True to form the Cohen brother’s latest film not only stretches the boundaries of modern day cinema but also unapologetically creates a world where the seemingly mundane is dissected to reveal a life that is anything but ordinary. Joel and Ethan Cohen expose the reality of middle-aged college physics professor Lawrence Gopnik by turning the darkly comic screws on a man struggling to come to terms with the recent turn of events.

A Serious Man follows a Gopnik through several weeks of suburban Hell, where every aspect seems to fall miraculously apart. This catastrophe forces one man to come to terms with his own mortality, as well as the notion of whether or not a positive outcome can exist at the end of this tumultuous road. A Serious Man portrays a life-altering struggle to a place where faith and gratitude become the sustainable aspect in the life a seriously troubled man.

 

The portrait of a devoted husband and father of two appropriately rebellious teenagers, Serious Man captures someone who relies on scientific knowledge, the stability of family, and Jewish tradition as a way to order the intricacies of daily life. As immediately as we are introduced to the weary yet content teacher, we are just as quickly thrust from a seemingly straightforward existence to a place where everything begins to slowly unravel as Larry’s youngest son approaches his pressure filled Bar Mitzvah.

After a short exploration into the world of ancient Judaism and Yiddish cultural comparison in the form a cinematic parallel, the film begins with the knowledge that Larry’s once solid marriage is suddenly over. This marital crisis inevitably sets the stage for a series of unsettling instances, including a disgruntled student willing to take action against a less then satisfactory grade, and a socially reclusive family member played by Richard Kind unable to sustain enough motivation to leave his chosen couch cushion inside the Gopnik family home.

The use of several relatively unknown actors gives the film a sort of raw edge that enables the audience to come to terms with the future of Larry Gopnik. This perfectly cast ensemble placed against the idiosyncratic details associated with the 1960’s Jewish Americana leaves the audience able to sympathize with a good man in some very terrible circumstances. For once a film explores the world of conservative and observant Judaism without placating the audience. The Cohen Brothers create a story that trusts the viewer enough to fill in the blanks regarding the religion without ever over-explaining every detail of the story line.

By choosing not to subtitle Hebrew School and footnote every Judaic reference, we are more inclined to engage in the story and trust that Larry’s need for religious guidance is absolutely necessary to his well-being. Although this failure to offer the thorough explanation of every reference as an option may alienate a certain demographic, A Serious Man is at the same time perfectly suited to its intended audience and addresses the subtle and ironic humor of the Jewish wit.

 

A Serious Man is a film that not only explores the details of one human life, but one that does so through the warmth and reverence of a man that cares more about the well-being of others then of himself. Michael Stuhlbarg embraces his role Larry as a confused yet stable man willing to swallow his sorrow for the sake of his wife and children. This masterfully crafted film may not break box office records or appeal to a mainstream audience, but will rightfully find a home with a group of individuals willing to take a deeper look into the life of a seemingly common man.

 

Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Wagner Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Amy Landecker

Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Runtime: 105 Minutes

Distributor: Focus Features

Rating: R

 

Read more about: