A Serious Man

Film

Comedy drama

A serious Man.jpg

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>5</span>/5

User ratings:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5
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Time Out says

Tue Nov 17 2009

Towards the end of the Coen brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski’, a black-clad German complains that a situation isn’t fair. ‘Fair?’ splutters Walter Sobchak (John Goodman). ‘Who’s the fucking nihilist around here?!’ Life isn’t fair for the lead of the Coens’ latest, ‘A Serious Man’, either: Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a mild-mannered mathematics professor in 1967 suburban Jewish Minnesota, is struggling with a crumbling marriage, alienated kids, a burdensome brother, malicious professional rumours, a siren neighbour and incessant calls from a mail-order record company. Unlike the nihilists, however, Larry has faith: he is a conscientious Jew and tries to be a serious man. So, to quote a Jefferson Airplane song from the film’s soundtrack, when the truth is found to be lies and all the hope within you dies… Then what?

Glanced at in many of the Coens’ earlier films, Jewishness is front and centre here, from the shtetl-set, Yiddish-speaking prologue to the hermetically Jewish community in which Larry lives. Drawing on the actual milieu of their own adolescence, the filmmakers – past masters of outré production design and sardonic genre subversion – play things relatively straight to tell a story that, for all its plentiful absurdities, is sincerely engaged with the challenge of unjust suffering. Bewildered, desperate, nose twitching in perplexity, Stuhlbarg’s Larry has been compared to Job; understandably, given his host of burdens and the setting’s Old Testament overtones. Yet Larry is perhaps closer to Kafka’s Josef K, another put-upon character who suffers an unwarranted ordeal without quite being heroic.

The Coens nod at some familiar stylistic tropes – florid swearing, sexual euphemism, crusty, aged characters – but the film’s potency is rooted in quiet precision and detailed realisation. Roger Deakins’s typically polished photography gives an oppressively hard edge to Midwestern suburbia while the sound design is a wondrous melange of soup-slurping, hacking coughs, gastric juices and ominous clanging. Stuhlbarg, a Tony-winning stage actor, leads a largely unknown but impeccable cast that also includes Sari Lennick as Larry’s no-nonsense wife, Fred Melamed as her smug, unctuous lover and Richard Kind as Larry’s sad-sack brother, forever draining a cyst on his neck.

Established religion offers Larry little consolation but the idea of faith, or at least good living, that emerges from his struggle matches the sensibility the Coens have unobtrusively espoused throughout their work: reject worldly status, bear trials with humility, find joy in fellow-feeling. Bad things happen to good people. To acknowledge – even, as storytellers, to embrace – this fact is not to indulge in nihilism, but to make more urgent the social task that might mitigate its effects. You better find somebody to love.
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Release details

UK release:

Fri Nov 20, 2009

Duration:

106 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

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  • 4 star:8
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:6
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|56
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mira-kira

Hardly anybody seemst to pick up on the line with which the (main) film starts- and that is the Schroedinger contradiction, that Larry eplains his students and which later in the film (when Say - in his dreams- hits Larry's head against the black board, exclaiming: "I am a serious man".) This to me is the key to understanding the film: There will always be a small uncertainty in life, that can not be proofed as either right or wrong. Neither religion or science (nor drugs) can clear this uncertainty up.Does it matter? Because in the end we all die. Accidents, tornado or illness - that brigs the only certainty there is. Brilliant film

mira-kira

Hardly anybody seemst to pick up on the line with which the (main) film starts- and that is the Schroedinger contradiction, that Larry eplains his students and which later in the film (when Say - in his dreams- hits Larry's head against the black board, exclaiming: "I am a serious man".) This to me is the key to understanding the film: There will always be a small uncertainty in life, that can not be proofed as either right or wrong. Neither religion or science (nor drugs) can clear this uncertainty up.Does it matter? Because in the end we all die. Accidents, tornado or illness - that brigs the only certainty there is. Brilliant film

jake

The only thing more boring than watching this film is reading the pretentious rubbish people write about it.

