Mood men 

The Coen brothers get existential.

'A SERIOUS MAN': Michael Stuhlbarg stars in the latest from the Cohen brothers.
  • 'A SERIOUS MAN': Michael Stuhlbarg stars in the latest from the Cohen brothers.

There was a moment in the middle of the Coen brothers' “A Serious Man” when I realized I'd synched up with the film in a most intimate fashion. The protagonist, a cuckolded nebbish named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), was atop his roof. It was 1967, suburban Minnesota. “F-Troop” was on, and Gopnik's petulant pothead son, Danny (Aaron Wolff), was bitching about the reception. Gopnik's wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), was preparing to leave him — he knew this because she ambushed him as he graded blue books, a chore even before a math-averse Korean student's bribe became a truly grave matter — and his brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), was languidly hogging the bathroom to drain a cyst on the back of his neck when he wasn't loafing around the living room.

Through it all, Gopnik, an observant Jew and a patient sort, had remained a very good sport. Now he was on the roof, diddling the antenna, seemingly picking up signals with his body. Nothing was going his way. Maybe it was the pacing or the framing or Carter Burwell's score, but I thought, “Let something beautiful come into his life.” And it's then that Gopnik turned and spied the most stunning, most naked woman in Minnesota sunning herself behind a fence next door, seemingly melting into a lawn chair, moving only to take a blissful drag off a smoldering roach.

From whence this burst of kismet, I've no idea: “A Serious Man” is among the most curiously paced movies I can remember. The best guess is, two films after their Oscar for “No Country for Old Men,” the Coens know precisely what they're doing. The comedy here isn't quite “Fargo”-dark, but it's close, and the film is set in the most fully-realized world they've created (largely, perhaps, because they apparently modeled it after their own childhoods, down to the locale). As Gopnik bleeds from his thousand paper cuts — a haranguing Columbia Record Club bill collector, attorney's fees, money missing from his wallet, a meaty-necked neighbor encroaching on his property line, incomprehensible rabbis, etc. — it's fair game to wonder what it all means, just as Gopnik does. Gopnik's search for his soul turns, dangerously, into a quest to discern God's intentions. How do we know God? What is he trying to tell us? If visits to his rabbis are any indication, the short answer is, Who knows?

Of course, as writer/directors, Ethan and Joel Coen play the role of God in this realm. In its storytelling (and its resonant climax) “A Serious Man” leaves an aftertaste like Joseph Heller's “Something Happened,” a coeval tale of a father and career man fraught on all sides. But it remains distinctly the Coens', a comedy in which virtually every character is miserable and all are subject, whether they realize it or not, to an Old Testament code best summarized by a desiccated rabbi flying high on Jefferson Airplane: “Be a good boy.” The result, if not stunning, might at least be called beautiful.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Readers also liked…

  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Movie Reviews

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »


1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation