A Serious Man ~ (USA, 2009) ~ DVD

In Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest film, which takes place in 1967, a physics professor’s life seems to ne crumbling all around him. His wife wants to leave him for a recently widowed friend of theirs, his brother is a schizophrenic handful, his neighbor seethes with barely concealed anti-semitism, and he’s gotten himself into a bind with a Korean students family for his grading which he worries may result in his failing to achieve tenure. Other than that, life is good…

The movie opens in Yiddish with a folk-tale in the Jewish tradition which sets the tone for trouble ahead. Professor Larry Gopnick wonders why God is trying him so. What does it all mean? What’s going on? At one point in the film Larry, in a frenzy, has written upon a giant chalkboard in a huge lecture hall the formula for Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which proves, as Larry puts it, that one can never know “what’s going on”.  One answer comes in the form of an ancient Rabbi who quotes Grace Slick (“When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies…”). As good an answer as any.But there are others.

The 1967 look is one dimensional, but effective. This goes right down to the polio braces on one of the characters. Hell, it’s just possible that 1967 was a one-dimensional era. It’s a very “jewish” movie, taking a lingering, affectionate look at their culture and how it plays out in the mid-west. I suspect that the box-office appeal was reduced for this reason, but it’s a very human film, and missing out on it’s pleasures would be a shame.

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