Toastman

This is a great review for a great movie. No, it is not the most exciting. This movie lacks explosions, violence, and outbursts of vulgarity. However this movie does offer a deep look into the complexities of everyday life: which very often can, and do, become overwhelming. Despite the fact that we are raised with the values of endless optimism, most of the time our life goes in whatever direction we had not planned. Still we are forced to live out the remainder of our days and manage the best we can. In other words, we have the power and freedom to make our lives better, and cannot rely on the false prophet's wisdom, but to the point this movie was made to fail. 1) This movie highly conflicts with our overinflated senses of self. 2) In a culture which is predominantly anti-intellectual, having people look a little deeper than the surface is asking far too much of most. (Not to mention their own fears of what they are and/or are not) 3) There is no happy ending. This movie provides a raw look at the absurdities of modern living. There is no feelgood, happy-go-lucky mood, but instead we are left with only an introspective yearning.Yes, it is not for everybody, but this movie was great because: it was unique, intellectually stimulating, and all the while humorous. (By the way you do not have to be Jewish to enjoy the film. Also if you look closely it can be seen as a paradox to Christian suburbia.)

Toastman

This is a great review for a great movie. No, it is not the most exciting. This movie lacks explosions, violence, and outbursts of vulgarity. However this movie does offer a deep look into the complexities of everyday life: which very often can, and do, become overwhelming. Despite the fact that we are raised with the values of endless optimism, most of the time our life goes in whatever direction we had not planned. Still we are forced to live out the remainder of our days and manage the best we can. In other words, we have the power and freedom to make our lives better, and cannot rely on the false prophet's wisdom, but to the point this movie was made to fail. 1) This movie highly conflicts with our overinflated senses of self. 2) In a culture which is predominantly anti-intellectual, having people look a little deeper than the surface is asking far too much of most. (Not to mention their own fears of what they are and/or are not) 3) There is no happy ending. This movie provides a raw look at the absurdities of modern living. There is no feelgood, happy-go-lucky mood, but instead we are left with only an introspective yearning.Yes, it is not for everybody, but this movie was great because: it was unique, intellectually stimulating, and all the while humorous. (By the way you do not have to be Jewish to enjoy the film. Also if you look closely it can be seen as a paradox to Christian suburbia.)

Peter Kellow

The Time Out review is spot on. Only thing to add is that it is the details that make this film so great to watch. The Coens are endlessly creative. The lacks of stars makes everything fresh. It is not everyone's cup of tea. But why bother to dump on it.

Peter Kellow

The Time Out review is spot on. Only thing to add is that it is the details that make this film so great to watch. The Coens are endlessly creative. The lacks of stars makes everything fresh. It is not everyone's cup of tea. But why bother to dump on it.

Kevin R

I was really hoping to enjoy this film and have enjoyed several Coen Brothers films in the past, but was sadly disappointed.

rich

i like intelligent and challenging films but only if they're not shockingly dull like a serious man. Lifes to short to watch films this boring.

whythenamecalling

claggers, you know the quickest way to completely delegitimize an argument you're making? By calling people who don't agree with you "stupid." I think the problem with this film was that it was trying too hard to be intelligent, considered and existential. Just because it tried to capture those themes doesn't in and of itself make it a successful film. It unfortunately failed miserably.

claggers

Obviously a galvanizing film – but it proves how dumb people have become if they think this is a boring film. It is not! It is intelligent, considered and existential (that's a big word I know – but look it up on Wikipedia dummies) : the Coen Brothers back to their best! Why do stupid people insist on reviewing films that are clearly out of their depth? Stick to Mama Mia and High School Musical: they're not "boring".

Justin Berkovi

Unfortunately I think the Coen Brothers have now long lost their shine. Whilst Blood Simple and Barton Fink were incredible films I just cannot enjoy the last few years of Coen productions. That the Time Out review of 'A Serious Man' is so good reeks of what I believe the Coen's have become - the darlings of the critics and not genuine cinema lovers. 'A Serious Man' is boring, contrived, tedious, in parts beautifully shot, badly paced, confused. In summary a huge let down. Cinema should be captivating - this is just dull beyond words. Do not waste your money renting the DVD or BluRay. Terrible. It gets one star for me for some of the colours being beautifully rendered.

