A Serious Man

2010-05-14 15:54
A Serious Man

What it's about:

A black comedy drama about Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Midwestern professor who watches his life unravel through multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking for meaning and answers he seems to stay stalled.

What we thought:

Ever had one of those years? You know those years – when everything, and I mean everything, goes wrong, and it doesn’t matter how hard you try to make things work, how good you have been, how noble your intentions, how principled your actions… God just seems to hate you? That’s the biblical fable of Job, who became God’s plaything in a series of tests of his faith. In the Bible, Job is rewarded for his faith. But will it all work out for Larry?

As Larry’s life fills up with outrageous injustice, he becomes like a passenger trapped in a car that's sinking in a lake; he struggles to keep it all in perspective and to be reasonable, but his life is just like the massive blackboard in his classroom – big parts of it are unreachable and filled with equations, which may or may not be solvable. Life isn’t a case of simple cause and effect. Possible explanations lurk in the corners of life, like the objects filling up the rabbi’s massive, dark office. The truth is not the truth. Time even seems to warp – it’s hard to believe that the Coen brothers were sloppy enough to accidentally use music that didn’t yet exist during the time that the film is set or that the mezuzah on the door of Larry’s house wasn’t on the wrong side and pointing the wrong way for a good reason.  But at least the world’s film nerds have some way of occupying the lonely hours between breakfast and bedtime.

American message boards also seem to be debating whether non-Jews will understand the humour in this movie. Which is ridiculous – the feeling of outrage, of saying "I don’t deserve this!" is human, not genetic. Or as Larry Gopnik puts it, begging for help: "I've tried to be a serious man, you know? Tried to do right, be a member of the community, raise the… Danny, Sarah, they both go to school, Hebrew school, a good breakfast... Well, Danny goes to Hebrew school, Sarah doesn't have time, she mostly... washes her hair. Apparently there are several steps involved, but you don't have to tell Marshak that. Just tell him I need help. Please? I need help."

We’ve all been there, and it’s painfully funny stuff – the detail with which it is embedded in devout Jewish-American academic culture only makes the characters more universal by contrast. It’s like watching a colleague on the phone to a call centre being passed from petty bureaucrat to petty bureaucrat for so long that they wind up singing the call waiting music just to remain sane. It’s so unbelievably awful that you can’t help laughing at the sight of their face as they attempt to control their urge to scream down the phone.

What can I say? It’s the Coen brothers. So expect creative casting (it's lead actor Michael Stuhlbarg’s first major motion picture role). The brilliant performances expose what is awful yet charming about human interactions. It’s hip, but classic. The result is – as always – artistic, hilarious, disturbing, and above all, ruthlessly entertaining. 

Go and see this movie. Go and see this movie. Go and see this movie. Go and see this movie. Go and see this movie. Even if you hate it, it’ll make you love your own life more.

The blackest, funniest comedy you’ll see all year brings the Book of Job to life, Coen brothers-style.

GrimRipper 2010/05/17 11:09 AM
God never hated Job and Job was never God's play-thing.
Andrew 2010/05/17 11:43 AM
Right, so being the pawn in a bet with the devil is better?
Christian Abroad 2010/05/17 12:35 PM
@Andrew...read the Bible in full context. The devil approaches GOD every single day as the Accuser for our souls. GOD saw the heart of Job and knew he was faithful. There was no pawn and no bet my friend. The devil simply lost (every single time he directly challenges GOD of course and will always lose. Amen!). Job is an awesome example of faith and undeniable love for our DADDY in Heaven. If movies try and depict otherwise, they also misread the Bible as you did.In any event, what I personally love about our DADDY is HE uses everything for the Kingdom of Heaven...nothing wasted...even this movie will fulfill one of HIS purposes...seperating the chaff from the wheat between us true Believers and those unbelieving.
Jean Barker 2010/05/17 4:32 PM
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@Christianabroad Don't miss my review of the Darwin biopic, "Creation" - off the the preview in 10 mins.
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