My short, unprofessional recollection of the latest offering from Ethan and Joel Coen- ‘A Serious Man’ (2009), nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture:
Larry Gopnick is not an evil man and he is trying to be serious. Mostly, he is a man you want to hug and wish well. This is hopefully why Sy (Fred Melamed), the man Larry’s wife is about to leave him for, holds him close every time they meet.
You shouldn’t lose sleep if you “did not ‘get’ A Serious Man” because that is the point the Coen brothers seem to be making. It is not important to get, understand or even search for answers to everything. That is also the point the protagonist refuses to accept. To him, everything is mathematics, including Physics. All events must have an absolute and tangible explanation. You are sure to have known at least one figure of reference whose personality matches Larry’s exactly.
There can be no spoilers here for revealing all would still mean revealing nothing. As the ‘dybbuk’ scene that it opens with would testify, the film is as random as the probability theory.
The Gopnicks are fully dysfunctional – Larry is boring with a surly wife who wants out. He has an anti-social brother addicted to gambling, a beauty obsessed daughter and junkie son. Even their neighbours are ungodly.
Murphy’s Law seems to have taken over the wannabe-permanent-professor’s life.So help from the Gods is soon to be sought. The quest for enlightenment that follows provides consistent laughs, one Rabbi after another. Again, you shouldn’t lose sleep if you do not find the sequences funny. Humour in the works of this duo has never been universally approved.
Micheal Stulhbarg (as Larry), slightly reminiscent of Robin Williams, comes out of nowhere with a stellar performance. Whoever designed the quirk of him walking daily into school with briefcase clutched tight to his chest is genius. The rest of the cast too is relatively new and brings along fresh talent. Aaron Wolff as a jaded and reckless teenager (Danny Gopnick) is particularly impressive.
The art and cinematography crew make the 60’s come alive such that you ache to be there. Jefferson Airplane has been resurrected in style, and the band’s music woven effortlessly into the script.
The wide open ending makes you wonder first, and then nod in partial realisation. Of nothing in particular. ‘A Serious Man’ is existentialism explored.