From the wonderful film directors Joel and Ethan Coen that brought such hits as The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country For Old Men, and True Grit, their 2010 film “A Serious Man” went rather unnoticed to the general audiences. In most places it was difficult to even find a theater playing it, fortunately we have the Little in Rochester for such glorious films. This movie has a lot of things in common with the tragedies we read at the beginning of the year. The movie itself is loosely based on the Book of Job, a biblical tragedy. It is set more as a dark, dark comedy rather than a tragedy. This has a lot to do with the extreme dramatic irony in the movie.
The tragedy centers itself around Larry Gopnik who is faced with endless misfortunes throughout the movie. He is facing a divorce that makes no sense to him, he gets in car crashes, his brother is getting in trouble with the law, he is faced with extraordinary bills, and through all of this he cannot get any helpful advice. He common says, “I haven’t done anything,” as a way of dealing with his frustrations. Most importantly, he is dealing throughout the entire movie with forces much beyond his comprehension and does not know what to make of it.
There are small pieces of advice the Coens are giving to the audience, but not to Larry. “When all the truth is found to be lies and all the joys within you dies,” lyrics from the Jefferson Airplane song Somebody to Love are common advice. In the beginning of the movie there is also a quote along the lines of “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” These pieces of advice are what Larry is looking for, but never receives.
Larry is also a physics professor, and there are significant scenes of him teaching things like the uncertainty principal from the Schroedinger’s Cat paradox. It is also funny that he cannot even listen to the things he is teaching. He is unable to accept in his life that he cannot be certain of why things are happening to him. Much of the movie is dealing with this paradox of trying to find a reason for chaos happening. This is shown through the first scene of the movie, which is seemingly irrelevant to the plot. In this scene a suspected dybbuk (possessed spirit) is in a Hebrew families house. The only way to determine whether or not he is a dybbuk is to try to kill him. The wife has no issue stabbing him. While he seems to demonstrate dybbuk like properties, he shows human like properties as he walks out bleeding. There is no way to tell what he really was. This scene seems to be the Coens trying to put us into the frustration Larry will be experiencing throughout the movie.
The important difference that makes this movie different that the traditional tragedy of the Book of Job is that we never really get anything from a God. We are not given the reason (or lack thereof) like in Job, instead, we are put in the same situation as the victim of the acts beyond his control. Much can be said about this movie, but it’s better just to watch it on your own. WATCH IT!