22 October 2009
At the movies: A Serious Man.
Professor Larry Gropnik (Michael Stuhlbarg, in one of the year’s finest performances) is a man in a state of crisis. His wife wants a divorce so she can marry another, he’s on a collision course with his University’s tenure committee, his savant brother Arthur (Richard Kind) has taken up what seems like a permanent residence on the family couch, the next door neighbors are encroaching on his property, his stoner son seems dangerously unready for his bar mitzvah, and the Columbia record club won’t stop calling.
Larry Gropnik is a man put upon, and answers are unforthcoming from both human and divine. Perhaps taking advantage of the new freedoms might help?
Joel and Ethan Coen have spent enough time making enough quality pictures that their names alone bring a certain degree of interest. Though A Serious Man is considered a smaller scale film than last year’s Burn After Reading or their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, it is an achievement on par with their finest work, and the best film they’ve made since The Man Who Wasn’t There.
With critical response sharply divided between those who feel the film traffics in Jewish caricature and those who find its theologically provocative perspective revelatory, it is a film that demands to be seen and experienced on whichever theological level the viewer finds themselves comfortable with. Equally versed in theoretical physics and the mechanics of spiritual divorce, A Serious Man dazzles on so many levels that easy superlatives just don’t come.
Nothing about this film or the universe it which it unfolds is easy or simple, and its many dualities make for a cinematic and spiritual experience like nothing else at the movies this year. Strangely, A Serious Man is much bleaker than No Country for Old Men, but as funny as The Big Lebowski, and those comparisons serve the film well. The voice of the heavens belongs to Grace Slick, and there are mysteries we all must accept, both in this life and the life to come. One of the best films I’ve seen so far this year.