This Week at the Movies: A Serious Man



The Coen brothers should be admired for more than making consistently great movies. Each of their films somehow manages to come up with an even bleaker and more hopeless depiction of humanity. Surely this is an impressive feat in itself; these dudes single-handedly (or is it double-handedly?) redefine what dark comedy is. Anybody remember Fargo? Burn After Reading? Honestly, who’d have thought that John Malkovich’s stabbing of an innocent gym employee could be topped?

Although A Serious Man (unlike Fargo and Burn After Reading) contains no actual violence, it is surely as bleak a view of our society as anything the Coens have done before. In this case, the four-time Oscar winning writers/directors tread upon new territory: religion. Likewise, the pair take their film in a new direction in which no mainstream actors are shown on screen (a unique move for the Coens’ recent work). Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick and Fred Melamed, A Serious Man ponders why so many questions surface from religious faiths without answers to back them up.

Stuhlbarg stars as Larry Gopnik, a Jewish math teacher living in Minnesota in the 1960’s. Larry is similar to many other Coen brothers-inspired characters – a good person who always has bad things happen to him (and seemingly to him alone). His wife (as played by Sari Lennick) is cheating on him, his wife’s lover (as played by Fred Melamed) has moved into his home, his wife has forced him to move to a motel – you know, all the workings of a major downward spiral. To add to that, because he is a Jewish man living in an intolerant place and time period, Larry is largely alienated from the rest of society. Moreover, with the pressures of his son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah also hanging over his head, Larry must turn to a number of different rabbis for guidance, although each of them fails to come up with a satisfying answer to the source of Larry’s problems.

In effect, a dark, twisted hilarity ensues. Although viewers have grown accustomed to this type of comedy in other Coen brothers films, A Serious Man takes the darkness a step further, concluding that life’s problems are random and totally out of the control of the (religiously) faithful. Talk about a downer, right?

Even so, the film should not be missed. A Serious Man not only provokes laughs but thoughts as well – a rare combination in this day and age of Hollywood. Though not their absolute best work, A Serious Man certainly does rank amongst the Coen brothers’ most interesting and daring. Highly, highly recommended.