Riley

I went and saw this film when it came out and thought it was boring as hell. Today, the person I went to see it with suggested going to see it again. Not because it was that good, but because they 'd forgotten that they'd seen it already. Enough said. WAAAAAY overrated. Yawn.

Mon

This movie is so so so boring.... i try to keep my eyes open and to the end - I was like What? i just wasted 2 hours watching the dump movie..

London7

I read the mixed review and decided to and see it myself! I enjoyed the last work of the Coen's so why not! I have to say it grab my attention from begingin till the end. I didn't see anyone leaving the cinema nor fallen asleep and started snoring. many of us burst out laughing through out the movie and I really enjoyed the movie. I am not jewish nor european still I understood more then I thought I would and found it funny. It was a feel good movie for the New Year. Maybe my life isn't that bad after all.....

London7

I read the mixed review and decided to and see it myself! I enjoyed the last work of the Coen's so why not! I have to say it grab my attention from begingin till the end. I didn't see anyone leaving the cinema nor fallen asleep and started snoring. many of us burst out laughing through out the movie and I really enjoyed the movie. I am not jewish nor european still I understood more then I thought I would and found it funny. It was a feel good movie for the New Year. Maybe my life isn't that bad after all.....

Jeremykyle

This film may well have a perfectly valid and intelligent point to make. However it should never have been made into a movie. This film is an interesting anecdote that could be told in a few minutes. I don't know who thought it needed to beade into a 2 hour long film but that person was clearly mentally I'll. No matter what anyone says this film is terminally boring. Anyone who denies this is simply lying. I'm not saying it wasn't well acted and I'm not saying it was pointless but I am saying it was boring; criminally so. And at the end of the day you have to make sure a film doesn't bore it's viewers. That's why this film gets 1 star. If I could give it minus stars then I would. No matter how intelligently conceived a film is, if it's this boring then it has failed.

Ricky

@ E A Dobson: I'd say, bring a book. Or better yet, a pillow, you're going to need it.

CoenFan

This film succeeds at several levels. At the first level, it is a brilliantly acted and subtle comedy, portraying the true awfulness and fraudulence of its targets (which comprise most of the characters, including two of the rabbis). At another level, it is a version of Voltaire’s Candide for our time: and on this I have to disagree with most of the other reviewers; Larry is not at all the main point of the film: he is simply there to provide a foil on which the other characters can fully develop and demonstrate their shallowness and selfishness. Incidentally, Larry himself is clearly on the autism spectrum, and is not necessarily a moral paragon: he is socially inept, and is a sitting target for the abuse and manipulation of others. This point is reinforced by the behaviour of his brother, who is on the extreme end of the autism continuum. This surely cannot be coincidence: it was intended to be part of the structure of the plot (note that autism, being gene-based, often runs in families). The fact that Larry’s behaviour is down to his social deficits and not to any intrinsic moral fibre is also made clearly enough by his final action in the film. But there is another aspect of this film, probably the most significant, which seems to have escaped everyone’s attention. This film is a powerful and devastating attack on Zionism, at least in the extreme and aggressive form that it has taken over the past four decades. The initial scene of the film, otherwise incomprehensible, must be a symbolic representation of Zionism as a character from the living dead, or a dybbuk. Its presence is a curse on the Jewish community. This theme is repeated in the film. Look in the background of Rabbi Scott’s office: there is a map of greater Israel. The film is set in 1967, the year of the Six Day War when Israel began its disastrous occupation of Arab territories. The Hebrew lesson has the children chanting their love of Eretz Israel, or the land of Israel. The term, which is technically neutral, has acquired links with the idea of Greater Israel and expansionism, and is now generally associated with the right wing in Israel together with the more aggressive elements of the settler community. There is a background of ‘Eretz Israel’ throughout this film. And the final symbol of the entire movie can only be the Coen brothers’ way of conveying the message in Hosea chapter 8, verse 7. If ever the Anti Defamation League figures out what the Coen brothers are up to with this film, I don’t envy them the hatred they will be subjected to by the Zionist zealots. This is a very courageous film.

