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A Serious Man
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Academy Award®-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to their comedy roots with this original and darkly humorous story about one ordinary man’s quest to become a serious man. Physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) can’t believe his life: His wife is leaving him for his best friend, his unemployed brother won’t move off the couch, someone is threatening his career, his kids are a mystery and his neighbor is tormenting him by sunbathing nude. Struggling to make sense of it all, Larry consults three different rabbis and their answers lead him on a twisted journey of faith, family, delinquent behavior and mortality in the film critics rave is “seriously awesome!” (Michael Hogan, Vanity Fair)
Joel and Ethan Coen make movies like nobody else's, but even by their standards A Serious Man is in a class by itself: a complete original that's one of the brothers' best. After a deeply weird Yiddish folk-tale prologue set in 19th-century Poland (and framed in the old 1.33:1 format), the picture shifts to the region and era of the Coens' own upbringing, a Minneapolis suburb in 1967. Larry Gopnik (a superbly concentrated portrait in comic anguish by Michael Stuhlbarg) is a college physics prof facing a welter of crises and distractions: review by the tenure committee, son Danny's bar mitzvah, a cryptic-verging-on-sinister protest from a Korean-American student, the alienation of wife Judith's affections by widower Sy Ableman, the ongoing encroachment of brother Arthur and his sebaceous cyst--and don't even mention the proto-Nazi who lives next door. All these, and more, form a screenplay of such intricacy that the blackly comic tensions of one shaggy-dog narrative strand leap synapse-like to another; the movie becomes a symphony of metaphysical dread. Working again with world-class cameraman Roger Deakins and editing, as always, under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, the Coens maintain impeccable control over the movie's look and timing. This is more crucial than ever, given that in the precarious universe they define, "actions have consequences." Then again, so does nonaction; not ordering "the monthly main selection" from the Columbia Record Club means you've ordered it. The main-title credits almost flaunt the fact that most of the cast members will be unfamiliar to us (though they all deliver); best known are Richard Kind as Arthur, Adam Arkin as Larry's divorce lawyer, and Michael Lerner (the studio boss in Barton Fink) doing a hilarious, wordless cameo as Solomon Schlutz. Special praise is due Fred Melamed, seizing the role of a lifetime as the unctuous Sy Ableman; Amy Landecker as Mrs. Samsky, the multifariously zoned-out siren who's Larry's other next-door neighbor; and Avi Hoptman as Arlen, Larry's mealy-mouthed academic colleague who can't resist hinting at the latest rumblings from the tenure committee, even if he can't really say anything. --Richard T. Jameson
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Beware, this is not a comedy, if only somewhat of a comedy Cohen style - at least I can't title it as such. If I define "Burn After Reading" as a dark comedy and social satire, this is rather a philosophical drama sprinkled with (very) dark humor, more of a spiritually charged glimpse at everyday people's reality, and I suspect that as such it may not appeal to a lot of people. Still, fans of Cohen's filmography and people who are interested in spiritual development may greatly enjoy it... I did, very much so.
No, this isn't a violent, over-the-top blockbuster like No Country. It's a quiet but engaging film that explore man's relationship with God--from a Jewish perspective. And it's insanely funny!
You don't have to be a Jew to appreciate this film. The theme is universal. It's a 1960's version of the book of Job. It's lugubrious throughout. It's black humor, for sure, but it's guaranteed to make you laugh.
The ending is a knockout. Some people didn't like the ending because of its ambiguity. I thought it was perfect.
Films like this are so rare, it's a miracle that the Hollywood moguls allow them to be made. But four Oscars bought the Coen brothers the freedom to do something profound.
Don't miss this.
The main character's pathetic nature is reinforced by all the worst in modern-day Judaism. This pathetic reflection of a man out-of-touch with himself, wife and kids, remains a harsh reflection of much of Western Culture, stripping bare of what in reality it means to 'yield-to-be-good' in a post-diaspora world.
It is a rare movie that I finish and think to watch again very soon. There is so much power in the exploration of this weak, browbeaten man. I enjoyed the fact that he could appear to be more-than adequate at work, but a total wimp with wife, and stand helplessly cuckolded, even allowing the adulterer to dictate terms to him, and have him move to a motel as the wife's lover prepares to take over the man's wife, home and family.
The bribe business is merely the last piece of himself that he surrenders. He's already surrendered manhood and fatherhood, now he surrenders his integrity, honesty and professionalism even as he gets what he's seeking. The complexity of the summation is only made more beautiful as he gets the medical "bad news," and the tornado is artistic perfection.
It really is a bare-knuckle indictment of modern man as well as Judaism, within its stripping bare of the nonsense and almost paganistic ritualism of chanting irrelevent Hebrew, the glowing parents and his lawyers/co-workers' glowing-reviews of the stoned 13 year-old all combined to make a point brilliantly.
I think in this post diasporic END TIMES, a film like this is a jewel. The dream sequences with the canoe and his brother were phenomenal. The sexy neighbor sequences were great, as you wonder if she will make a man out of him, sort of she's gonna 'save' him type thing with sex and marijuana, and when he suddenly wakes up in that motel room, you feel like it's YOU who have been dropped out of that exciting dream yourself.
Just a great piece of work; brilliantly ending with the approach of apocalypse, which is what this kind of man, replicated by the tens of millions amongst us today, will bring to humanity to hasten its doom.
A darkly humorous experience, opening with a Yiddish cautionary folktale set in the old country and culminating in 60s suburban America. The most enjoyable elements of the film are its examination of earthly suffering, philosophical ideas and Jewish spirituality, at times both respectful and restrictive. A beautifully crafted film with no excess and a great ensemble of characters.