Friday, April 9, 2010
The Coen bros sure know how to surprise even their most dedicated viewers. For instance, by alternating real masterpieces with earnestly trashy flicks – just look at Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men” and the ridiculous “Burn After Reading.” I mean yeah, Pitt was a hilarious idiot in it, but seriously, it wasn't a real movie.
“A Serious Man” is a masterpiece of a different nature – the kind that won’t be appreciated by many, and destined to become a box-office disaster. But it seems to bother anyone but the Coens who stubbornly tell just the kind of stories they wish to tell. While they seem to take each of their movies quite personally, “A Serious Man” must be especially close to their hearts since it is set in suburban Minnesota in the 1960s – exactly when and where Ethan and Joel grew up as children of Jewish academics.
However, it’s in no way a childhood nostalgia story a la Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.” Quite the contrary. It’s a spiritual and difficult dark comedy that’s not headed towards a positive denouement. The plot revolves around physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose mundane life is suddenly disrupted by a series of unpleasant events.
His wife announces she’s leaving him for another - a digusting sleeze but "a serious man" - and wants a ritual Jewish divorce. Someone starts writing unsigned letters to the dean threatening Gopnik's tenure. An Asian student offers him a bribe for a better grade. His unemployed brother is couch-surfing in his house and that’s just a half of what’s eating Gopnik.In a perfectly Kafkaesque fashion things for Gopnik go from normal to bad, then worse, and worse...
As his problems seem to compound by the day, Larry, an orthodox Jew, turns to several rabbis searching for answers and a hidden meaning to all that’s happening to him. But here comes a final blow to Gopnik's faith - rabbis have absolutely nothing to offer him. Pointless truisms and apocryphal fables that have no actual meaning don't help.
When the oldest and wisest rabbi opens his mouth to speak at long last, he says: “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don’t you want somebody to love.” In the end, Jefferson Airplane all-time hit not only serves as the central soundtrack for “A Serious Man” but also pretty much sums it up.