A Serious Man

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In 1967, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) learns that his wife is leaving him. His kids are rebellious and don’t listen, he may or may not receive tenure, and his life is more or less falling apart. As he futilely tries to find meaning in what is happening to him, Larry discovers a greater truth of the world.

The Highs
A Serious Man is very much a Coen film through and through. The characters are quirky and odd, and the story holds hidden wisdom. Larry Gopnik represents every middle-aged man going through some kind of existential crisis. His world is not what he thought it was, and it’s falling apart around him and he didn’t do anything!

I also saw Larry as a study of the emasculation of men, though I’m not sure it’s exactly what the Coen’s intended. He has everything taken away from him: his wife, his dignity, his faith, his integrity, his yard – and he just allows it to happen. He may not have done anything to deserve this, but he certainly doesn’t do anything to stop it.

A Serious Man also focuses on the idea that life and events cannot be controlled or foreseen. Even though you cannot possibly understand the complex equation that is life, you are expected to live it to the best of your ability and succeed. The finale of the film, the revelation of Larry’s serious medical condition juxtaposed against the impending tornado, is a brilliant visual depiction of life’s unpredictability.

As with all Coen films, I really loved the use of music throughout and the brilliant cinematography. Most of the performances here are spectacular. The Coen brothers have a real talent for bringing their stories to life, turning their characters into living entities that leave the audience thinking about them long after they’ve left the screen.

The Lows
Unfortunately, I just didn’t enjoy A Serious Man as much as other Coen films. I found the plot relatively dull and slow, though I believe it does accomplish its purpose. Some of the dialogue, particularly the interactions between the various kids, was sub-par and the cursing often felt forced.

Larry is a very difficult character to feel empathy for. The purpose of a film is for the viewer to put themselves into the life and world of the protagonist, and it was very frustrating in this case. It was challenging to watch such a weak-willed person stumble through the problems that life dealt him.

But perhaps that is part of the purpose of A Serious Man.

Final Thoughts
A Serious Man is a film with something to say, featuring characters that are simultaneously interesting and exasperating. Fans of the Coen brothers will find things to like about this, but the casual audience may be turned off by the slow pacing and relatively mundane plot.

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