18
Oct
2009
Review: A Serious Man
A Serious Man
Jordan
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is having a tough few weeks. His wife wants a divorce, his son is smoking pot, a student is trying to bribe him, an anonymous letter writer is hoping to deprive him of his tenure, and on and on and on. To call him a figure of Job-like proportions might be an understatement. He is a man pushed to the edge of the abyss, both financially and ethically, yet when he goes looking for answers, all he finds is endless confusion.

A Serious Man opens with a Jewish parable about a man who runs into an acquaintance of his wife's on the road and invites him over for dinner only to discover that said acquaintance supposedly died three years ago. It is fitting, then, that the rest of the film is structured as a parable, following Larry as he visits three Rabbis, looking for spiritual guidance. While his life is being dismantled from all sides around him, Larry seeks the wisdom of those purported to be wise, and finds instead a series of muddled messages and absurd anecdotes.

Stuhlbarg is superb as a man continuously put upon by plagues of misfortune and clinging desperately to the things he believes. Larry wants to be a good man, a capable man, a faithful man, and yes, a serious man, but the world around him doesn't seem to be looking for him to be anything at all. Fully a Coen brother's movie, the film is full of comic exaggerations and almost ludicrous acts of cruelty, arguing that in a world without greater significance, the lyrics to a Jefferson Airplane song can hold as much meaning as the words of the Torah. The film coats its nihilism in a sheen of sympathy for its hapless protagonist, who really is just a nice guy trying to do the right thing.

The film is set in the late "˜60s suburbia of the Coen's childhood, a time of soaring optimism and crushing devastation, of high ideals, and the destruction of promised dreams, yet rather than demand depression, A Serious Man reminds us that if we pause amid the chaos of our world, we may realize what we want, "when the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies." Funny, thought-provoking, and finally oddly affecting, the film is a parable only the Coens could make, and as might be expected of them and of life, one where the questions asked are more clearly defined than the answers proffered.

Grade: A
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