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The Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN

Though the rest of A SERIOUS MAN is set in late 60s suburbia, the Coen brothers take us first to a snowy night in Yiddish-speaking old country for a little morality tale. The tale, however, is less morality and more of a warning that no matter what, no matter how ludicrous and illogical she may be, the wife is always right. Flash forward to the Minnesota suburbs in 1967 where Larry Gopnik (in an incredible performance by Michael Stuhlbarg) is a middle-aged math teacher with two bratty kids and a math whiz brother (Richard Kind) who sleeps on the couch and spends most of the day draining a cyst on his neck. It’s not exactly ideal and Judith (Sari Lennick), his wife, wants a divorce. So begins the downward spiral that will consume Larry’s life.

A divorce is one thing, but like her old country predecessor, Judith demands, with her lover Sy (Fred Melamed) beside her, that Larry and his brother move out of the house and into the Jolly Rodger Motel. Larry is dismayed and perturbed, but to the Jolly Rodger he goes. Meanwhile, at work, a Korean student may be blackmailing him, someone is sending letters to the Tenure Committee defaming his moral character, and the guy from the Columbia Record Club won’t stop calling. Like a good Jew he seeks the counsel of his rabbi. In fact, he spends the rest of the movie being kicked from one rabbi to another, knee deep in legal fees, completely lost and forlorn, but things start to level out at his son’s Bar Mitzvah, a hilarious scene I won’t spoil here.

What makes the mid-life crisis plot line work so well here (aside from great characters, great writing and great acting) is the fact that Larry doesn’t just have one problem that if he can only locate and fix, his life will shift back into place. Things may have started to go wrong with the divorce, but by the end of the film that’s the least of his worries. His life is messy, but gradually, and without any kind of Hallelujah moment, we start to see a glimmer of hope for him (a very dim one; He’s still living at the Jolly Rodger). Larry is plodding his way through what he probably thinks is the biggest crisis he’ll ever have to deal with and afterwards, certainly, things will settle down. But if he’s learned anything about Hashem it’s that he works in mysterious ways. When one problem is cleared up, what’s to stop another from taking its place?

A SERIOUS MAN opens Oct. 2nd