Out of all the Coen brothers movies, this one is the most underrated and least popular. It seems that, after a bunch of masterpieces, they made a movie they really wanted to make all this time. A Serious Man is a dramedy about a physics teacher who slowly realizes his life is falling apart. You might consider it as a meditation on the mid-life crisis period of life that hits us all sooner or later. It also examines religion and its both practical and metaphysical implications.
For an average viewer, A Serious Man might turn out to be a rather meandering and even boring experience. Even our lead character is not that appealing, especially if you’re not able to look at him from a neutral perspective. Moreover, since he’s Jewish, there will be a lot of themes and events you might be seeing for the first time. This makes him hard to identify with and to put yourself in his shoes. I found myself thinking about how I would do things differently until I realized I was missing the whole point of the movie.
A Serious Man is a character study offering an honest look into the soul of a misfortunate man who keeps sinking lower and lower. There’s almost nothing to slow him down or cushion his fall. And, in that sense, you feel this suffering of millions and millions of people who share his faith. Don’t make a mistake and think you’re not one of them. Perhaps this is the scariest and most disturbing element of the movie. With a slight perspective change, maybe, just maybe, our lives would look the same as his. Additionally, we get to see just how our world looked like during the late sixties.
Meet Larry Gopnik, a meek professor whose life is falling apart. The year is 1967 and his wife decides to leave him for another man and his kids are having problems of their own. On top of it all, his brother Arthur lives with all of them since he’s homeless and can’t get a job. Correction, he has a full-time job of writing his masterpiece “Mentaculus” in which he explores the universe and probability. And then there are troubles Larry is having at work. All of this compounds his situation and slowcooks his brain into apathy. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a light at the end of a tunnel.
Since most of the story is happening in the suburbs, we can also see that brief period in American history where the white middle class had it all. Don’t get me wrong, they were relatively good all throughout the seventies and eighties as well. And then the great equalizer came, the nineties. And just to be perfectly clear, I’m talking about financials and opportunities here. We’re all deeply fucked on the inside, that’s just fucking fact.
The movie opens with a seemingly unrelated scene from the past where a wife and a husband greet a strange guest. That guest is maybe a Dybbuk (malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person). To make the connections is up to you. You can expect the usual work of the Coen’s, prolonged scenes that apparently have nothing going on. But underneath it all is a subtle humor and profound experiences.
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Peter Breitmayer, David Kang
Fun Stuff: The synagogue you see in the movie is the B’nai Emet synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Both Ethan and Joel Coen visited it when they were younger and living in St. Louis Park.