CoenFan

This film succeeds at several levels. At the first level, it is a brilliantly acted and subtle comedy, portraying the true awfulness and fraudulence of its targets (which comprise most of the characters, including two of the rabbis). At another level, it is a version of Voltaire’s Candide for our time: and on this I have to disagree with most of the other reviewers; Larry is not at all the main point of the film: he is simply there to provide a foil on which the other characters can fully develop and demonstrate their shallowness and selfishness. Incidentally, Larry himself is clearly on the autism spectrum, and is not necessarily a moral paragon: he is socially inept, and is a sitting target for the abuse and manipulation of others. This point is reinforced by the behaviour of his brother, who is on the extreme end of the autism continuum. This surely cannot be coincidence: it was intended to be part of the structure of the plot (note that autism, being gene-based, often runs in families). The fact that Larry’s behaviour is down to his social deficits and not to any intrinsic moral fibre is also made clearly enough by his final action in the film. But there is another aspect of this film, probably the most significant, which seems to have escaped everyone’s attention. This film is a powerful and devastating attack on Zionism, at least in the extreme and aggressive form that it has taken over the past four decades. The initial scene of the film, otherwise incomprehensible, must be a symbolic representation of Zionism as a character from the living dead, or a dybbuk. Its presence is a curse on the Jewish community. This theme is repeated in the film. Look in the background of Rabbi Scott’s office: there is a map of greater Israel. The film is set in 1967, the year of the Six Day War when Israel began its disastrous occupation of Arab territories. The Hebrew lesson has the children chanting their love of Eretz Israel, or the land of Israel. The term, which is technically neutral, has acquired links with the idea of Greater Israel and expansionism, and is now generally associated with the right wing in Israel together with the more aggressive elements of the settler community. There is a background of ‘Eretz Israel’ throughout this film. And the final symbol of the entire movie can only be the Coen brothers’ way of conveying the message in Hosea chapter 8, verse 7. If ever the Anti Defamation League figures out what the Coen brothers are up to with this film, I don’t envy them the hatred they will be subjected to by the Zionist zealots. This is a very courageous film.

villardi

i'm really pleased this film has made us all debate its merits and engage in this way, it's been fun. There is no way it will get any Oscar nominations as it's uncomfortable, but it's worth ten 2010's (which I saw and enjoyed) Also liked A Christmas Carol which I saw with my kids, however if more fims are made in that animation style all actors will ever do is turn up in astudio and make their voiceovers. Wouldn't have worked well for Lawrence of Arabia!

Phil Clark

This is clearly the film equivalent of marmite. I'm in the love it brigade. Agree that it was like American Beauty. Only much much better, Don't agree you have to be or to understand Jewishness. Some people walked out of the cinema when I was there which is truly perplexing (but absolutely fine by me: they were whisperers). This and No Country for Old Men prove that the Coens are truly growing up as filmmakers. Can't wait for the next one.

Violetta

If the Coen's weren't Jewish this movie would garner more hate mail than Mein Kampf. The Coen brothers must have had a distasteful childhood to loathe their culture to this degree.

flix

Poor, poor Larry you'll just want to grab his collar and shake some sense into him. Larry is "fachadick" or confused. More than that he's the doormat that his shrew of a wife, TV obsessed son, ugly daughter,goy redneck neighbor, grasping lawyer, wife's suitor, sodomite brother and a bunch of rabbi put upon. Larry has everything going for him, he's a professor of physics just about to get tenure for life and he lives in a Levitt Town development with a hot brunette neighbour who sunbathes nude. But Hashem (God) is challenging Larry's life and sanity and no one has the wit or saichel to offer any sensible advice to help the poor sop. His whole life has become a kappora, a lost cause, a nightmare, a FU of monumental largeness - Larry is totally and utterly spineless. It's sort of amusing for a goy audience but I'm sure if you're Jewish you'll spring a hernia laughing - 6 outa 10 from me and 8 from my Jewish sister - mazel tov to you'll now.

