A Serious Man

Written and directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Screening at FACT from 20th November 2009

Reviewed by Nadia Baha

Lawrence (Larry) Gopnik is a perfect citizen. He teaches science at university, is married, has two children (Danny and Sarah) and lives in a middle class suburb, nice houses, cut green lawn. It is 1967 somewhere in USA.

Before we get to know all this there is a sequence in Yiddish tells an old fable. First I thought I was in the wrong film, having seen the advertisements for it but in the end everything makes sense.

What seems to be the perfect middle class family turns out to be the opposite:Larry’s brother - who is a genius but socially inept - stays with the family, causing tension. He also gets in trouble with the authorities, because he doesn’t know the laws and rules of society. Larry's wife Judith wants a divorce, as she and Sy Ableman - an old friend of the Gopniks - want to be together. If that wasn’t enough, someone sends anonymous letters to discredit Gopnik, one of his students tries to bribe and blackmail him, his son smokes pot and his daughter is obsessed with looking good.

When Judith asks him to leave the house and live in a motel with his brother, things are going from very bad to extremely bad. He is haunted by nightmares and gets into more and more financial trouble, as he has to pay for all the legal advice. Gopnik goes from one Rabbi to another but no one can help him.Throughout the film he tries to “remind” himself and others that he is “a serious man”; he can’t understand why all of this has to happen to him.

It is a film about the 1960s in the USA, how life was life for a middle class family living far from San Francisco, no flowers in their hair in sight. But it is also a film about life itself, in the end, things that were important in the beginning are not important or far less than before. What is important in life? That is the question this film asks.

As it says in the beginning of the film:” "Receive with simplicity all the things that happen to you.” (Rashi, a Jewish scolar in the 12th century)

It sounds Buddhist and you should be cool, calm and collected, but sometimes it is very hard not to despair, as this brilliant film and his brilliant hero Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) show.

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