Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Serious Man

Before the actual film starts, we are shown a short story that takes place back to the old country as an old Jew walks home with his horse. He informs his wife that he has been helped alongside the road by one of the neighbors and she in turn informs him that the neighbor is a dybbuk, a ghost of sorts having recently died. The dybbuk shows up at the house and when it leaves they are afraid that it has cursed them forever. As Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" plays during the opening credits and we are then taken to the main story set in 1967, we begin to wonder what the prologue has to with the film and most would assume nothing. But as the story of Larry Gopnik, a Minnesota college professor whose life begins to unravel in a fashion similar to Job, maybe the opening short is a key to understanding the film. Gopnik is the kind of man who wants to live a serious life, the kind of man who solves never ending physics' problems on a chalk board, but has no answers when everything in his life goes wrong. He is played to a point by newcomer to film Michael Stuhlbarg. Though their imprint is definitely on this film and that it is said to be their most personal film to date, this is not the Coen brothers' greatest work. It is a challenging, intellectual and artful film, nominated for Best Picture this year in an expanded category. With their ending, the Coens seem to be channeling the ending of their No Country For Old Men, but I'm not sure it works as well as it did in this one. Though some elements are off and that certain demographics may enjoy this film more than others, this is a film to seek out, especially if you like to think and not to be spoon-fed at the movies.