Best Picture Profile: A Serious Man

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Company: Focus Features

Runtime: 106 minutes

.

I’m glad I was able to rewatch it.

The film is about Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics prfessor who started to have a series of problems in his life.

His wife Judith asks for a get (a spiritual divorce), hoping that she could be married to the clam widow Sy Abelman. His son Danny is having a problem with a classmate of his which he owes twenty dollars for marijuana while he is preparing for his bar mitzvah (ceremonial acceptance of responsibility of a teenager). His daughter is not really happy on what she looks like and does everything tat she can for her to look better by washing her hair in an abnormal cycle and plans on having a nose job.

His brother is busy on a theory that he believes could connect things up. His tenure is threatened to be denied by the committee because of an anonymous letter suggesting to deny him. A Korean student who failed in his class blackmails him by forcefully giving him money and threatens him of a  defamation case.

He was forced to move out of his house and stay at the Jolly Roger, a habitable motel. Judith took all the money in his bank account, leaving him with no money at all. His brother was arrested by police for gambling, solicitation, and sodomy.

All of these stack up to him, bringing him to self-despair, and eventually, a return to faith.

At my first watching of this movie, I really got annoyed and bored. Thankfully, I decided to rewatch it again for this post since I know that I have misjudged the film.

Anyway, it’s quite a fantastic film.

The direction is very  tight, as always. The Coen Brothers again proved to the world that they are one of the best directorial duos ever in the history of cinema with this one. There is something nerve-wrecking with the direction. Right from the weird opening of the film which effectively sets the mood of the movie, it’s already a tense ride. The direction keeps the whole movie in the feeling of uneasiness and discomfort. Those simultaneous and consecutive line readings just brings viewers to the edge of the seats.

The film started to lighten up a bit by its  second half, and as the lead character has started to have his life fixed, the direction starts to take it easy. As if it brings us to the feeling of the main character that everything goes wrong, and maybe, we could not just take it. Another thing to say is that it is so mature.

It’s a marketed as a black comedy, and maybe yes, but the approach of the direction is not to be meant as laugh-out-loud. Of course, some scenes are really funny, like the meeting of Larry and Sy at the restaurant discussing his transfer of residence to the Jolly Roger, or Judith asking for a get. But even then, I’d like to call it a drama with violent comedy with no violence. Sounds crazy? Yes, it is.

It’s like… ugh! I can’t explain it. It’s like the feeling that it hits the character and the story itself with humor that you can only see in real black comedies like Fargo. You know it really hits hard, but there’s no real violence. Maybe except for one brief and somewhat comical murder, there’s really none. So, there you go.

The script is, as they were always known for, brilliant. It still has those repetition of lines, but the lines are from various characters, and they’re all different. All those lines may sound just funny, but they tell a lot from the character. Like when Larry converses with his wife, he always asks “a what?” He’s honest in saying that, but you know it underlines his denial to the situation. He cannot accept the fact that she asks for a divorce, so it really is a confrontation not only of characters, but of the reality that the character must face but chooses to deny.

It has some seriously funny lines, like Judith referring to her relationship with Sy as “not about woopsy-doopsy” or when there is a practice shooting when the man said “Look! There’s a jew.” But seriously, the humor was put in place in a very dark and very gentle way that you will never feel that the humor blocks the drama of the story since it just comes out so naturally from the heart of this film which is the screenplay.

There is seriously some good cinematography in this film. It plays just naturally, but the screenplay offers some pretty interesting choices to interpret the very feeling the situation asks. One scene is when he was teaching a lesson in one ordinary class, but there is this very far shot, it’s a shot filled with students and him, standing behind a very big set of boards. I says a lot in there. Larry’s drowned himself by using what he has got. It’s like a metaphor in what’s happening to him – to his family, his work, his faith.

It also has a very beautiful ending shot. The tornado approaching Larry’s son is just a blinding beauty this film possesses because it speaks on a lot of levels – the beauty this possesses, the feeling of calmness or disorientation as we calmly watch the tornado come nearer. It’s a reflection of the decision that Larry did in the end of the movie.

The editing just gives this very on-the-edge feeling. Several chops of the film put together, and it’s very affecting already. The start of the film after the epilogue, the continuous intercut between Larry’s x-ray test and his son’s Jewish class, just plays normally, but it’s the editing that makes it unresting.

The sound couldn’t have been better. The musical score is minimal but pretty good. The songs used give the dark nature of the film. It all works so well.

The acting members of the film are all unknowns, but as a cast, they’re all excellent.

Michale Stuhlbarg brings a very nuanced portrayal of the central character. It’s a somewhat small leading performance, but he possesses the most central character of the film. The whole movie relies on him to make he troubles of Larry believable. Of course, the necessity that this character has is that there should be this feeling of awkwardness, but the thing is he should be approachable, kind, and someone we could sympathize. I don’t know if “approachable” is really the right word, but there is this feeling that his character gets isolated by all his turmoils in life but he needs a human connection. And I sense from him that he has it.

I love the way he handles his scenes – his telephone discussion about the Abraxas records, when he asks for help to the old rabbi, and when he shares a talk with a seductive neighbor. Anyway, I’m really glad that he got some accolades, because he deserves them all.

I love Sari Lennick. Actually, if you’ll just look at her character, she’s built on a stereotype, but delivering those fantastic line deliveries, I can’t really think of other people taking the role.

To sum this up, A Serious Man is a film to hate at first watching, but a second one may change a lot of things. I was planning for a 3.5 because it was accomplished, but totally inaccessible. Now, I don’t have those problems anymore because I care for it already.

For this, the movie gets:

4

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

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6 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: A Serious Man

  1. I think it was good too, although I think it wast not perfect. I felt not all the directorial flourishes such I think they over did with the dream sequences for example. I would not give it a five, but I would give a decent rating.

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  2. you see, I wouldn’t be glad to rewatch it. 🙂

    i didn’t like it the first time, even though it does have a style of its own. The highlight was Roger Deakins’ cinematography, but I guess that’s about it for me. In my book, it’s down there with The Blind Side.

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    • When I first ranked all the nominees for 2009, this was also with The Blind Side as the two lowest, but their grade were still far from each other.

      The cinematography is something everyone of us can appreciate, but the film itself is a love-or-hate movie, as I see it. I have read others and said this is their pick for best picture of 2009. I just hope you’ll like it one day. 🙂

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    • I really hope you will like it. Not that I want to overrate, but it’s really a great film.

      Maybe your first viewing would make you hate the movie, but there is really a magic when you watch it again.

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