A Serious Man
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Larry Gopnik is a professor of physics who teaches his students about 'Schrodinger's Cat' - the idea that the fate of an entity remains undefined right until the moment an agent acts and 'collapses the wave function,' so to speak. Gopnik believes that the story of the cat serves no purpose other than to illustrate a mathematical truth - and yet, strangely enough, Gopnik's human fate is no less uncertain and contingent than that of Schrodinger's hypothetical cat. For example, the very moment Gopnik "acts" to accept a bribe and pass his Korean student, his telephone rings, and he receives ominous news from his doctor. By this time, the strange causalities in the movie will have compelled us to ask if Gopnik's phone would have rung had he chosen differently. As Gopnik comes to realize, the "truth" of mathematics and numbers - be it in the form of Physics, the Mentaculus, or the Kabbalah - is beside the point. What is of essence is the human story.
To be sure, ASM is not an amoral thought experiment about actions determining outcomes. The movie takes a very specific moral position: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you." If you willfully "act" in defiance of your fate, you will reap the consequences of your actions.
Gopnik is a man who almost never acts. As Michael Wood points out in his LRB review, Gopnik lives in a world where "agency always belongs to someone else." Agency belongs to Sy, to the wife, to the son, and even to the Columbia Record club that makes you pay for taking no action at all. On the few occasions that Gopnik chooses to act, he meets with disaster.Read more ›
His wife is leaving him for another man. His psychologically impaired brother has moved in, stirring up even more domestic turmoil. He is up for tenure but someone has been sending anonymous letters of complaint about him to university officials. He has to deal with a difficult Korean student, and the student's father, who offer to bribe him in exchange for a passing grade. And he has money problems.
Gopnik comes across as something of a pathetic sap who could solve some of his problems by just standing up for himself, but his ultimate fate is apparently beyond his control. The ending could have been written by Schopenhauer. Even though I don't agree with, or like, the movie's message, I still respect and admire the way it has been put on film.
Aside from the fact that it probably helps to be Jewish (I'm not) when digesting the film, the only problem I have with it is that I kept waiting in vain to find out the significance of the film's beginning: a supernatural(?) scene in what appears to be 19h century Poland. I don't know if I missed it, but I was unable to see any connection between this opening and the rest of the movie.
With all the garbage that is churned out by Hollywood nowadays, A SERIOUS MAN is a real gem of a flick, albeit an ultimately depressing one.
The Coens have always caught some flack for their supposed misanthropic elitism; or, in other words, what has been seen by some critics as a sort of contemptuous mocking of the characters they depict onscreen, the two directors never fully granting their filmic creations emotional sympathy. If it was previously easy to debunk this claim, it is now, with A Serious Man, a piece of cake. Has there been a performance in recent years more gut-wrenchingly honest and genuinely pathos-exuding than Michael Stuhlbarg here as protagonist Larry Gopnik? That the narrative thrust of the film is essentially centered around all the horrifying and humiliating events that befall Gopnik does not necessarily mean that the Coens thumb their noses down at this character. If we take into consideration the personal nature of the film (set in a time and place very much like when/where they grew up, and populated by characters probably not unlike those they knew), then it comes as no surprise that A Serious Man is the most studied and 'serious' Coen brothers film to date.
Simply in terms of sheer film-making craft, this is the Coens, and certainly cinematographer Roger Deakins, at the peak of their respective crafts.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great movie but recommend working knowledge of Hebrew, Yiddish and Ashkenazi-American culture for full impact.Published 9 days ago by Amazon Customer
This is not in any way a comedy, black or otherwise.. It's a film about Jewish despair: life is horrible and their faith is dead. It's Job without God. Read morePublished 11 days ago by C.A. Arthur
Wow... what a massive let down fro a Coen Brothers film. Starts out Slow and Bad... Ends up going in reverse and horrible.Published 23 days ago by J Moya
A smart and sly masterpiece. Slow burn book of Job. Didn't like it the first viewing, now I watch it a couple times a year. Love it.Published 1 month ago by Dale T.
I enjoyed the top ranked "most helpful" review of GP. It was a creative and likely accurate analysis of the story structure. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mr Greenjeans
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|The Ending to "A Serious Man" (Warning! Spoiler Alert!)||
Just saw it for the second time last night. It was almost a "Duh!" moment -- a hit-me-over-the-head pun. Larry goes to not one, not two, but three rabbis for advice and comfort. He gets little or no help. At the end of the picture, the Hebrew school teacher is fumbling through his... Read More
Nov 27, 2009 by JKF | See all 95 posts