mrPedantic

TO get the facts right Larry is a physics professor not a mathematics professor. If he had been I'd have enjoyed the film a lot more and given it 5 stars but hey it's tedious - just wait for the DVDrip.

flix

Poor, poor Larry you'll just want to grab his collar and shake some sense into him. Larry is "fachadick" or confused. More than that he's the doormat that his shrew of a wife, TV obsessed son, ugly daughter,goy redneck neighbour, grasping lawyer, wife's suitor, sodomite brother and a bunch of rabbi put upon. Larry has everything going for him, he's a professor of physics just about to get tenure for life and he lives in a Levitt Town development with a hot brunette neighbour who sunbathes nude. But Hashem (God) is challenging Larry's life and sanity and no one has the wit or saichel to offer any sensible advice to help the poor sop. His whole life has become a kappora, a lost cause, a nightmare, a FU of monumental largeness - Larry is totally and utterly spineless. It's sort of amusing for a goy audience but I'm sure if you're Jewish you'll spring a hernia aughing - 6 outa 10 from me and 8 from my Jewish sister - mazel tov to you'll now.

villardi

Replying to Bill, I partly agree with you and in the terms you use it isn't a 'great' film, but I still contend it's a very good dark comedy. You didn't have to be a ex Vietnam vet to enjoy The Deer Hunter, but if you were it added to the resonance, And I'm not american, I'm English mate!

villardi

Replying to Bill, I partly agree with you and in the terms you use it isn't a 'great' film, but I still contend it's a very good dark comedy. You didn't have to be a ex Vietnam vet to enjoy The Deer Hunter, but if you were it added to the resonance, And I'm not american, I'm English mate!

Bill

@ villardi, Dec 03 2009 13:49 Truly amazing movies transcend race, sex, religion and geography. While the film may have appealed to a very specific audience, it failed as a truly great film to connect with all viewers and left many not caring what ultimately happens to the protagonist.

JC Spring

Absolutely terrible. Unwatchable. Six people left after the first half hour I was the seventh. If you come from a Jewish American background it may appeal but for the rest of us I suggest visiting the dentist, taking up curling or doing anything other than wste your time watching this self indulgent borefest.

villardi

iI can understand some people walikng out or giving the film one star, if they just don't get it. iIm jewish and boy do I get it in spades. This film is a kind of black comedic masterpiece which anyone could enjoy for its acting, wry humour and fabulous cinematography, but to really know what's at the heart of the fim you have to understand the Jewish mentality, which is to say to yourself, if everything in my life is good I'm very worried about what's just about to go wrong. The hero of this film has almost everything going wrong through no fault of his own and we wonder if anything is ever going to go right. To find out, go see this great movie.

villardi

iI can understand some people walikng out or giving the film one star, if they just don't get it. iIm jewish and boy do I get it in spades. This film is a kind of black comedic masterpiece which anyone could enjoy for its acting, wry humour and fabulous cinematography, but to really know what's at the heart of the fim you have to understand the Jewish mentality, which is to say to yourself, if everything in my life is good I'm very worried about what's just about to go wrong. The hero of this film has almost everything going wrong through no fault of his own and we wonder if anything is ever going to go right. To find out, go see this great movie.

Don Boyd

This is a wonderful film from so many perspectives: it deals in ideas and poses questions that engage all of us - is there a God?; do we have any control over our day to day life?; does religion have any point?; does science provide any answers for us?; should we bother?; how important is the family? The list is endless. And amazingly the film entertains as much as it engages. So funny at times; and so poignantly - the subplot which deals with the main character's relationship with his dysfunctional brother is truly gut wrenching at times - a scene by the empty swimming pool of a sleazy motel called The Jolly Roger is as tragic as a dream about a jounrney to a land of milk and honey in canada is hiarrious and touching! On an artistic level it is gloriously cinematic - expected when such talent is involved - the Coens and Roger deakins are never disappointing - but refreshing all the same. And without a second of any heavy handed posturing, the film shows a Jewish community trying to come to terms with its existence in 50's suburban Americana is worthy of any of the great films which handle prejudice. The rituals of jewish society are shown from the insider's point of view - no annoying smugness; and equally many memorably evocative reminders of the vicissitudes of communal solidarity - the paranoia, the frustrations, the desperate desire to make everything work. Who can resist a funny affectionate profound film which has a teenager on pot during his Barmitzvah, a senior Rabbi hip to rock'nroll who looks somewhat like a Hasiidc version of the Wizard of Oz, and a hero, A Serious Man. who spends most of the film dealing with the facts that he is a cuckold, his family is a mess, and that his career as a math professor is in jeopardy. All set at the time that the American Dream was turning into a Nightmare. A great movie.

