A Serious Man

 
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written by:Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus
Released: November 19, 2009
Grade: A-

I would love to spend a week living with Joel and Ethan Coen.  Maybe then I’d find out where they get all their ideas, their creativity.  These two gifted filmmakers have made a string of amazing films including Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men.

When I first walked out of the cinema after A Serious Man, I was left in a beautiful sense of bewilderment.  I was confused, conflicted.  Did I like the film or not?  What point were the Coens trying to make, if at all?

Like a good meal at a nice restaurant, this movie needs to be savoured.  You have to let it digest and see how you feel in the morning.  The more I think about it, the more I appreciate its brilliance.  Luckily, I attended the preview screening with two learned friends and we spent a solid half-hour discussing it afterwards.  It has helped me clarify a few things and I realised there are differing interpretations.

If you’re catching my drift, you’ll realise this is an unconventional movie… well, for anyone except for the Coen brothers.  Some are going to leave the theatre with their minds challenged, appreciative of the film’s boldness.  Others are going to leave the theatre with steam coming from their ears, frustrated by the film’s apparent lack of plot.  Such contradictory opinions are all part of the richness of cinema.

Set in 1967, A Serious Man centres on the character of Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg).  He’s a married physics professor with two children.  Larry is an ordinary guy who goes about his life in a quiet, unassuming fashion.  That is until he faces a serious of tests that leave him questioning his existence and his Jewish faith.

His wife (Lennick) announces that she’s met someone new and wants a divorce.  His young son (Wolff) is smoking pot and being hounded by his supplier.  His daughter (McManus) is stealing money from his wallet.   His brother (Kind) has a medical condition and is trouble with the authorities.  His next-door neighbour keeps mowing past his property line.  One of his students is trying to bribe him for good grades.

What does one do in this situation?  Why is all this bad stuff happening to him?  Larry turns to the Rabbis in his local parish for answers.  Their advice is interesting to say the least…

I could write a 10,000 word essay dissecting this movie but I’ll leave it with you to appreciate in your own way.  There are religious undertones in the story but again, I’ll keep hush hush.  I say it only to open your eyes.  What you see with those eyes is up to you.

Of the cast, I will single out Aaron Wolff as Larry’s red-headed son and Fred Melamed as his wife’s new lover.  I feel guilty though because all the characters are memorable – from the leading stars to those who appear in just a single scene.  Everyone looks, speaks or acts a little strange.  They made me feel uncomfortable but I was laughing anyway.  I’ll say it again – how do the Coen brothers come up with this stuff???

Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Roger Deakins (an 8-time Oscar nominee), A Serious Man is a terrific black comedy that provides much food for thought.