A Serious Man (2009)

February 22, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

What is the purpose of life? This is the immortal, burning question A Serious Man takes on in a naturally philosophical and pleasingly offbeat manner. The Coen brothers have produced a film entry that is in strong contention to take the top spot of their filmography. Michael Stuhlbarg gives an amazing performance as Professor Larry Gopnik and is surrounded by talented support, the Coen brothers are at their sharpened prime in directing this film, and the viewing experience is a suffocating enlightenment of the eternal complexity of life.

What the Coen brothers do is not tell a linear, straight forward story, but rather focus on the complexity of Larry’s life spiraling down the toilet. Even the intro to the entire film is completely different, and acts as a “warm-up,” according to the Coen brothers, to the rest of this wholly unique film. The film also preps viewers by mentioning the paradox of Schrodinger’s cat, and it helps to apply that idea to the entire film, in order to appreciate it completely. We follow Larry through his downs in life, and a few ups, as he tries to make sense of the continual uncertainty of it all. Along with the opening, the Coens utilize dream sequences, seeming real, to act as different tangents Larry could take, projecting paradox and uncertainty.

Larry Gopnik is Professor that never really fit the stereotypical definition of a “man.” He is a weak-natured person that has constantly been dragged by life. Michael Stuhlberg becomes Larry, always looking slightly uncomfortable in his own skin, with desperate eyes hiding behind black-rimmed eye-glasses, speaking as if he’s always surprised. We feel for his situation because we’re all on that same journey of trying to find a reason for the chaos. Richard Kind as Uncle Arthur is wonderful as Larry’s constantly anxious brother, and Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman is a fantastic scene-stealer as Mrs. Gopnik’s new love interest. The cast acts out the script to a delightful level.

Aside from quantum physics trying to explain life, there is also Larry’s strive to find a religious answer to it all, as he visits Rabbi after Rabbi for the neat answer that doesn’t exist. At times oddly hilarious, but always smart and chaotic, the film examines the mystery of life through the eyes of a Jewish man. I can’t even begin to describe the phenomenal ending of this film, but I can only say that it is a reflection of the film itself and a projection of the answer to the workings of life.

Potential Drawbacks:

This quirky comedy is not going to be for everyone, and neither is the complex subject matter. The film loses those used to more mainstream films because this film is ambiguous and is missing closure. It might also bore viewers that aren’t used to the Coen brothers style or don’t care at all for an intellectual high.

Film Recommendations:

The Man Who Wasn’t There
Synecdoche, New York
The Seventh Seal

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