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November 27th, 2009 at 2:23:39 AM permalink
According to' rel='nofollow' target='_blank'>] A Serious Man is the 18th Coen Brothers movie. I've either liked or loved all of them all that I have seen, as follows:

Loved: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?
Liked: Raising Arizona, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink

A Serious Man definitely falls in the "liked" list, and on the low end of it.

A Serious Man is basically a retelling of the Book of Job, set in 1967. A college professor was probably leading a decent life, when suddenly everything seems to go bad all at once. He then seeks out guidance through his temple or synagogue (I've never understood the difference), and gets no useful help at all.

This is not a plot heavy movie by any means. Like the other Coen Brothers movies, the texture is rich and heavy. They obviously tried hard to bring back the year 1967, perhaps deliberately trying too hard for dramatic effect. This was perhaps the funniest movie since The Big Lebowski, but it seemed like the non-Jewish audience (including me) didn't get half the jokes. The other half erupted in laughter at lines that fell totally flat on me.

The pacing of this movie is very slow. I must confess checking my watch several times. With Coen Brothers movies, I often don't appreciate the first viewing much, but find I get more out on repeat viewings. This will probably be the case here. One thing that might help the non-Jewish audience would be to have a list of Yiddish words from the movie and what they mean. Sometimes you can pick it up from context, but the movie would be more enjoyable if I wasn't concentrating on adding to my Yiddish vocabulary at the same time.

Both the Book of Job and A Serious Man deal with the question of why good things happen to bad people. Neither answer the question to my satisfaction. The answer from the book of Job seems to be that at least in that case of Job it was because god and devil had a bet on it. A tie-in between the beginning of the movie and scenes with the high Rabi suggest a someone less than profound reason in A Serious Man, but I won't blow the movie for those who haven't seen it by postulating anything.

The character of Sy Ableman reminded me a great deal of one of my roommates in college. He was always smiling in a self-righteous way, and professed to have an answer to every mystery of life, and gave it to you whether you wanted to hear it or not (which was always the case). The mannerisms were eerily similar. The first day I spent after our Isla Vista lease was up was one of the happiest of my life.

Another plot point that ran true to me was the fighting with Columbia House. The first time I did their stupid deal I returned CD's I didn't want, and had to write letters to get them to reverse the charge. After a bad first experience, I repeated it many times, every time I moved. BMG too. The secret is to complete your required purchase immediately, and reject side deals and premium membership offers.

If you are looking for an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people, I don't think you'll get it from the movie. Neither did I ever get an answer from years spent in church in my younger years, in a variety of different sects. This is getting off topic from the movie review, but the conservatives generally said that bad things happened to mankind due to sin, and everybody got hit to some degree, in the same way that both saints and sinners get wet when it rains. The liberals had a more feel-good answer, that some greater good would come out of it in the end, that we couldn't see yet. Both of those explanations I find completely unsatisfying, but I digress. If the movie is to be believed, at least in my interpretation, if there is a reason, it is an absurd one.

My rating on a 0 to 10 scale -- a 7.
"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow." -- Ecclesiastes 1:18 (NIV)
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November 27th, 2009 at 5:15:59 AM permalink
Quote: Wizard

The answer from the book of Job seems to be that at least in that case of Job it was because god and devil had a bet on it.

Now that's the kind of Bible Teaching I expect from the Wizard!! gotta love it!
the next time Dame Fortune toys with your heart, your soul and your wallet, raise your glass and praise her thus: “Thanks for nothing, you cold-hearted, evil, damnable, nefarious, low-life, malicious monster from Hell!”   She is, after all, stone deaf. ... Arnold Snyder
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January 23rd, 2010 at 6:23:25 PM permalink
Quote: Wizard

Loved: Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?
Liked: Raising Arizona, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink

* The Ladykillers (2004) : Liked but not amazing. A remake of an old movie with Laurence Olivier
* Intolerable Cruelty (2003): Liked but this their most commercial and least satisfying movie
* The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): Liked good acting by Paul Newman
* Blood Simple. (1984): Loved this movie

A serious man seems to be the most personal movie they have produced so far. It is slow and mysterious at times, but you forgot to mention that the quality of the acting is excellent. The underlying violence is always prevalant.

But Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou? are much more approachable, because of their offbeat sense of humor. It cuts the tension a lot.

With 10 nominations for best picture this year, it is a likely candidate.
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