Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Serious Man ***


Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Wagner Lennick
Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin

Some think the best way to say something is by not saying anything at all and this seems to have been the mindset the Coen brothers were in when they decided to make "A Serious Man".
A modern day retelling of the biblical tale of Job it shows us the countless misfortunes of Jewish college professor Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) who in a few days has to deal with the fact that his wife (Lennick) wants a divorce, one of his student's (David Kang) bribe, his children's (Wolff and McManus) fights, his brother Arthur's (Kind) gambling and an annoying Columbia Records representative who won't stop phoning him.
Larry, who seeks mathematical logic in everything, doesn't seem to understand why no one has figured out the equation for the idea that the Lord works in mysterious ways and he sets out on a spiritual search from rabbi to rabbi.
As he waits for this answer to come, he just seems to be getting into more trouble which the Coens deliver with their particularly droll sense of humor.
What's interesting here, even if it sounds like a cliché, isn't the destination as much as the journey. Soon we understand that it's not only Larry on the look for an answer, but the filmmakers themselves who question the most basic notions of spirituality and religion.
Stuhlbarg as their vessel delivers a magnificent performance characterized for its serenity. We sometimes laugh at Larry, but he earns an amount of respect for facing his ordeals with such dignity.
The Coens don't just torture him, they actually accompany him in his journey and so do we, but sometimes it's in this very banal sense of anonymity attributed to Larry that we too hit an obstacle; we have to ask ourselves what makes Larry so special that his not very special tale ended up on a movie screen.
This isn't precisely a bad thing because it gives the Coens a chance to capture the ambiguity with which they also approach the Job tale. But it makes for an alienating, sometimes very frustrating, experience while watching the movie.
"A Serious Man" is the kind of film that infuriates some and elates others. Those who come to the cinema waiting for answers will get nothing, those who enjoy existential problems will have a great conversation piece and those who wonder if the Coens finally got their answer, if they knew, they'd be the rabbi.

2 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I was going to see this on Monday but refrained, maybe tomorrow. But looking at your last line I don't think I'll like this. The fact that my favourite Coen piece is Burn After Reading probably doesn't look too good...

Jose said...

Hmm yeah, this one has a very peculiar tone that reminded mostly of "The Man Who Wasn't There" in terms of their filmography. It's an interesting movie that way, you should watch it.