A Serious Man is the film many Jewish fans of the Coen
brothers have always wanted them to make. Jewishness has
always lurked in the shadows and subtexts of their other
films, but A Serious Man is a full-on, in-your-face,
kiss-my-tuchis Jewish film, and has been hailed as their
“Jewish masterpiece”. But I wonder: is it truly kosher?
It was Susan Sontag who claimed “Jewish moral
seriousness” was one of the principal forces of the modern
sensibility. And A Serious Man raises very serious questions
about how we are to make sense of a senseless existence.
But remember, this is the Coen brothers, for whom
seriousness is a kind of sin. They have not rediscovered and
set out to celebrate their Judaic roots. No, Joel and Ethan
remain postmodern pranksters who confront a meaningless
universe, not with fear and loathing, but a big, goofy grin.
A Serious Man is certainly the most autobiographical of
their works. It was shot in the suburban Minnesota where
they grew up. But this is not their story: it’s a tale of
a latter-day Job called Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a
physics professor who is tormented by loved ones, by life or
maybe even God.
Poor Larry. His wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), has fallen for
the slimy Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) and wants a divorce. His
thieving pothead son, Danny (Aaron Wolff), about to have his
bar mitzvah, fights with his sister, Sarah (Jessica
McManus), who wants a nose job. And Larry’s useless
brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), sleeps on th