The Coen brothers have a long career of creative choices and standout successes. They followed the success of
unique The Big Lebowski, and after
the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
they made the studio films Intolerable
Cruelty and the remake of The
Ladykillers. After No Country for Old
Men, the Coen brothers have made a comedy that aligns with the wince-worthy
moments of Fargo . There is also a personal touch to A Serious Man which seems to come from
the Coen brothers’ own childhood experiences, if only to a small extent. Fargo
This darkly humorous endeavor doesn’t include any wood chippers, ill-fated kidnappings, or violence of any kind. The movie is painful to watch because of the onslaught of trouble placed upon Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). The film begins with an odd prologue that can only be speculated upon after the conclusion of the film. In a Jewish community a man allows a dybbuk into his home unknowingly. A dybbuk is the spirit of a dead person, roaming the earth and said to cause bad luck when crossed.
Whether Larry is cursed because of his ancestor’s interaction with a dead man or simply because of the randomness of life is unclear. What is certain is that little seems to be going right for Larry when we enter the storyline. His wife (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for Larry’s best friend, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). As if this weren’t bad enough, Sy wants desperately to talk the whole situation over with him. They force a peaceful separation on Larry. Meanwhile Larry’s children are both selfishly absorbed in their own melodrama. His daughter (Jessica McManus) is saving up for a nose job while his son (Aaron Wolff) is saving up to pay off a large bully he owes.
The confusion on Stuhlbarg’s face is a perfect reaction to most of these situations; Larry works as a math professor who seeks for the solution practically and rationally. With the non-stop disaster taking over his life, Larry cannot comprehend what he did to deserve such trouble. His job is no better, as the tenure board is receiving anonymous negative notes about Larry and a student attempts to ruin his career when a bribe for a better grade is not accepted.
A Serious Man is not the most accessible of the Coen brothers’ films, but those who appreciate their sense of humor will praise it as one of their best. The Blu-ray includes a number of special features that fans will also appreciate, including a look at the personal connections between the filmmakers and the film. There is also a featurette on the creation of the neighborhood sets of
1967 and a featurette about the Hebrew and Yiddish used in the film. Minneapolis
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Disc Features: 7/10