You fervent movie buffs all know by now that the Coen Brothers grew up Jewish in Minnesota. They 'know' Minnesota to the bone; they proved that in "Fargo", still my favorite among their films for its deep understanding of the Minnesota conviction that decency will prevail over depravity, even if only by naive luck. But I was born in Minnesota and spent part of my childhood there, so I have an insider's response to that depiction. The Coen Brothers' films about the Deep South and Southern California are satires from the point of view of a disrespectful outsider. Those films are uproariously funny and probably objectionable to the victims of their satire. The Coen Brothers also 'know' the lifestyles of American Jews to the bone, and I can testify to their authenticity, being married to a nice Jewish girl from Beverly hills, with a large Jewish kindred that has begun, after thirty years, to forget to notice that I'm not Jewish.
The 'Minnesota' touches in "A Serious Man" were subtly satirical, though the humor may have been too "in-group" for anyone who lives within a few hours drive of an ocean. I laughed out loud at every appearance of Larry Gopnik's 'goyishe' neighbor.
The portrayal of the Gopnik family and its insular Jewish community? Was it satirical or was it as 'serious' as Larry Gopnik tried to be? Ay, there's the rub! In many ways, it was devastatingly serious, a bluntly realistic depiction. My wife and I could identify each character in the film with someone in her family. And my wife's relatives, especially the older generation, hated this film, were offended by it, considered it a betrayal. In the film, all of humanity is either Jewish or goyish, and the goyim scarcely matter. Well, it's fair to say that many Jews of my acquaintance do think that way. After the most recent LA earthquake, for instance, I saw a headline in The Jewish Times: "Massive Earthquake in Northridge: Four Jewish Homes Damaged." But don't all ethnic and/or religious groups think that way? Do African-Americans or Chinese-Americans ever NOT notice who is and who isn't? Of course, that insularity is one of the themes of "A Serious Man" and the Coen Brothers don't refrain from mocking it fiercely. But one gets the feeling, in this film, that the subject is too immanent, too raw, for their usual absurdist humor. A quasi-insider like me will laugh, but uncomfortably.
The other, even more serious theme of "A Serious Man" is the question of God's Providence for Man. Mathematics Professor Larry Gopnik, whose academic niche seems to be the 'proving of uncertainty', is going through a rough patch of life, a melange of minor annoyances and major catastrophes. The script implies that Gopnik has been a perfunctory Jew, one of the majority (I think) who identify with the culture and cling to the community but who are not 'serious' about their belief in God. (Or should I use another holy name? Y-hw-h. Ein Sof. Adonai.) His troubles - his tsuris - compel Larry Gopnik to seek advice and consolation from his Jewish world, specifically from his various Rabbis, none of whom has anything but platitudes and evasions to offer. Things do not get better for Larry in this film. This is no resolution, no intervention, unless one can be content to suppose that Larry is really under a curse, that Adonai has a grudge against him. For hapless farshlugener Larry, life has become just one d+mn thing after another.
Is the film funny? Yes, I found it funny, but short of hilarious. The Brothers may have found themselves being too serious in trying to treat both sides of their identity - Minnesotans and Jews - in one script.
Then is the film serious? Frankly, I have a hard time taking that question of God's Providence seriously. I haven't had the least doubt of the answer since I was nine or ten years old. But I'm sure that people who do take the question seriously will regard The Coen Brothers' treatment of it as superficial and unoriginal.
Finally, in my chronological journey through the Coen Brothers body of work, I come to the latest of their movies (surely not the last, which would be a cause for mourning). If you have followed my reviews, you know that I find the core of the work (and the best of it) is about finding and understanding identity (See my review of Burn after Reading for a summary of my reviews to that point).. In Serious Man, they return to their time (mid 60s), place (Midwest) and … more
**** out of **** "A Serious Man" proves that the Coen Brothers are some of the best two filmmakers living. They have impressed me in the past and they have disappointed me; a nice mix, if you ask me. They have had their triumphs, their successes, and then their lesser efforts. "A Serious Man" is one of their best by all means, being a thought-provoking piece of story-telling with not a boring moment to spare. I was seriously hooked every moment of the … more
Why do bad things happen to good people? After watching A Serious Man, I realized that it isn't so much that only the good people are the ones who have bad things happen to them, but that we care when they do. We don't care about the bad things that happen to bad people, unless they're an anti hero. A Serious Man is arguabbly most mature of the Coen Brothers movies, saving the skittish characters and the worst eccentricies for another … more
What Pompted You to write a Review? I really like this movie, but its not very well known How was the Plot, Acting, Direction? Perfect, it was funny, everyone was very good at acting Were You ENTERTAINED? yes, it was a very interesting story, I never looked at my watch Did It Fulfill Expectations? Hype Level? I didn't have very high expectations, I knew it was nominated for best picture and … more
Pros: Nothing at all, nothing Cons: Every every every little and last thing. The Bottom Line: Simply awful, no need to say more. Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Joel and Ethan Coen have sold their souls to a haphazard soulshark. Rather than giving up their whole souls for permanent triumphs, they have bargained to make at least one very bad movie for every very good one. … more
Every time a Coen Brothers film comes out, they seem to go in this bad, good and decent order. For example take No Country for Old Men; how that movie ever won best picture is beyond me because it was straight up terrible. Then came Burn After Reading which was really good and funny. Finally, A Serious Man comes out not to long ago and doesn't get a lot hype but none the less, the film is decent and gets nominated for best picture. Now, does it deserve a best picture nod? … more
I thought this would work, but like "Burn After Reading" or "Barton Fink" it let me down. The Bros Coen keep getting more self-hating about their Jewish suburban angst; this curdles their arch narratives. Their smugness given their status as critical darlings contrasts with how Philip Roth or Bernard Malamud's novels from this 60s period managed critique of this oft-critiqued milieu without making you feel cheapened. Parts of this film were great, as in the twists at the … more
A Serious Man is a black comedy feature film written, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It is due to be released on October 2, 2009, in the United States.
The film is set in St. Louis Park, Minnesota in the year 1967, and is intended in some ways to reflect the childhood of the Coen brothers as they recall it.
The protagonist is Larry Gopnik, a Jewish academic living in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood in a Minneapolis suburb. The story follows Gopnik's spiritual and existential struggle as his wife Judith contemplates leaving him for his colleague Sy Ableman. Adding to his suffering is his ne'er-do-well brother, Arthur, who lacks the resources and the ability to care for himself and consequently lives on Larry's couch. Larry begins to question the value of his life as he deals with these and other trials, including his son, Danny, who steals money from his wallet to buy marijuana; his daughter, Sarah, who steals to finance a planned nose job; a student who alternately attempts to bribe him for a passing grade and threatens to sue him for defamation (made all the worse because Larry is up for tenure); and a female neighbor who distracts him by sunbathing in the nude. Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis in an attempt to solve his problems and to become an austere and devoted man.