Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Serious Man

"Let's have a good talk."

This film made me laugh. In fact, just thinking about it now makes me laugh, and looking at the photo above makes me laugh. A Serious Man succeeds in that very subtle and pointed humor that attacks the art of observation and absolutely delights this audience of one.

It's also the type of film that benefits from rewinding, and rewinding I did. I have been sitting in front of my tiny television for the past two nights and three mornings gawking at the brilliance in the details-- the written telephone messages ('Let's have a good talk'), the exasperation (he doesn't look busy!), the deliberate retro phrasing (Whoopsie doopsie, The Jolly Roger, Columbian Record Club, 'wash my hair')-- the Coen Brothers nailed it, my friends.

I read a review somewhere that likened Michael Stuhlbarg to Eugene Levy. I disagree wholeheartedly. While Levy's characters tend towards 'aloof', Stuhlbarg's Larry Gopnick was sincere, grounded, and the only character in the entire film rooted in reality. He is Michael Bluth in a room full of--- Bluths. (ha.) He is Odysseus charting a path through a sea of fools in search of a generous and unseen understanding.

It's this grasping for answers without a single voice of reason that carries the momentum of this seemingly endless race. Larry continues to seek help, but receives only useless--albeit comical-- answers. Yet the brilliance of the Coen Brother's lens is that the nonsensical advice is delivered with such direct articulation that we are satisfied instead of squirming. The lack of direction works.

I am still completely mystified by the I Think We Should Start Talking About A Divorce conversation and its swift delivery. Both supporting characters-- Judith Gopnick and Sy Abelman-- work to overwhelm Larry with authority and reason. They ease Larry out of his own home using nothing but soothing platitudes and sharp execution. It's brilliant.

These sirens, monsters, and shepherds (hot neighbor; Sy Abelman; lady with crutches in the park) work together in guiding Larry back to a place of simple being. And we, as an audience, eventually land there too. For if we stop seeking answers, we eventually won't need them (But helping others... couldn't hurt.)

That said, I was confused by the ending. The film stops short upon two major additions to the story-- the first is what we assume to be cancer, and the second is a massive black tornado headed directly into a school yard. It wasn't until hearing Fred Melamed's take that the ending it not only made sense but also carried a profound resonance. Melamed said in a fantastic interview that the ending sends you back into the movie. That by leaving the film in this fashion, we take the characters with us. It stays in some part of our brains as we reenter our own serious lives.

I initially had no real intention of seeing A Serious Man, despite my extreme excitement for its filming location (Um Ya Ya!). But upon hearing the phrases 'the best film of 2009', 'my favorite film of 2009' and 'second favorite Coen film of all time' repeated as often as that damn Jefferson Airplane song (Don't you want somebody to loooove) I gave it a go. And NOW I have to rethink my entire years worth of movie watching, as A Serious Man just might have to kick Up in the Air from the top of my favorite list. Can I do that to dear Clooney and his slick roller suitcase!? Gahhh, I might have to. Nailing it down: so important.

(***Note: AMANDA, you have to see this film, if only to recount our days of 8am Human Bio with Alan Ernst in the old Science Center lecture hall. 'Sarah, how do you think I'm doing as a professor? Do you think I'm good at this?' Swoon.)


Lauren said...

I saw this movie with a friend's (teenaged) nephew (among other people) -- several minutes into the Yiddish at the beginning, he leaned over and said, "Are we in the right movie??"

And OMG Alan Ernst. Sarah and I took his class together, before we were friends, and both flirted with him kiiiiiind of shamelessly.

Sarah said...

I know, I'm still in love with him, I'll just admit that. ALMOST as in love as I was with Poli Sci prof Bill Gordon, who asked me to help him move. Remember THAT story?! Man, I miss college.

(Alan, are you out there?!)

Lauren said...

I just looked for him on facebook. No go. But my word verification for this post is MILOGY which, if you think about it, is basically biology, but with different letters.

Anonymous said...

So well written! And Melamed's so right about the ending--and how refreshing for a relatively mainstream film to just disappear without resolution like that, which epitomizes Larry's journey: no answers, only the maddening loose ends that tangle everyone up in life. There's no "key" to "getting" why A Serious Man is so stunning, but at the same time there's so much contained in that one line spoken by Clive's father as they argue outside in Larry's driveway: "Please. Accept the mystery."

Sarah Meyer said...

I have only seen the trailer and it is brilliant!!!!!