More Thoughts on A Serious Man

Saturday, June 19, 2010 7:30 PM By Simon


-Which, of course, arises from Marshall kindly sending it to me, after my (inadvertently) winning a commenting contest. So...thank you, Marshall.

-Anyway, as some of ya'll may know, I've previously written two other things about A Serious Man, what I think is the most provocative (I'm so allowed to describe shit like that now) film of the Coen Brothers'. It is almost on Donnie Darko-levels of speculation for me, see.

-I had a nice theory worked out about this, so, uh, spoilers: Our dogged hero, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlberg), is being punished, not for any active wrongdoings he's done, but for, as he repeats throughout in an hysterical defense of himself, "I haven't done anything!" Precisely, you poor fool! You--he--is a nice, likable dude, but at the end of the day, he's just not important. He hasn't published anything, made a spectacle of himself in the community, borne some rather unextraordinary kids. Therefore, his wife, a bit of bitch, if we must be honest, leaves him for the (ahem) ugly-as-shit, older, rather dull and pretentious Sy Abelman, precisely because he is more important, the eponymous 'serious man'. When he begins to take action against these perceived wrongdoings--as he advises his brother (Richard Kind), he helps himself--things start going well, better, in fact, than before. His wife comes back to him (after, of course, Sy dies in a car accident), he's probably up for tenure at his profess er job, his brother...well, I don't really know, he just kinda disappeared after the bar mitzvah of the similarly challenged life of son Danny (?) (though he is a bit more actively responsible for his own shit)...but, anyway, both he, Larry, and his son, their prospects look up. Danny gets his radio, previously confiscated from his Hebrew school teacher, returned by the sage-like rabbi who congratulates him, and therefore, the twenty bucks he owes his pot supplier.

But, see, they fuck it up, and things get worse. Rather than going back to passive existence, they go the opposite direction than before--Danny blatantly ignores the Rabbi's words ('Be a good boy', the answer, probably, to all of Larry's desperate existential questions, as he could not get in to see the Rabbi, not his recital of Jefferson Airplane lyrics), and puts his headphones back in. Larry, 'accepting the mystery' of accepting a bribe from a South Korean student of his, changing his grade to a passing C-. As both of them do so, their fates are pretty much sealed. Larry's doom-implied phone call from his doctor (in relation to an X-ray taken in the beginning). Danny leans in to pay his dealer, the tornado warning comes, and both are guarenteed an early demise.

Come to think of it, the whole movie can essentially be broken down to father and son. Larry's other daughter, a bespectled maybe-dropout (never really said) who spends all day washing her hair, stealing from his wallet, and saving for a nose job, his wife, above, all the economic problems he faces, criminal, personal, spiritual, they are all, as the young and short-sighted Junior Rabbi Larry first talks to (Simon Heldberg) says, they are all 'problems'. But Larry and Danny, they are the only ones these problems are projected at.

-Right. So. Now I don't know. I'm tired, I'm confused, I'm not in the mood for big-picture shit. I just wanna see Toy Story 3.

9 comments:

Marc Edward Heuck said...

Great new reading on the movie. I had read a lot of speculation on Larry Gopnik bringing his own destruction by taking the bribe, but I hadn't considered that Danny was just as culpable by flouting authority a second time with his earphone radio. Good call.

June 19, 2010 at 8:25 PM
You Finally Added Me! :) said...

Please don't compare Donnie Darko to A Serious Man. I would I have thought you of all people would have seen through Darko and realized what a trite and smug film it is, okay?

June 20, 2010 at 6:42 AM
Simon said...

Marc: Thank you :)

Frank: I'm not comparing, I'm saying that they both make me come up with a million different theories about what's going on.

And I like it, kay?

June 20, 2010 at 7:42 AM
James D. said...

I didn't read the final scene as the demise of Danny at all, but it did not make any sense to me otherwise. I need to watch it again.

June 20, 2010 at 11:53 AM
Yojimbo_5 said...

I think it was Michael Chabon who came up with the definitive answer to "A Serious Man," but I'm not providing a link to it, because that would be spoiling your search for you.

So we'll leave it at that.

Can't wait for the Coens' version of "True Grit."

June 20, 2010 at 1:31 PM
Aaron Weiss said...

I wrote an extensive essay about A Serious Man (http://www.cinemafunk.com/film-criticism/serious-man-revisited.html). My opinion: Larry knows the answers to his struggles using mathematics, yet never applies them to his life. The first quote of the film: "Receive with simplity everything that happens to you" in someways says it all. The Uncertainty Principle is discussed by Larry in that we truly never know what is going on. The tornado at the end refers to this principle, that life is uncertain, remain calm, accept it, conquer it.

June 21, 2010 at 7:20 AM
Chris, a librarian said...

Film deserved a larger audience.

June 21, 2010 at 10:58 PM
M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I've read a number of reviews where people argue that Larry's story is a modern-day version of Job's story, and that makes a lot of sense to me. The beyond-weird prologue, however, does not. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

In my opinion the final scene is kind of like a preview of things to come -- i.e., Larry, if you think things are bad now, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

June 22, 2010 at 9:01 AM
Simon said...

Yojimbo: I've found nothing.

Aaron: Interesting.

Chris: Duh.

M. Carter: I was watching the bonus features, in in one of them, The Coens explain that the opening is more of a opening cartoon than anything...like, they wanted to put in an old Jewish fable, but couldn't find one that fit the story, so they made one up. It has nothing to do with the movie, apparently. Which is weird, because the first thing I thought was 'These are Larry's ancestors, he is cursed'.

June 22, 2010 at 9:48 AM