Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Serious Man - Coen Bros. (2009)

I'm starting to wonder if this daily film/blog schedule is actually sustainable, what with real life going on and everything. Maybe just laying the groundwork for breaking the letter of the commitment, if not the spirit.

So, the last in our trio of autobiographicalesqueries! No Coens anywhere at all in the Sight & Sound poll... Seriously?

A Serious Man (2009)
A Serious Man
dir. Joel & Ethan Coen. 2009, USA.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #894 (1 vote)
Roger Ebert's movie review
DVD from Amazon [Blu-Ray]
Watch via Amazon Instant / iTunes / YouTube

A Serious Man trailer (2009)

Like with Scorsese, there was a period of Coen films that I kind of checked out on - around Intolerable Cruelty, c. 2003. Similarly, they've kind of moved back into areas I'm more interested in. I'd heard this one was very hard on the characters, even by the Coens' standards.

Danny Gopnik: "F Troop" is fuzzy!

One is reminded of the Old Testament story of Job, who endured trials and tribulations while maintaining Faith. Larry Gopnik doesn't so much weather his trials as boggle at them, and the faith he maintains is more in an explicable universe of cause-and-effect (physics) and rules (property lines) - one which seems misguided at best. When the system breaks down, he appeals to authority: rabbis, lawyers, but not HaShem. (And there is a God that's testing Larry, but it is the Coens.) Either that, or he falls back on his having not "done" anything - equally when facing the break-up of his marriage, when facing tenure review, and when the Columbia House Record Club comes to collect. I think the implied emphasis of his wife's calling Sy a serious man is on "man," in that he doesn't just passively accept everything until the end.

Prof. Gopnik can understand (and reject) his student's attempt to break the rules - without "doing" anything about it. But he's completely flummoxed by the student's father threatening with lawsuit(s) for both/either defamation and/or accepting a bribe. Schrödinger's cat: "Accept the mystery." And what of the Goy’s Teeth? "It proves we can't ever really know... what's going on."

A Serious equation
Marshak!! "When the truth is found... to be lies... And all the hope... within you dies... Then what?" Could this wisdom have helped Larry, if only the rabbi had granted an audience? Certainly his only actual advice to Danny would not have: "Be a good boy." It seems unlikely that either being a serious man or a good boy would have saved him the trouble. Maybe the naïve Junior Rabbi Scott and his parking lot - and Larry's zonked interpretation - provided the most insight: perspective, perception. Probably not. Much of what befalls Larry isn't the result of a lack of perspective, or seriousness, or even action. But: "couldn't hurt." We're actually approaching the nihilism that the Coen Bros have so often been accused of - but still with the same dark humor.

And this is all before mentioning Fyvush Finkel as the dybbuk(?) in a shtetl ghost story, a hesher bar mitzvah, or even poor Arthur and his fabulous Mentaculus - with its echoes of Philip K. Dick's Exigesis and the art of Paul Laffoley.

A Serious mentaculus
Until a couple of scenes in, I'd totally forgotten about how this movie raised some charges of self-hating anti-Semitism against the Coen Brothers. I'm not going to dredge up the whole debate again, but I thought I would post this sermon on the film from Rabbi Norman M. Cohen, of Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka, MN - right next door to the Coens' native St. Louis Park. Very nice.

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