A Serious Man
is really fucking unpleasant to spend time with in the same
way as a meth-head trannie. It's pretty to look at and you want
to like it, but it has almost nothing to say and it's pretty
Goddamn loud and incessant in saying it. This movie is like
some sort of dare by the Coen Brothers to see how far they can
push a single note before an audience's teeth bleed.
What you get in A
Serious Man is a movie full of Coen fetish. On the plus
side, it has perfect staging, setting, pacing, color and acting.
On the bad side, it all sums up to a big, fat, rolling donut.
It's based on an ancient story, that of Job, from the Old Testament.
Job was a guy used by God and the Devil. God's all smug and
thinks job's a righteous dude. The Devil says, "Nah, he's just
being good because he's afraid of you." The Big Guy gives Dracula's
pop the go ahead to see how far he can push Job to prove he's
just decent for decent's sake. Like Virginia Woolf said, God
doesn't come off too well. He's sort of a dick.
That's a pretty good
premise for a movie, right? Seems like it would be to me, except
for the fact that the Job character is pushed and pulled by
outside forces and responds passively. He just keeps asking
"Why?" The real problem with A Serious Man, though, is
not passivity; it's that the Coens fuck it up beyond watchability
by reducing every character to a sharp-focused, single-dimensioned
asshole meant to bitterly and shallowly chronicle slights they
remember from their childhood. The story-telling and the characters
are paper-thin, more designed to bitch about the Coens' upbringing
than relate the story of Job. Really, the movie adds nothing
to the biblical story; it only places it in a 1967 Minnesota
suburb and surmises that we're all fucked by forces beyond our
control. Just like Job.
plays the modern-day Job, a physics professor with a wife and
two kids. He's a little uptight, Job-like in his upright standing,
and, well, that's all we know about him. He isn't fleshed out
beyond that. The Coens don't give a rip about him other than
to put him through the paces, the way fourteen high-school football
players would with a passed-out cheerleader. So, maybe they're
playing God here. And they too don't come off too well. Not
to say God would date rape a cheerleader, of course. But really,
I don't know. I've never met him. At the least, he would let
In short order, Stuhlbarg
finds his stolid middle-class suburban existence collapsing
like a shit souffle. His harpie wife (Sari Lenick) ditches him
for an unctuous lard-ass. His son is more into Jefferson Airplane
and F-Troop than paying attention in class, and his abrasive
daughter steals his money to save for a nose job. His next door
neighbors are: anti-semitic macho hunters encroaching on his
land and an estranged hottie who sunbathes naked. His brother
is some sort of idiot-savant with a sebaceous cyst.
Besides the surprise
divorce, Stuhlbarg is being bribed/blackmailed by one of his
students, and someone anonymously is sending nasty notes about
him to the tenure committee at school. He gets into a car crash,
has to pay for the funeral of the man his wife was leaving him
for, and is way overdue in fees to the Columbia Record Club,
which he didn't even know he belonged to. It's a shitstorm of
menial and major inconveniences. All of this drives Stuhlbarg
to ask three rabbis what he should do. Like Job's friends, two
give him hollow answers that are more about themselves than
him. The other doesn't even give him the time. The reason is
because, well, none of them have a fucking clue. Nobody does.
The explanation is: God does what he wants, basically, and you
can go along with it, or you can change your perspective until
you find satisfaction. Nobody advises him to react.
Stuhlbarg keeps on
the straight and narrow for most of the movie. Yet, the injustices
pile up like free newspapers in the driveway of that house down
the street that's starting to smell weird. No matter what, though,
you're screwed. Finally, with financial and familial pressure,
he accepts the student's bribe. And, he's still fucked. The
point is, there are unseen forces out to screw you no matter
what you do. No matter how clearly Stuhlbarg can define certainty
in his physics class, it's meaningless because of invisible
This conclusion is
cute, not profound. That's especially true since there is little
philosophically in A Serious Man that expands on what
some dude wrote a few thousand years ago. All the Coens do is
bring the story up to the 1960s and wrap it up in this fetishized
version of what they remember as a shitty, suffocating childhood.
That is where the
movie dumps its load on your face. Every character feels like
a caricature of someone who crossed their paths. Insular to
their experience and too much a stereotype to be relatable.
Not a single character gets a soul or anything interesting to
say. Nobody gets to have a house or an object that isn't either
tacky or drab. Nobody, not even their main character, has a
deep thought. In the Coens' world, they think they're the only
people who have them.
The characters don't
get to have a reason to exist or a brain in their heads that
isn't singularly focused on being a dick. None of that is because
the story needs it that way. In fact the story would be far
more profound and enjoyable if the characters were deeper and
yet shit still happened. It's because the Coens are whiny little
bitches. Far more interested in the bitter little pockets of
fat left in their heads since childhood than in giving us a
rich or expansive experience. They aren't entertaining, they're
A Serious Man
approaches grand ideas about certainty, control over destiny,
the invisible hand that may or may not move us through life
and the cost of assuming good equals complacent. But it doesn't
have any more to say about the ideas than this paragraph, and
less than Job. All the movie does is bring the concepts up and
then filter them through weak, awful caricatures that reveal
more about the Coens' smugness than the human condition.
I can't believe from
my own experience that all Jews are as stereotypical as the
ones in this movie. The movie is full of types you've seen before,
but not in Isaac Bashevis Singer and Philip Roth stories. Think
more like sitcoms and Chaim Potok -- cheap pop culture shit.
In particular, any Philip Roth book is much deeper, more profound
and funnier. His novels give a deeper understanding of Jewish
feelings of persecution, paranoia and guilt. Hell, how many
times did Zuckerman get acted upon by outside forces, like anti-semites
The Coens learned
little from Job. Their story starts with a drab man and ends
with a drab man being fucked no matter what. It's a short trip,
unpleasant and empty from beginning to end. Two Fingers
for A Serious Man.
to tell Filthy Something?