl sign used in an exterior scene in the movie was a genuine antique, which unfortunately was accidentally dropped and destroyed after filming.
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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.
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The song heard on the record played repeatedly in the Gopniks' house is Dem Milners Trern ("The Miller's Tears") by Sidor Belarsky, a Yiddish folk song of a sad miller's fears of growing old and alone, echoing the film's theme.
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Shot in 44 days.
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No line gets a bigger laugh when the film plays in Minneapolis than Larry's divorce lawyer telling him "Hire Ron Meshbesher" to represent Arthur. Meshbesher is a real person, the most prominent criminal defense attorney in Minnesota for 40-some years, "The Guy" in the words of other lawyers. Thus, Larry learns that Arthur is more trouble than he'd imagined. This is a slight anachronism, as Meshbesher's reputation was not yet established by 1967. To make the significance of the recommendation more apparent to contemporary and non-Minnesota viewers, the script inflates the amount of Meshbesher's retainer a good bit from what it was in the late 60s. The scene was shot in the Minneapolis office of Meshbesher and Spence, and the address on the retainer envelope at the end of the movie is the actual address of the firm.
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At his Bar Mitzvah, Danny reads a "Parshah" or portion of the Torah scroll known as "Behar" (Leviticus 25:1 - 26:2) which details the events of the Jubilee year, including the release of slaves and return of ancestral lands. Because the reading of Torah portions follow a set yearly cycle, this means that Danny's Bar Mitzvah occurred in early May of 1967.
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Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of Arthur Gopnik.
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While flipping through 'the mentaculus' one page has a doodle with the words 'Higgs Boson' written backwards
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Comedian Marc Maron tested for the role of Larry Gopnik.
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The voice of Dick Dutton, the Columbia Record Club employee who harasses Larry on the phone, is supplied by actor Warren Keith. This is the second time he has appeared in a Coen Brothers film playing a character heard only on the phone. He also supplies the voice of Reilly Diefenbach, the GMAC finance officer who calls Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo (1996).
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The first word of English is spoken around eight minutes into the film.
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The synagogue used for filming was B'nai Emet in the Coen brothers' home town of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where they went to synagogue.
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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.
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Judith has Larry meet her and Sy at the Embers restaurant to discuss family matters. Embers was a popular chain of "family restaurants" in the Twin Cities in the 1960s and 1970s, known for TV ads in which a local actress would promise customers dissatisfied with a menu item would have it "cheerfully exchanged." An early Embers spokeswoman was a then-unknown Loni Anderson, who would go on to star in TV shows and film. St. Louis Park, where the story is set, had a number of Jewish delicatessen restaurants. That Judith has insisted on discussing private matters supposedly governed by their Jewish faith in a public place adds to Larry's feeling that faith, and thus Hashem, is crumbling all around him. That Embers is a specifically "mainstream Minnesota" public space identified with Anderson's Scandinavian blondness is an inside joke adding to Larry's feeling of isolation and entrapment. In real life, there was an Embers about 75 miles from the Coen family home, and Joel and Ethan probably ate there numerous times. Embers began to decline in the 1980s and eventually went belly up, though the name has been licensed to a few independent restaurants. The location in the film does not resemble an actual Embers in any way.
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Two actors in this movie portrayed notorious gambler/mobster Arnold Rothstein in other works: Michael Stuhlbarg in "Boardwalk Empire" and Michael Lerner in "Eight Men Out".
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Yelena Shmulenson and Allen Lewis Rickman, who play the Shtetl husband and Shtetl wife in the movie, are real-life husband and wife as well.
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According to Violet Ramis personal memoir "Ghostbuster's Daughter: Life With My Dad, Harold Ramis", her father didn't get much of a thrill from acting than he did writing and directing. However, this was the one film that her father Harold Ramis wanted to play a role.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

The tornado bearing down on the town at the climax is a factual event. There was a tornado outbreak in Southern Minnesota, 1967.
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The Coen Brothers' original idea for the picture was as a short film about Danny's stoned bar mitzvah and his meeting with Rabbi Marshak. All of the other content in the movie grew out of that sequence.
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Rabbi Marshak misquotes Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love," changing "all the joy within you dies" to "all the hope within you dies" (though this is appropriate given Danny's family situation). Furthermore, he then names three or four members of the band (comically stumbling over Jorma Kaukonen's last name) as an apparent attribution to the quote, but the song was in fact written by Grace Slick's brother-in-law, Darby Slick.
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In parsha cycle - which reads through the five-books of the bible over the course of the Jewish year - Danny's Bar Mitzvah parsha, "Behar", is followed by "Bechukotai" (Leviticus 26:3-27:34). While Behar discusses the Jubilee Year - the emancipation of slaves and the return of lands to their ancestral heirs - Bechukotai is chiefly known for the verses of Admonition, which warn of the punishments to be endured by those who disobey God. Among other things, the Admonition promises exile, the loss of family and attack by enemies and faint-heartedness - fates suffered by Larry Gopnik. In most years, the two parshahs are read on the same day. Because 1967 coincided with a "Jewish Leap" year - with an extra month before Passover - reading of Bechukotai would have been delayed to the following week (May 27, 1967). Much like Larry Gopnik's travails, the fearful Admonitions would be delayed but not escaped. Although the Hebrew School and Bar Mitzvah sequences in the film are clearly autobiographically inspired, Joel Coen was born on November 29, 1954 and hence would have had his Bar Mitzvah in December of 1967. The precise date of Danny's Bar Mitzvah thus appears to have been selected for this resonance.
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When Larry opens his grade book to change Clive Park's grade, all of the other names listed are names of the film's crew members.
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When Larry is talking with Clive's father, Mr. Brandt walks over and asks, "Is this guy bothering you?" Even though Larry responds, based off of the framing of the shot, he was actually asking Clive's father if Larry was bothering him.
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