“Accept the mystery”
The Coen Brothers have made yet another brilliant film! A Serious Man is their latest creation and it was fantastic. I’ve always been a fan of the Coen Brother movies. I love their writing and story telling techniques. They make movies interesting, they make the audience think, and it’s fun to watch and try and figure it out. A Serious Man was enjoyable to watch, but it’s definitely not a movie for everybody. The story is not told in the classic movie structure that most people are use to.
The film opens up with a self-contained Jewish parable that the Coen’s pretty much made up and added into the film with no intention of it having any direct relation to the story that follows, which takes place in the world of the Jewish culture.
What follows is the story of a man named Larry Gopnik, who is tormented by several current events in his life. His wife Judith wants to leave him for his overly pretentious friend Sy Ableman. His kids are constantly fighting with each other and going through their own little minor problems. He’s stressfully awaiting to receive word on if he is going to get his tenure at work (he’s a physics teacher), at the same time he is being bribed by a student to give him a passing grade, and threatens to sue him if reported. He has an intimidating neighbor that he is having property line issues with. His son is constantly bugging him about the TV set not working. And the list of problems goes on.
So what’s the point of all this? It’s a humorous look inside a normal man’s difficult life. What does one do when being bombarded with so many issues and problems? In this story he tries to seek spiritual guidance from three different rabbis. The only problem is, they don’t help him at all. They just feed him strange and elaborate stories that don’t go anywhere. They don’t mean anything, and they offer no explanation -- just like the film itself.
Larry is just a normal innocent man. Of course he’s not perfect, but he himself in the movie says, “I haven’t done ... anything!” And it’s true, he’s done nothing to deserve the series of misfortunes that have plagued his life. His life represents the meaningless cruelties of the world that happen to all of us at one point. It may not be as extreme, but these things happen to the “everyman,” and his character is surprisingly relatable.
It’s fun to watch this poor guy deal with his problems though. The audience is offered only one bit of solid advice at the beginning of the film that reads, “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” Once Larry begins to follow this advice, his troubles begin to subside.
As serious as the subject matter may seem, the movie is very enjoyable and hilarious. There are plenty of jokes at the characters’ expense and a huge amount of irony that I found very amusing. There’s also a fun running joke involving Jefferson Airplane.
There is so much to love about this film. The characters are great, and the dialogue is extremely well crafted. And the cinematography is fantastic. One of my favorite scenes of the film takes place at Larry’s sons Bar Mitzvah. There were small little details added that were hilarious, I laughed so hard I started crying. I’m not sure anyone else in the theater got the joke because Abe Froman and I were the only people in the theater busting a gut.
This film is very unconventional, there are no defined themes, no plot resolution, no typical Hollywood ending. The ending was much like No Country for Old Men, it’s open for the audience to interpret. The Coen Brothers are not only screwing around with Larry’s life, but they are playing with the audience as well.
There is one character in the film that hilariously suggests to Larry and the audience to “accept the mystery.” Those movie goers who are not willing to “accept the mystery,” are most likely not going to enjoy watching this movie.
The filmmakers managed to create a significant film about insignificance, and a meaningful film about meaninglessness. It asks the ageless question... “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But doesn’t give an answer.
A Serious Man successfully takes on a life and meaning of its own.