A Serious Man

Posted on Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 at 9:04 am

The Coen brothers have this special hand with black comedy that is absolute perfection. I’m not going to say that they’re infallible; I genuinely thought their ship had sailed 10 years ago. The Man Who Wasn’t There was well-made but soul-crushing, Burn After Reading wasn’t nearly as adorable as it thought it was (except for the unexpectedly delightful Brad Pitt), and I was apparently the only person in the Western Hemisphere who actively disliked No Country For Old Men, *ptooie*.

But this movie…this movie is a gem. The story is fairly simple, a basic re-telling of Job. One by one, every part of Larry Gopnik’s nice little life goes to shit, and it is hilarious. You also feel just terrible for Larry, and that somehow makes it okay that you are delighting in his misery. Poor, poor Larry.  A different actor from Michael Stuhlbarg would have made Larry grating, or a loser, or made the whole thing too depressing. But Stuhlbarg’s big blue eyes, full of hope and disbelief make you reluctant to believe that it won’t all work out. He tries so hard to be rational, to do the right and compassionate thing at all times, seeking advice from all corners – surely it has to come right in the end?

Visually, this film is gorgeous and delightful. The cinematography is achingly beautiful in some spots, and set the rapidly-changing moods so perfectly.  The set design and costumes are so much fun! All the actors are enchanting, with this way of seamlessly flowing from a caricature to a deep, real character. I’m going to go ahead and guess that it’s because the majority of them are plucked from theater, not LA, and this is so what the talking pictures need nowadays.

I think there is a special meditation in this movie on the role of suffering, individually and collectively, in the Jewish community. Obviously, I miss a lot of the significance by not being Jewish, but conversely I also think this movie is trying to illustrate it for us non-Jews. The Coens leave a lot of doors open, spots for you to try to figure out what they meant and what might have happened next, and why. There’s a lot of why in this movie.

And if you’re familiar with the old joke about Job, you know both God’s answer to Job’s “why?” as well as the Coens’ answer: “Fuck if I know!”

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