Don Boyd

This is a wonderful film from so many perspectives: it deals in ideas and poses questions that engage all of us - is there a God?; do we have any control over our day to day life?; does religion have any point?; does science provide any answers for us?; should we bother?; how important is the family? The list is endless. And amazingly the film entertains as much as it engages. So funny at times; and so poignantly - the subplot which deals with the main character's relationship with his dysfunctional brother is truly gut wrenching at times - a scene by the empty swimming pool of a sleazy motel called The Jolly Roger is as tragic as a dream about a jounrney to a land of milk and honey in canada is hiarrious and touching! On an artistic level it is gloriously cinematic - expected when such talent is involved - the Coens and Roger deakins are never disappointing - but refreshing all the same. And without a second of any heavy handed posturing, the film shows a Jewish community trying to come to terms with its existence in 50's suburban Americana is worthy of any of the great films which handle prejudice. The rituals of jewish society are shown from the insider's point of view - no annoying smugness; and equally many memorably evocative reminders of the vicissitudes of communal solidarity - the paranoia, the frustrations, the desperate desire to make everything work. Who can resist a funny affectionate profound film which has a teenager on pot during his Barmitzvah, a senior Rabbi hip to rock'nroll who looks somewhat like a Hasiidc version of the Wizard of Oz, and a hero, A Serious Man. who spends most of the film dealing with the facts that he is a cuckold, his family is a mess, and that his career as a math professor is in jeopardy. All set at the time that the American Dream was turning into a Nightmare. A great movie.

KDinLondon

First movie I ever walked out of. Viscerally loathed it. Ugly to look at, no sympathetic characters, predictable spiral of decline. Hated it, hated it, hated it.

Gobinder

Remarkable film telling it as life is and no happy ending either. It will not be to everybody's taste, but wil provoke and stay in your consciousness for a while.

mike

I enjoyed this very much. It had a lot of the awkward, dark humour that the Coens are know for. Nothing pseudo intellectual about it, just a man trying to make sense of the things that happen to him in his life, probably like most of us go through from time to time. I could understand someone using the pseudo intellectual line on Michael Haneke's films, like The White Ribbon (even though I liked that one too), but I don't see that applying to A Serious Man. The lack of empathy in some of these reviews is probably due to the Coen's particular style, which can be off-putting or distracting to some. Fair enough.

nathan

One of my favorite Cohen's movie. After the public success of No Country for Old men, The Cohens are making a more intimate and personal movie. Loved it!

nathan

One of my favorite Cohen's movie. After the public success of No Country for Old men, The Cohens are making a more intimate and personal movie. Loved it!

Matthew McKinnon

Who is Usman Khawaja? When will he learn to read and write properly? Why aren't these comments moderated in some way, so that Time Out's readership don't look like retards? I didn't know what to make of A Serious Man, but I liked it.

Gloria

pseudo-intellectualism at its worst. Maybe Ken Peggs below is correct, the movie/joke is only good and makes sense if you watch the last 15 seconds. Well, I don't think I have to be tortured just to get there, and in fact, decided it wasn't worth it as I walked out of the movie as well. Question for Rick, were in the movie or something? Or is your last name Coen? Otherwise, I think you might need help removing that pole from your arse. People are allowed to not like a movie darling.

tobster

This was so boring and pointless that it actually started to give me a headache. Tries too hard to be quirky and ends up being irritating.

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