Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies..." A SERIOUS MAN REVIEW

A Serious Man-2009-Joel and Ethan Coen


"But I didn't do anything!" We hear Larry Gopnick scream as mishap after mishap occurs. He is certainly right, he didn't do anything. These words are uttered with perfect comic timing as well as with a tragic overtone. And in this phrase we find the Coen's, at their best, pushing forward the humor and tragedy simultaneously. Something Woody Allen often attempts to do, even explicitly in a film made in 2005 called Melinda and Melinda. Where Allen announces what he is doing in the beginning and allows for two separate stories to unfold, one a comedy, the other a drama. The problem is, because of its structure, the film is disjointed and messy. A Serious Man, and many of the Coen's previous efforts, however, are quite the opposite, because they manage to mix the humor and pain perfectly.

In A Serious Man, Larry Gopnick is a Job character. It has been said in basically everything written about it, and is blatantly obvious. He is a good man. He does everything by the book. But yet he is still punished. And he doesn't understand why his wife is leaving him, the job he wanted he may not get, he may be sick, his kids are morons, etc.

All in all, A Serious Man is a very strong outing showing obvious, existential flare. Is there a God? If so, is He listening? Does he enjoy the pain of his creation like a kid with a magnifying glass burning ants? I think the strength in the Coens and this film in particular is their ability to bring you into this situation, not really offer any solution, but still leave you satisfied by film's end. Not satisfied in the sense that every character got what they wanted, or that there was a happy ending. But to go anywhere else than where A Serious Man leads us in the end, would go against the rest of the movie.

Perhaps there are no answers. Or perhaps, we all make our own. Maybe, in the end, it's best to live our lives, no matter how perplexed we become, ultimately, we will never be satisfied with any answers, because they only ever lead to more questions. But does this mean we shouldn't ask questions? In a circle we go.

At times, the Joel and Ethan seem to get so wrapped up in this characters misery and the needs to have him asking these questions, that as an audience member, it becomes tiresome. There are parallels to Larry and Sy Ableman, his neighbor whom his wife decides to leave him for. There is a running parallel between Larry and his son, Danny. And these things keep the mind running and we get answers and then ten more questions arise. It's frustrating, but in a good way.

In this way, the film is more like Barton Fink than any previous Coen film. In both, the lead character face hell in different ways. It seems Larry's hell is a rural suburb, while Barton's is Hollywood. They both are rather innocent men who are punished for doing "nothing". But drawing the comparison to Barton Fink, brings us to a film Fink takes a lot from and that's David Lynch's Eraserhead. A very polarizing, odd film that does little to answer the questions it raises. The similarities lie in the main characters dilemmas, and how they react to them. All of them quietly accepting their fate while asking questions constantly. If you look at the three leads, they have a similar look, especially in the hair.

Anyway, A Serious Man is a claustrophobic, messy yet to the point existential study of the question; why do we suffer? And while the Coen's do little to offer an answer, I found that, to me, the film's meaning is derived solely in two points. A story told by a rabbi and the ending, where we find out th...............................................


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Fletch said...

I'd heard (and thought of) the Fink similarities, but great call on the Eraserhead one as well; along with the plot parallels, I find all three to be rewarding yet frustrating movie experiences, with each newer one being a bit more relatable, despite my preference of the three being Fink.

Ryan said...

Are you dissing on Melinda and Melinda, a movie in which you have yet to see?