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Serious Man

A movie directed by the Coen Brothers.

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Very Dark Comedy

  • Feb 12, 2010
"A Serious Man"

Very Dark Comedy

Amos Lassen

The Coen brothers explore questions of faith, teenage delinquent behavior, academia, family, Judaism and mortality in their new Academy Award nominated film, "A Serious Man". Let me say from the very beginning of this review that I loved it totally and it has quickly moved to the top of my ten best list. This is not just a film to be viewed but one to be talked about and therein lays its beauty.
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an ordinary man trying to find some meaning in his life and in a universe that watches television series and listens to acid rock. He is a physics professor at a university in the Midwest (Minnesota) and he is facing his tenure hearing. His wife, Judith (Sari Lennick) informs him that she is leaving him because she has fallen in love with a friend, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) who although pompous is, for her, at least, more substantial that Larry. At the same time, Larry's brother, Arthur (Richard Kind) has moved into the house and is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolf) has become a discipline problem and is smoking marijuana and playing at Hebrew school and his daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus) has been stealing money from his wallet so that she can save up enough money to get a nose job.
Judith begins to make arrangement for the divorce (she wants a gett) and Arthur has become more burdensome from day to day. But wait that's not all--someone has been writing anonymous negative letters to the tenure committee, a graduate student tries to bribe Larry to give him a passing grade and the beautiful female neighbor sunbathes nude in the yard. All Larry wants is to become a serious man and he meets with three different rabbis to get help.
The film is centered on Larry and looks at the themes of uncertainty and duality and we watch as life goes on a daily basis and every day presents a new problem for Larry and this shows us that uncertainty is continuous. The comedy is very dark and the laughs come when least expected to--they seem to arise from discomfort that comes about when watching people get themselves into messes. Larry keeps reminding us that hr didn't do anything and he didn't and Larry is a Kafkaesque hero who must take the blame for things that happen to him.
This is a very personal film, it seems to me. We are with Larry on his quest for meaning and watch as religion is tested to the fullest. We can't help but wonder where God was when he is so badly needed. At first viewing, "A Serious Man" seems to be about a man's downward fall in life. I had the feeling that I was watching an updated book of Job. We get a good look at how bad things happen in a world where God is good.
In the background on the soundtrack is Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love' as we watch the tale of a sixties Minnesota Jewish college professor and how his life falls apart. The film is not just a black comedy but it is also a meditation on "Jewishness". The Coen brothers are sardonic with this film but they are also kind. They see life as a big cosmic joke and there are no answers to the questions that most of us have.
The film opens with a very strange prologue in Yiddish and set in the Polish shtetl with a wife stabbing an old man because she thinks he is the dybbuk--a dead person who is possessed with an evil spirit but when the man starts to bleed, the woman and her husband realize that they have brought on a terrible future for themselves. And terrible luck is what happens to Larry.
The centrality of the film is "Jewishness" and in this we obviously get a bit of the Coen's own lives. The visual impact of the Jews we see in the prologue takes us into a film that is somewhat vicious as we are regaled with a joke. Is this a film about Jewish self hatred? That is a question that cannot be answered but this is a brilliant look at the world and should be seen by everyone who cares about who they are.

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More A Serious Man reviews
review by . October 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
review by . November 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
**** 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 …
review by . February 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
When Charlie Brown met Job
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 …
review by . July 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
review by . July 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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. …
review by . February 17, 2010
The Coen Brothers Show Their Versatility, But Leave More to be Desired...
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? …
Quick Tip by . August 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
Quick Tip by . July 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Jewish College Professor has his life coming apart at the seams as he copes with what is supposed to be lifes mysteries and too often not finding the right solutions. Fantastic cast and film.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This film gets under your skin because you realize elements of your life are not much different from the characters in this movie set in the 1960's.
review by . March 08, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
About the reviewer
Amos Lassen ()
Ranked #86
I am an academic who reivews movies and books of interest to the GLBT and Jewish communities.   I came to Arkansas after having been relocated here due to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in … more
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About this movie


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.
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Release Date: 2009
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: February 09, 2010
Runtime: 1hr 46min
Studio: Universal Studios
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