A Serious Man * * * *

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Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, George Wyner, Adam Arkin, Michael Lerner.

Quite a difficult one to get a handle on from the Coens, especially when you’re not familiar with the book of Job from the Old Testament, of which this is an allegory of. They can always produce something tense, then effortlessly switch to something hilarious and then…well…and then they craft something like this, that’s hard to pigeonhole. God bless those pesky brothers.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a physics professor. He leads a God fearing Jewish life in the suburbs with his wife and two children. When he comes home from work, after an attempt at bribery from one of his students to get a better grade, he is informed by his wife that she wants a divorce. She has fallen in love with their neighbour and wants Larry to move out. Meanwhile, his son is approaching his Bar Mitzvah but has got himself mixed up in drugs and spiraling financial debts in Larry’s name and his daughter is determined to get a nose job, while his brother who sleeps on the couch, can’t cope with the world and relies heavily on Larry’s support. Things are not going well for Larry and he finds himself in need of some serious guidance and turns to his local but elusive Rabbi to seek advice in his life.

A unique and informative insight into Jewish religion and culture from the Coens. It’s very different from anything they have done before and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The theme of the uncertainty of religious guidance in our lives is perfect to support the choatic events that are inexplicably bestowed upon Larry and how religion doesn’t have all the answers. If anything it asks more frustrating unanswered questions for our protaganist and with some hilarious results. The cast of unknowns are uniformly excellent (especially Stuhlbarg) and add to the believable Jewish community that the brothers have created and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is as always, beautifully rich in capturing the 1960’s era in which it’s set.
It didn’t share the tension of “No Country for Old Men”, the complex hilarity of “The Big Lebowski” or even the surreal imagery of “Barton Fink” but this is still a very subtle treat from the brothers Coen and one which I will no doubt be visiting again, looking for answers, just like Larry Gopnik.

Mark Walker

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