A SERIOUS MAN
Embrace the Mystery
Starring: Michael Stuhlberg, Richard
Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred
Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Jessica
McManus, Peter Bretimayer,
David Kang, George Wyner,
Allen Lewis Rickman, Yelena
Shmulenson, and Fyvish Finkel
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 105 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Executive Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and
Producer: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Address Comments To:Jeffrey R. Immelt, Chairman/CEO, General Electric
James Schamus, President
Focus Features (A Division of NBC Universal and General Electric)
65 Bleecker St., 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 539-4000; Fax: (212) 539-4099
The Coen Brothers (RAISING ARIZONA, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, FARGO, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, and MILLER’S CROSSING) don’t answer any theological questions about the existence of God and the nature of His character, but they come to the conclusion that people should be content with the circumstances that God visits upon them. In fact, they open the movie with this quote from Rashi, the French medieval rabbi and Talmudic writer (circa 1040-1105): “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” (Paul’s belief in Philippians 4:10-13 about being content with whatever circumstance God places you seems to be an equivalent piece of advice.) The Coens also seem to conclude in A SERIOUS MAN that love is important and that being good is a worthy goal. Regrettably, however, these answers, such as they are, take place in a somewhat dark and mysterious world. Also, the scene where they conclude that love is important is put in such a trite context that it seems a bit ambiguous. This leaves viewers with the same enlightenment about the subject they may or may not have had when they started watching the movie in the first place.
Ultimately, this movie seems to reflect a refusal, and a timidity, in making a really bold statement about God, faith, the human condition, and morality, especially one that validates faith and values. Accept the mysteries of life and don’t really try to understand them or control them, the Coen Brothers seem to say. In the end, therefore, the Coens just seem to be toying with their characters, and their audience. Come to think of it, this may be a major problem with many, if not most, of their movies, no matter how well or entertaining they are made.
The story here focuses on Larry Gopnik, a Jewish university physics professor in 1967, and his family. Larry has begun to take his family for granted a little bit. His distracted, pot-smoking son Danny is a discipline problem even though he’s about to undergo his Bar Mitzvah, his daughter Sarah is stealing money from his wallet to save up for a nose job, his strange unemployed brother is sleeping on the couch, and an Asian graduate student appears to be trying to bribe him to change his grade from an “F”. To make matters worse, Larry’s pushy wife, Judith, has just informed him that she is leaving him for a pompous, older Jewish widower named Sy Ableman. Larry tries to find clarity and comfort from the rabbis at his synagogue, while things go from bad to worse.
A SERIOUS MAN is excellent at bringing out the atmosphere of a bygone era in an American subculture – a Jewish community in Middle America before the advent of the Hippie Generation. Virtual unknown Michael Stuhlberg does a brilliant job of portraying the perplexed and put-upon Larry. None of the rabbis, however, offers Larry much of anything to help him. Despite this, the elderly rabbi emeritus tells Larry’s son to “find someone to love” and “be a good boy.” This is good advice, but it comes across a bit trite in the movie. Also, the ending is open-ended, which leaves the viewer groping for real guidance, insight, and closure. Ultimately, this droll, funny movie shows a lack of vision and a lack of theological/philosophical depth.
A SERIOUS MAN also contains some foul language, lewd sexual references, brief nudity, and marijuana use by the son and later by the father with the neighbor lady he sees after his wife kicks him out of their house and starts divorce proceedings. Also, the movie opens with a Jewish ghost story set in Poland featuring a squabbling married couple.
A SERIOUS MAN is good at bringing out the atmosphere of a bygone era in an American subculture – a Jewish community in Middle America before the Hippie Generation. None of the rabbis offers Larry much to help him, however. The elderly rabbi emeritus tells Larry’s son to “find someone to love” and “be a good boy.” This is good advice, but comes across rather trite in the movie. Also, the open-ended ending leaves viewers groping for guidance and insight. Ultimately, this droll, funny but sometimes lewd movie shows a lack of vision and theological/philosophical depth.