A Serious Man - someone wanna explain that to me?

We’ve been trying to work our way through most of the nominees, and last night was A Serious Man. I’ve always considered the Coen Bros somewhat of a hit or miss, and this was a pretty blatant miss in all respects. Someone want to explain to me why this is a best picture contender? Or lacking that, anyone able to tell me WTF was going on?

I found it very funny (maybe it helps if you’re Jewish), although overall confusing. Slate has some theories here; I particularly like their speculation as to what the ending means.

Because it’s a great film.

In the film? It’s about one man’s struggle to find meaning in the desultory nature of the universe.

Yep. I agree. I’ve seen it 3 times (in the theater) and like all Coen films, it gets better and better with each viewing. The last time I saw it it was part of a triple feature with Fargo and Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it was after the Oscar nominations had come out. I kept giggling in sheer delight that such a wonderfully bizarre, demented film (bizarre and demented in a wonderfully subtle way) was nominated for Best Picture. BEST PICTURE! I was grinning through the whole thing anyway, and I seriously did giggle often, when something bizarre would happen and I’d think “This is nominated for BEST PICTURE!” :smiley:

I so want to hug everyone who voted for it that made it get on the list.

Edit to add, I’m not Jewish btw.

I also think the Coen brothers are hit or miss and I consider A Serious Man to be a hit. I love black comedies and this was a good one. On the surface it appears to be a comedic take on the Book of Job. I’m sure it’s a lot deeper than that, but the film just works for me without me having to over-analyze it. I also am not Jewish.

I thought it was a good film, but I still don’t understand what the point of the opening scene was. Unless it was supposed to be symbolic of something which flew over my head, it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie…

To see if a person’s alive, sometimes you have to stick an icepick in them and see if they bleed. Either they’ll bleed and then get better, or they’ll wander off into the snow to die.

Larry Gopnik was living a normal suburban life until he started having all kinds of different icepicks stuck in him. Just when things were getting better…(no snowstorm, but it didn’t look good for Larry what with the doctor’s panic and the tornado).

Something like that. It works for me.

The opening scene was a retelling of the Jewish folktale about dybbuks. My interpretation is that Larry himself is a dybbuk, though unaware of it. The only explanation for the level of cruelty he experiences at the hand of those around him is that he is dead and being punished for some unknown transgression. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I just watched it on DVD (and I really enjoyed it). According to the Coen brothers on one of the special features, the folk tale at the beginning doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the main story. They just thought it would be nice to start out the film with an old Jewish folk tale, kind of like the cartoon before the feature. They also said that since they didn’t know any existing folk tales that they liked, they made one up, in the same way that they made up the “true story” that “Fargo” was based on.

My take on the opening is that it frames the question explored by the film: whether the supernatural has any role in our lives.

The husband and wife in the opening segment have decidedly different takes on the question. Larry spends the movie trying to figure out the answer. Is God manipulating our lives? Or is it all just random?

At least that’s what I got from it. But that was just one viewing. I’m sure additional viewings will yield more insight.

I thought it was a wonderful film. A modern, sharply observed, acidic and gleefully cruel re-fashioning of the Book of Job, with an elegant, mischievous script and wonderful performances from an outstanding cast.

I’m happy to take the Coens’ word for it that the prologue doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the main film; that it was just an overture piece that could possibly be seen as thematically related, but doesn’t have to be seen in that way. And it was beautifully shot.

I agree with the OP here, the movie did not do anything for me. And, in my opinion, did not deserve to be in the Best Picture category. But then, I seem to lack the genes to appreciate some of these off-beat movies. I disliked “Sideways” and loathed “Lost in Translation”.

Was there a single sympathetic chracter in the film? The main character was entirely passive. The ONLY thing he did was change the kid’s grade. But other than that, he just moped around. Did any other character do anything that merited your respect? Did anyone change/grow in any way?

So it was a movie about a bunch of boring, selfish mopes, who for whatever reason had a bunch of outrageous “misfortunes” (of their doing or not) occur in a short time. Ha ha - friggin hilarious. And great film-making to boot.

Not to pick on you, but, even if all that you stated is entirely true of the movie, that does not make it a bad movie. It just means the events and characters in the movie elicited a negative emotional reaction from you. From the film makers perspective, it worked, they were very successful.

The Coens were trying to elicit a spiritual discomfort, and they definitely did. How many movies deal with such philosophical themes with such dry humor?

Hey, no problem - pick away! I guess if they wanted to create a movie that caused me to not care what happened to any of the characters, they succeeded. I generally think of myself as the type who sees humor in a lot of dark and wry things - and I’m not remembering anything that made me even smile in this film.

It did not cause me any strong emotional reaction or discomfort - today, 2 days later I’m having a hard time remembering much specific about the film at all.

In my mind this fits in the category of “humor” of a Confederacy of Dunces. Many many folk consider it a comic masterpiece. Me, I would have preferred that Iggy got run over by a bus somewhere around page 5…

My SO loved it - I found it quirky and at times a little too contrived - but not unenjoyable.

I notice we’re not spoiler boxing anything –the ending’s already been revealed upthread- I’ll take a shot at this.

A lot of reviews see the movie as a modern-day retelling of the biblical story of Job. We see a character who experiences a great deal of adversity and in doing so, finds out who he really is. Throughout the movie, Gopnik encounters all of these difficulties, doesn’t understand why (he keeps asking: “Why is this happening? / Why is this happening to me?”) but he handles things without falling apart. At one point, he describes himself as a “serious” man which I took to mean a ‘real’ man, a fully-grown man.

He holds out to temptation until the end when he changes the student’s grade. He erases the ‘F’ and makes it a ‘C’ and then as an afterthought, adds a meaningless minus sign.

It’s at that moment that he seals his fate, God brings down his wrath with the phone call from the doctor with what is obviously dreadful news and we now see a tornado bearing down on his kid’s school.

So while our hero held out for as long as he could, in the end he reveals himself as not being above temptation and in giving in, he’s not quite the Job that we had hoped he might be.

Ok - apropropos of nothing - but I think it’s interesting that Gopnik is an anagram of Poking - as in how he has all these things poking at him like the ice picks - and we finally figure out the one that makes him scream.

I also think it’s interesting that he says he’s a “Serious man” as opposed to a happy man or a satisfied man. It’s kind of like the kind that protests repeatedly, “I’m not kidding, guys! I really mean it!”

His protestations are for naught, in the end he’s as hollow and un-serious as the dybbuk.

The only bad thing about this movie is that there were no actor/actress nominations. Instead we get Farmiga and the like.

Wasn’t Sy Ablemen the one termed the ‘Serious Man,’ not Gopnik? Gopnik’s repeated cry was that he hadn’t done anything, not that he was particularly serious. (I saw the film five months ago and may be misremembering.)