"A Serious Man": Movie Review

12/15/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"A Serious Man"

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Written by the Coen brothers, 105 minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

By using the book of Job and memories of their own childhood as a starting point, the Coen brothers have crafted in "A Serious Man" not a morality tale, but a tale questioning faith, fate, responsibility and culture.

Lately, the Coens seem to be obsessed with the idea of there being no point in our existence. It is random, it is merciless, and it is very often cruel. "A Serious Man" finally brings that subject to predominance. Michael Stuhlbarg's Larry Gopnik is threatened with divorce, conflict involving one of his failing physics students, his brother's troubles with the law, and anonymous letters urging his school not to grant him tenure. Why is he tortured so? He is a faithful man. He does his best as a husband, father and educator. He didn't do anything to deserve such punishment.

The truth is, the Coens seem to be saying, few do. Who cares?

As "Hashem" seemingly toys with Larry, the Coens toy with their audience. We are told stories with no purpose but to further confound us. We are given questions without answers. The Coens begin the film with their own fabricated Jewish folk tale regarding a Jewish couple's encounter with a man who may or may not be dead. The wife believes him a "dybbuk," a demon. The husband figures she's mistaken and is fine with believing the man to be alive and well, and welcomes him into their home. So, which is he? Alive or dead? This film will speak to you in entirely different ways depending on your answer.

As bleak an outlook the film may have, it is a comedy, albeit a dark one. The brothers' dialogue is at their best here and as things spiral slowly out of control for Larry, one can't help but laugh. Many have seen this as contempt for his character, but I don't think that's true. I never felt as if I was laughing at Larry, but at the very absurdity of life in general as the Coens see it. I feel very similarly about most of their previous comedies, except perhaps "Burn After Reading," where the contemptuousnous of the writing only assisted in conveying the mental and moral atrophy caused by greed.

The film also manages to be the most unique technical achievement for the brothers, it certainly is among their best movies, and as is almost always the case, they work with frequent collaborator Roger Deakins, who may very well earn his eighth Oscar nomination. The occasional use of vibrant colors and soft-focus lenses creates a frequent sense of unease. One specific image at the end of the film, which those who have seen it surely won't forget anytime soon, is truly one of the most stunning shots that's graced the screen this decade (though the Coens have always had a way with finales). The use of music is inspired as well, with multiple uses of songs from Jefferson Airplane's seminal record "Surrealistic Pillow" and Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun." And, as always, Coen regular Carter Burwell provides a haunting and beautiful score.

It's hard to cover everything "A Serious Man" brings to the table thematically. I haven't even scratched the surface on the themes regarding Judaism and Jewish culture, which is one of the most dense, thematic aspects of the film and which I'd surely understand more were I more familiar with the faith. There also are multiple references to theories in physics that relate to the film, and which pretty much went over my head on first viewing.

In all the dread, confusion, mystery and humor, "A Serious Man" ultimately turns out to be the Coen brothers most mature work and it stands easily alongside their very best--both comedic and dramatic.

Grade: A

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes