A Serious Man Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

A Serious Man Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
By setting their latest effort both in the '60s and in an unnamed Midwestern Jewish community, the Coen brothers invite more "autobiographical" parallels than they ever have in their acclaimed career. But while the setting may be familiar to the brothers, who indeed were raised in such an environment, A Serious Man remains a Coen-esque adventure - balancing erudite discussions of significant issues with some physical and intellectual comedy - this time exploring some fairly weighty themes. Indeed, A Serious Man is a small movie about really big issues - "Is there a god?" kind of issues - and if there is one, why does the great deity appear to be kind of a jerk? When we first meet Larry Gopnick (acclaimed theatre actor Michael Stuhlbarg), he's got a good life going; he's a successful physics teacher, has a nice family and stable home. But when the unravelling begins - his tenure appointment is in jeopardy, his neighbour mounts a property line invasion with a lawnmower, his son's a pothead and his wife wants to leave him - Larry starts to look as bewildered as his students trying to comprehend the uncertainty principle. How could a "good" guy like Larry - who's always, he insists, tried to be a "serious man" - suffer so many indignities? Stuhlbarg bears these with a serio-comic slump of his shoulders and a bewildered "why me?" attitude, but wants to see if there is in fact a spiritual cure, repeatedly seeking rabbinical advice. In his desperation to make good, Gopnick resembles William H. Macy's Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo, trying to negotiate and/or reason his way out of impossible situations. But while Lundegaard's challenges were entirely earthly, Gopnick faces the great unknown. And the genius of the Coen brothers' approach is to leave big questions unanswered, and even Gopnick's fate un-revealed, because that's, after all, the nature of faith. Featurettes on the film and set design are more open than usual for Coen brothers extras (read: there are some), and some viewers (like myself) will appreciate the Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys, which explains terms from the obvious (mazel tov) to the more obscure, like tsuris, which perfectly describes the aggravating trouble Gopnick's suffering from. (Alliance)