Michael Stuhlbarg & Richard Kind in A Serious Man
Michael Stuhlbarg & Richard Kind
"A Serious Man" is a tart, brilliantly acted fable of life's little cosmic difficulties, a Coen brothers comedy with a darker philosophical outlook than "No Country for Old Men" but with a script rich in verbal wit. This time it's God -- or chance, or fate with a grudge against the
Elsewhere in "A Serious Man," a rabbi relays to Larry the fable of "The Goy's Teeth," in which a dentist finds Hebrew letters where they shouldn't be. This scene is a miniature comic masterpiece. "A Serious Man" may be a tiny bit thin to be a masterpiece itself (the female characters are marginalized), but it's very close, I think. It's certainly my kind of Coen brothers film; I responded to it more strongly than I did to their previous comedy, "Burn After Reading," as well as to their Oscar-winning big deal, "No Country."
Larry is a dedicated educator but a bit thick when it comes to scanning the horizon for relational troubles. His wife (
I've always been ambivalent about the Coens' sardonic, we're-all-screwed stance and too often, in good films and less good ones, they've relied on sociopathic violence and calamity to solve their storytelling problems. (Everything from "Raising Arizona" to "Barton Fink" to "O Brother, Where Are Thou?" ends with murderous avengers wreaking havoc.) "A Serious Man" is no more serious than those pictures on the surface.
Is it a serious disquisition on Judaism? Well, "serious" is a tricky word. Is it a seriously canny remembrance of what it was like to grow up in a largely Jewish suburb, surrounded by uncomprehending gentiles (or hostile ones, in the case of Larry's neighbor, the one who shoots Jews in cold blood in Larry's dreams)? Yes, it is. Working with their usual ace cinematographer,
"A Serious Man" is best approached as a bookend to "
The movie does, in the end, believe much of what its religious figures have to tell Larry as he's buffeted by circumstances slightly beyond his control. "Hashem doesn't owe us anything," Rabbi Nachtner says. "The obligation runs the other way." But why, Larry wonders, won't he provide answers to life's problems? "He hasn't told me," the rabbi responds. And what about the message found in the goy's teeth? Again, from the rabbi: "The teeth don't say."
"A Serious Man" Movie Trailer
MPAA rating: R (for language, drug use, some sexuality/nudity, and brief violence).
Running time: 1:45.
Written, directed and produced by
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