Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Serious Man

Year: 2009
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff
Genre: Black comedy, drama, period
Running Time: 106 minutes

Summary: Minnesota, 1967: Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) is a Jewish professor of physics. He lives with his wife, Judith (Lennik) who is having an affair with a widower (Melamed), his teenage son, Danny (Wolff) who owes $20 dollars for marijuana to an intimidating classmate at his Hebrew school, but the money is hidden in a transistor radio that has been confiscated by a teacher. Also in the house are Larry and Judith's teenage daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), who is always doing her hair, and Larry's brother Arthur (Kind) who fills notebooks with bizarre and extravagant mathematical theories which he believes tie together the laws of the universe and which he uses for illegal gambling. When Judith confronts Larry about her affair and demands a "get" (a religious divorce) and shortly afterwards he finds himself threatened by a student (David Kang) to whom he gave a failing grade, Larry finds himself at the centre of a string of misfortunes and disasters which challenge all his beliefs about the way the univere should work.

Opinion: The film opens with a bizarre prologue set in early 20th Century Poland in which a woman kills a rabbi that her husband has invited into their home, because she believes that the rabbi is a "dybbuk" (a kind of possessing spirit in Jewish folklore). The Coens have claimed that the prologue has no connection with the rest of the film other than to set the tone.
In their career, the Coen Brothers have garnered huge international acclaim for their stylish and often strange films, but this is probably the strangest one that they have made yet. The Coen brothers also grew up in an academic Jewish household in Minnesota and the film feels like a very personal project. The movie is visually impressive, with stylish and often surreal scenes and images. There is also the Coen's usual strain of dark humour which if anything is even crueller than usual here as the hapless Larry is stricken by a seemingly endless stream of misfortune. It is certainly an unconventional movie and, despite not being exactly entertaining, it is quite haunting and fascinating in it's own way. Although some viewers may find the strong element of misanthropy off-putting.
The film features strong performances from a relatively unknown cast allthough comedy fans may recognise Simon Helberg (who plays Howard Wolowitz on the hit television series The Big Bang Theory) as a junior rabbi.
It is a memorably unique movie, but it won't appeal to all tastes.

Michael Stuhlbarg is A Serious Man

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