on 21 May 2010
This film came as a great relief to me... I was seriously convinced that my beloved Coens had lost it altogether. I hadn't really enjoyed one of their films since The Man Who Wasn't There; Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading and yes, even the lauded to the high heavens No Country For Old Men all left me cold. This film was the first time in a decade I didn't bother going to the cinema to see a new Coen Brothers film, because I just expected more disappointment. I eventually rented it last week, and it massively exceeded my expectations, being fresh, funny and consistently entertaining.
It tells the story of a middle aged jewish man in the sixties whose life is falling to pieces- his wife is unfaithful, his promotion is being threatened by a disgruntled student who is prepared to resort to bribery and blackmail to attain a passing grade, his son is in love with the counter culture and is more interested in getting high and listening to Jefferson Airplane than preparing for his Bar Mitzvah (and who can blame him!) Desperate for help, he goes to see three Rabbis who, as you'd expect from a Coen Brothers film, run the gamut from a bit weird to colourfully insane.
A lot of the negative reviews here make complaints I can sympathise with; yes, it doesn't go anywhere, it has long, seemingly irrelevant bits, the beginning and ending are both confusing and obtuse and offer no explanation whatsoever; its weird for weirds sake, its pretentious, its elitist arty nonsense, too clever for its own good etc.... often with independent films I find just these kind of things extremely offputting. Like most people, I don't like feeling stupid, so when things confuse me I get frustrated; but this film was so charming I didn't mind being stumped by the significance of the opening scene, about Jewish peasants receiving a visit from an evil spirit called a 'dybbuk', or the ending, which I won't disclose. I also didn't mind that it didn't go through a routine beginning, middle and end and resolve itself, because its that kind of playful spirit and desire to keep things original, even while riffing on genre staples, that make the Coen Brothers' films special. And now I can happily go back to looking forward to their next film.
on 9 January 2010
After a period in which my love for the Cohen brothers' movies was diminished, mainly due to the feeling that their own personal style I very much admired in movies such as Barton Fink, Fargo, Raising Arisona, The Miller Crossing and Hudsucker Proxy was beginning to suffer from repetition, I welcomed with enthousiasm what I sensed as their comeback (in my heart, at least), not with the generally acclaimed No country for the old man, but with Burn after reading, which I considered fantastic. And then along came A serious man, which in my opinion, is their definite masterpiece and also a rare film for these times of mediocracy. It is not the meanings, it is not the form, it is not the story; in the greatest of films it' s the feeling that you have a unique experience of another world, created by the minds and the hands of some genuine masters. This is the case of A serious man. Absolutely fabulous for all the possible reasons. A movie to die for.
on 9 June 2011
On the face of it "A Serious Man" is a movie showing the life of a forty something Jew Larry Goplik falling apart. His wife announces that she is seeing a much older man and wants a divorce. His teenage children ignore him. He is a professor at a local college and his hopeful of getting tenure. However one of his students is very unhappy with his grades and seems to be threatening to throw a spanner in the works.
He is at his wits end and decides to ask his local rabbi for advice. He eventually sees (or rather tries to see) three different rabbis, with mixed results to say the least.
Like all Coen movies it is brilliantly made and has some great darkly comic moments. You get the feeling the Coens are toying with the viewer though. They hint that great revelations will occur but finish the movie with an ambiguous (but probably appropriate) ending. They also throw in an apparently unrelated opening scene, set in a Jewish village in pre war Poland.
After his Bar Mitzvah Larry's son does one better than his father and meets the most senior rabbi, renowned for his learning and wisdom. After quoting from a "Jefferson Airplane" song the rabbi's main piece of advice is to "be a good boy".
