Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Serious Man

Don’t you want somebody to love?

Look at the poster. Larry on top of his roof, surveying all he sees, hands on his hips, unaware that he's completely dwarfed by the sky above.

A Serious Man is as you may have heard 90 minutes of unrelenting soul violence. It’s the Coen Brother’s bleakest movie, making No Country For Old Men seem like The Sound Of Music. It also happens to be the funniest movie The Coen’s have made since O’ Brother Where Art Thou.

When I watched the trailer which is practically a mini movie to itself (and which I liked so much I wrote a whole article on Coen Trailers). I was expecting something akin to The Man Who Wasn’t There.

A shaggy dog story basically, a private joke that happened to be shared with the world. And while there is a little bit of that here, the film that this really reminds me of is Barton Fink. The main difference being, that while Barton was a little twerp who was due for some karmic realignment, Larry Gopnick is a decent, albietly befuddled man. He’s not Barton convinced he’s the master of the universe, he’s not even Ed who made the mistake of showing a modicum of ambition in a Noir film. He’s just a normal guy who has the wrath of God poured on him for little apparent reason. Diddling in front of the giant blackboards that dwarf him, simply trying to prove that nothing can be proved. He just wants to live an uneventful life and suddenly there he is, his brother in handcuffs infront of the neighbors, having to explain to his son what Sodomy is.

I’ve never taken much truck with the view of The Coen’s as nihilists (Or their supposed condescension either but that’s another essay). They’re absurdists undoubtably, but no one who wrote Marge Gundersoon’s final monologue (Or dreamed up Uli and his crew for that matter) can be written off as something as simple minded and incurious as a Nihlist. Still Larry’s trials seem so meaningless.

The film is a tough one to analyze at least in part because it’s about the futility of analysis. The film’s kind enough to give you some keys in a prologue and a seemingly unconnected vignette a Rabbi tells about a Jewish dentist who finds a message written in Hebraic in a Goy’s teeth. In the opening Larry’s ancestor either stabs a helpless old man to death or slays a demon. In the vignette the dentist either receives and ignores a message from God, or perfectly sanely shrugs off a coincidence. Like Schroedinger’s cat who also makes an appearance, there’s really no way to be sure. Does Larry’s suffering have greater meaning? Is it all some sort of test? Or is it just absurd chance of a Godless universe taking its toll. In either case how dare anyone label themselves “Serious”.

But I’m making the movie sound like such a slog. Not doing justice to the magnificent prank that it is. The comic perfection of Larry’s son’s stoned Bar Mitzvah. Or the way that a simple oft repeated “Fucker” had the theater I was in in gales of laughter each time it was uttered. “He’s Thinking.” And the parking lot. Oh the glories of the parking lot.

Sure maybe the universe is Godless chaos, punctuated only by random horribleness. Maybe at the end of the day the wise Rabbi and the pop song contain the same amount of truth. But as long as they’re filmmakers like the Coen’s around, I believe I’ll stick around anyway.

1 comment:

Adrenaline said...

I just realized this is the first time the Coens have put out a movie in three straight years.

I really want to see this, but I haven't heard about it playing anywhere near me yet.