The Y!X DVD review: A Serious Man

7 05 2010

There is something painfully symmetrical about A Serious Man, in that its beginning and ending are both vacuous and puzzling.

Loosely based on the fable of Job, this bleak pastiche by Joel and Ethan Coen is a movie about the existential crisis of a Jewish man so nondescript, he’s almost fascinating.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a Physics professor who lives with his wife, two quibbling kids and a delusional brother in a Minneapolis suburb.

The cookie-cutter houses and empty streets set the tone for ‘A Serious Man’, far removed from the ‘Swinging 60s’ flamboyancy prevalent at the time.

Everything seems to be comfortably uneventful for Larry when one day his life begins to unravel with overwhelming intensity.

It all begins when one of his students, Clive (David Kang), cunningly leaves an envelope full of cash in Larry’s office after failing a test.

A man of integrity, Larry soon finds out he has no choice but to grant Clive a passing grade: if he exposes Clive, he’ll be sued for defamation. If he doesn’t, he’ll be in trouble for accepting a bribe.

Ironically, the test in question relates to the paradox of Schrödinger’s Cat – a thought experiment aimed at sussing out the various outcomes of random events.

That night his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) tells him she’s leaving him for widower Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who’s a bit of a patronising twerp, and demands a Get – a Jewish divorce document.

His son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is secretly addicted to weed. His daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is stealing money from him for a nose job.

Eventually, Larry and his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) – along with his cyst-suction pump – are kicked out of the house to live in a nearby motel.

Every now and again Danny rings up Larry, but only to ask him to fix the TV reception. His brother is constantly getting into trouble with the law – from being charged with gambling to soliciting young boys.

Larry’s divorce lawyer’s charges are going through the roof and his university tenure is hanging in uncertainty.

To top it all off, every now and again a rather persistent tele-caller is harassing him about an overdue payment for things he’s never bought.

While his problems seem vapid and substantially less biblical than those of Job’s, they push Larry to the point of questioning his faith and integrity.

“I haven’t done anything,” Larry screams repeatedly. “What is Hashem trying to tell me?”

The quest for a soul-satisfying answer sees him soliciting the help of three local rabbis – which only leads to more frustrating moments as they perfunctorily go about throwing irrelevant, esoteric life lessons at Larry.

With A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers raise some serious questions: will God be annoyed if you aren’t a “serious” man? If God’s supposed to be the good guy, why does he act like a total git every now and again? In fact, is there even a God?

The black humour of A Serious Man will leave you to unravel its many layers for days after you’ve watched it.

GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, dark humour, satire, multi-layered movies.

AVOID IT IF YOU: don’t like the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, dark humour, satire, multi-layered movies.

From Yahoo!Xtra Entertainment

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