Nov 22, 2009

A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen do many things extremely well. But the one thing they do to almost perfection is never waste a frame. So they prove once again in their latest film A Serious Man. This strong and direct film is pitch perfect. Each scene has a reason to exist and is neither too short nor too long. There is such care in each frame of each scene that to watch a Coen Brothers film is an entirely pure cinematic experience. It also helps when you can call on again the expert cinematography of Roger Deakins. This only adds to the overall experience. You see, great acting plus great script plus great direction and cinematography equals high cinema art.

A Serious Man tells the story of the besieged Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg). In 1960's suburban Minnesota, Gopnick is a college professor whose life is being thoroughly tested. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) has announced she is leaving Larry for Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). His two children Danny and Sarah are insolent and difficult and he is also unsure if his job will survive another week. Being part of a Jewish community he is also often instructed to seek the 'wisdom' of the Rabbis. However this does not help too much as they only offer riddles and superstition, leaving Larry bereft and devoid of ideas and inspiration. This film apparently draws upon the childhood experiences of the Coens. If so, they paint a fairly bleak picture of religious and societal barriers and restraints, where the only means of escape was listening to Jefferson Airplane. Even though there is the usual black Coen humour instilled in this film, this is definitely their most personal and serious film to date. Once again some characters are almost hyper real, but there is still a strong base of realism. Especially in the protagonist Larry Gopnick. I felt a major amount of empathy for him, a tribute to the work of Stuhlbarg. In fact the cast, with no star names, is uniformly excellent. This allows you to focus on the subtext and meaning of this substantial work. It certainly left me rewarded and fulfilled.

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