Perhaps that's what the Coen's are saying in this movie. Good and bad things happen in life. There is probably no grand design to it. All you can do is to try "to be a good boy".
on 5 June 2016
Sheer pretentious drivel - the sort of film that only real film nerds would like due to it being by the Coen brothers. A comedy? No way. Amusing even? No. Too many Jewish lifestyle leanings and phrases to further confuse the viewer as to what the film is about. Avoid
on 12 December 2014
I will admit, like many other reviewers, have really struggled with some of the Coen Brothers recent output, with some few diamonds nestling in otherwise medicore (and sometimes poor) output. However, after really wanting to like this, I have to say, although it has some good points it is ultimately unsatisfying. I think it is important to point out, although darkly humerous this is not a comedy. What it does try to be I feel, is a film about the musings of life and how things can turn against someone and implode. Whether or not you like this film , I think, lies within whether or not that sounds like a good story to tell over almost two hours. For me, after an hour I had seen enough and it limped to an end. There are some moments of interest - the charachters though not always likeable are sometimes hugely entertaining, partcularly the 'other man' and the first rabi and there are some very dark and funny moments. Overall, a partial succesful but as I said before ultimately unsatisfying
This is one of the coen brothers funniest films. Absolutely hillarious and barking mad too, and probably the weirdest film the coen brothers have ever done. The great unknown cast are hillarious, michael stulberg being the standout in the lead as a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown, or at least, that's what i thought was going on! Very easy to see why this is a huge hit with critics, but non coen brothers fans might wonder what all the fuss is about.
I'm a big fan of most Coen brothers films, probably all except the rather pointless and ineffective 'The Ladykillers' have many good points with some ('Fargo', 'No Country for Old Men') bordering on brilliance, but this more recent effort really tested me - it is occasionally enigmatic and is potentially 'inaccessible' for many due to some very significant 'quirks', most of which are not of the type normally associated with these writer/directors.
For me, watching it could be likened to the overall appearance of a blemished sandwich, a mouldy top slice of bread (the start of the film), a delicious filling (the majority middle part) and an odd offcut bottom piece of bread (the ending !) - fortunately this film is eaten top to bottom, so you get rid of the unpleasant taste of the start quite quickly and are left only mildly dissatisfied by the end (courtesy of the unsatisfactory bottom slice of bread). Don't get me wrong, I completely understood the ending and to a degree it fits in with the overall 'enigmatic' nature of the film (especially the beginning), but it is only suggestive rather than definitive - but I suppose that does at least allow the viewers mind to wander and/or ponder....I hope my intentional vagueness tempts you to audition this film !
A bonus is that on Blu-ray the presentation is superb, with a vivid and gloriously sharp picture and a clear, if essentially dialogue-driven, soundtrack.
The overall plot is not that complicated, and is especially easy for me to describe as I won't (in part, can't !) explain the opening in any meaningful way and will not be tempted to outline too much of the rest (unlike others, including the Amazon synopsis) as it is revelationary, so mentioning it would spoil things for first-time viewers. Essentially, the story is set in the late '60s and covers the ever-increasing series of traumatic events which befall a Jewish (it is SO pertinent to state the specifics of his religion) Physics university professor in both his professional and domestic life almost immediately after we 'meet' him.
However, before we get to this main part of the story we have to first endure (and boy do I mean that !) a lengthy, quite bizarre, opening scene which must be very personally important to the Coens as I have yet to fathom what relevance it has to the rest of the film and didn't understand it at all; all I can say is that it (apparently) is set some time in the past, occurs within a house occupied by a married couple, features dialogue in Yiddish (there are forced English subtitles and it's presented in full-frame format) and portrays a scene where a clearly unwanted visitor enters - watch and be confused..... The pertinence of that opening is brought into focus by watching the first extra on the disc, where the Coens 'fess up' that it really does have no real relevance to the film and that it was created by them as an opener in the same way that films long ago started with a cartoon (I'll take their word for it - it must have been before my time because whilst I do remember often lengthy single pre-film adverts when I went to the cinema in the 60s/early 70s I never saw anything like THAT !).
We are then transported to present times (of the film ie 1967) to see, what presumably was up until then, the 'normal' life of said professor rapidly collapse around him courtesy of a series of ever-worsening situations and dilemmas of a very personal nature. It is clear very little that occurs is his fault and he is very much the victim, which explains why he becomes depressed, confused and very desperate; his state of mind is clearly profoundly affected, prompting him to seek assistance in order to try and make sense of his crumbling world...... It can be quite excruciating to witness the bizarre behaviour, logic and attitudes which are presented to him and it becomes easy to understand how he quickly becomes so 'lost'. Very dark, yet extremely humorous, although unique the overall sense from 'A Serious Man' is similar to how the life of the car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (played superbly by William H Macy), disintegrates in the earlier (excellent) Coen brothers film 'Fargo'. However, in this film a LOT of the 'flavour' is unarguably VERY Jewish in the most stark sense possible, not just courtesy of 'that' opening scene but also because much of the assistance sought is provided by the local Rabbi.
