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A Serious Man Review

A-serious-man There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was whole-hearted and upright, and one that feared God, and shunned evil...

A-serious-man Thus begins the tale of Job in the Bible. Satan challenges Job's integrity and proposes that Yahweh determine Job's true character and faith by removing all of Job's blessings. Job accepts his unfortunate turn, but merely asks for a reason for why so many bad things are happening to him.

Job's tumultuous experiences are the basis for A Serious Man, the most recent film by the Coen brothers. The main character, Larry Gopnik, is a physics professor in the late 1960s. He works hard to be a good instructor, is up for tenure, is a devout Jew, and provides a nice life for his family. There is literally nothing bad that can be said about Larry, except perhaps that he's a little boring and maybe a bit of a pushover.

Things start to go haywire for Larry. A student and his father is trying to bribe him for a better grade, his vaguely anti-Semitic neighbor is challenging the property line, his wife is leaving him, his kids are a pain in the ass, and his brother is a total fuck-up. But Larry accepts these challenges and does his best to see that he does the right thing by everyone.

As the pressures of these mishaps weigh on him, he seeks advice from friends, lawyers, and rabbis, but realizes that no one can really tell him anything useful, and they certainly can't tell him God's reasons.

Larry seems to accept that there are no answers and just when the load lightens, and Larry allows a ray of hope to shine, things begin to get really awful.

I wasn't sure how to feel while I was watching the movie. I wasn't very familiar with the tale of Job (lapsed Catholic here) until after. My overriding thought was, "What are they getting at here?" But like many Coen brothers movies, the brilliance of A Serious Man is that it's not just entertaining. Of course, there are many expertly crafted moments of dark humor throughout, but this one has had me thinking since.

Considering the total asshole that 2009 has been, I think a lot of people will see something of themselves in Larry. On paper, he might be a better guy than most of us, but I doubt anyone would look at us and say that we were bad people. So why are we getting shit on? Eh, well...because it's our turn, maybe. And hey! It'll get worse! So take comfort in that!

I don't mean to paint A Serious Man as total nihilism, but it does seem to reinforce the Coen brothers' suggestion that maybe there are no reasons, fucked up shit just happens.

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