And that's it, no embellishment of those dilemmas or the ending - you've got to watch it for yourself as I think there are many sub-surface 'messages'. I will hopefully unearth them over time as I intend to watch this film many times ! The only thing I will add is that the period production qualities are superb and that the lead character is played to huge effect by Michael Stuhlbarg, an actor previously unknown to me, and everyone else contributes with great success.
As hinted at earlier, on Blu-ray everything is presented quite marvellously - a lovely rich, if a slightly washed-out picture and a clear DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (perhaps a bit OTT as most of what we hear is dialogue). True to form, the Coens provide no commentary - perhaps more necessary here than usual, if for no other reason that they might have explained more fully the background and content of the opening ! There are also a few short production featurettes. Deliciously dark and enigmatic, this film is well worth catching and is likely to mean different things to different people (especially if you're Jewish !) but is likely to be enjoyed by all; for me it sits towards the upper-end of the Coen brothers 'barometer of excellence', but could go higher after more viewings....
on 15 January 2010
Buy this wonderful film - the best from Coen Brothers yet - but look up Shrödinger's Cat on the Internet before you view. The opening scene, which at first looks to have no connection with the rest of the film, has confused most reviewers. It's an illustration of Shrödinger's Cat - itself an interpretation of uncertainty in Quantum Theory - in which the cat is dead and alive at the same time. The protagonist, Larry, lectures on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Look carefully at one of the scenes in Larry's lecture theatre and you'll see a mention of the cat on the blackboard behind him. Apart from laying the foundation for the uncertainty that pervades the rest of the film, it's given the Coen Brothers a chance to display one of their least endearing characteristics: laughing up their sleeves.
A brilliant and hugely funny film.
on 11 June 2016
The funniest thing about this film is the fact that the word 'comedy' is on the box, and that several people in their reviews have descibed it as 'funny' and even 'hilarious'. It may be full of dry irony and insight, but it is is no way a comedy. Its not quirky enough to be likeable or bizarre enough to become a cult classic. If some kids created this for a film school project I would advise that they retry a bit harder next time.
on 9 April 2010
Some of the most demanding film watching experiences can also be the most rewarding. Those films which allow for mystery and ambiguity, which don't hand you every answer on a plate or make every point with a signpost often make for most involving and stimulating, and also for a cracking debate down the pub afterwards.
David Lynch is one of the masters of this, but he also showed you can take it too far with his last offering, Inland Empire, a film that seemed as though it could literally mean anything. My mom, (herself a fan of Lynch) came up with a good simile after watching The Coen Brothers latest, similarly oblique, offering. "It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle. If you've just got one or two pieces missing, you want to press on. But if you can't see where any of the pieces go, you just give up."
For me, A Serious Man falls just the right side of impenetrability. But the jigsaw analogy is still a good one; the brothers present their material here in disorientating, fragmentary fashion; short choppy scenes that feel like unfinished bullet points, full of tantalising non-sequiturs. I thought I was getting a domestic drama, what I got felt more like a total head trip.
The story focuses on teacher and self-stlyed 'Serious Man' Larry Gopnik, (played with fretful incredulity by Michael Stuhlbarg) who fears his life may be taking a turn for the worst as his son's Bah Mitzvah approaches. His wife is leaving him for passive-aggressive colleague Sy Abelman; a stoic Korean student is blackmailing him for a better grade; his kids pester him for nose jobs and better TV reception; a mail order record club chases him for payment; his aggressively WASP-y neighbour mows part of the Gopnik lawn.
Larry imbues all of these problems, trivial and important, with ecumenical significance. Why is he suffering? Is the brother he has invited into his home (Curb Your Enthusiasm's Richard Kind) a cursed Dybbuk? Are the trials a test of Larry's faith? Or can the uncertainty principle and parallel worlds theories he teaches provide an explanation? Whatever you may think, get ready for a final scene that turns everything on it's head.
The Coens have explored this bleak, existential territory before, in films like Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasn't There. While A Serious Man isn't, for me, as riotously funny as the former or as emotionally devastating as the latter, it is without doubt intellectually bracing fare and should gratify anyone who feels in on the cosmic joke.