Coen brothers' A Serious Man: anyone seen it?

Has anyone seen this new movie yet? It’s gotten some good reviews.

It’s opening in Toronto in a week’s time and I will be there for the first showing that my job will allow.

I had an in to get tickets for it at TIFF (Toronto Film Fest) but work got in the way and I missed the screening.

I’m curious to see what others think, I know Ebert and AO Scott liked it and that’s who I usually go to.

I saw it today, it was good but pretty dense. As someone who hasn’t had a great deal of exposure to American Jewish culture, I found there was a bit of a learning curve to a lot of what they were talking about. I would imagine that someone who was raised in a Jewish community would be laughing the entire time at all the little things they recognize.

Overall, it had some of the usual Coen brother style stuff in it with a plot that is both silly and intricate. And once again, I left the theater having to think about it over and over again to try to figure out exactly what happened.

I saw it. I think I may need to see it again.

I have tried reading several reviews and none have told be what I need to know. In short, what sort of film is it? In particular, what sort of Coen brothers film is it?

Is it a light comedy (“Raising Arizona”), dark comedy (“Fargo”), or bad comedy (“The Ladykillers”)? With all the Book of Job references it sounds like it might even be a darker film (“Blood Simple”/“No Country for Old Men”).

Some of the reviews I’ve read are so badly done they should be used in a course on “How not to write a movie review.” What makes this film so hard for reviewers?

Peter Travers classifies it as a very dark comedy.

One with very few laughs.

I like nearly everything the Coen Brothers have done (save for Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers) but this one just left me cold. I don’t mind the lack of a coherent plot, or wacky chariacturization, or a rambling storyline, but a film that just stops in almost literally mid-sentence is an ill not to be borne. Yes, I know the story of Job and Lot and I get all the references, and yes, the eternal quest to seek for universal answers that don’t exist is suitably absurd fodder for comedy, but the film really gave nothing for me to dig my interest into. Aside from a handful of chuckles from the various responses of the rabbis, I just couldn’t bring myself to give a flying fuck about the film. This was more like something from David Lynch than the Coens.

This is closest to No Country For Old Men, but that film had compelling characters and a relentless storyline to go with the theme of the randomness of evil and inequality of goodness. That was a great film; this is a sloppy mess. There’s no story to the film, so writing a review of it is also going to end up being pretty much impossible. Think Kaufman’s Adaptation if he’d just played it straight through to the end.

Perhaps I’m seriously missing something, but I convinced one friend to go to the film with me and felt I had to apologize afterward; I’m just glad other people fell out.


I described it to my SO as *Fargo *with less violence; or *Big Lebowsky *without the hallucinations. We have not seen No Country For Old Men.
It is a dark comedy.
I thought the theme of the movies was “There isn’t always an answer”, and by leaving several of the main story lines “unfinished” the Coen brothers were trying to force the audience to emphasize with the main character.

Oh, I got that. I just think the message was worth the preceding 100 minutes of my life, especially with a main character who was such a milquetoast that I didn’t want to have even a perverse empathy with him. Aside from his interactions with the rabbis, I just didn’t find it…funny. I hate to find myself in agreement with self-professed screenwriting guru Robert McKee (or, at least Charlie Kaufman’s rendition of him) but:

*Nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your fucking mind? People are murdered every day. There’s genocide, war, corruption. Every fucking day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every fucking day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ’s sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about life! And why the FUCK are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it! *

That’s pretty much the way I felt about this film. Come to think of it, it reminds me of Godard’s Contempt, which I consider another vile waste of celluloid; I get the references and the cerebral nature of it; I just could care less about actually watching it.


I wasn’t trying to invalidate your opinion, Stranger, I was replying to ftg and the quote was lost.
I think there’s a missing negative in your first paragraph, either “I just *don’t *think the message was worth the preceding 100 minutes of my life” or “I just think the message was not worth the preceding 100 minutes of my life”.
I didn’t see the main character as a milquetoast, I saw him more as Hamletty desperately trying to figure out if action or inaction should be his course. He kept getting screwed whether he did or did not.

Y’know, it occured to me after seeing this that a majority of the Cohen brothers movies are telling the same story, just in differing tonal qualities. The framework is this: some external misery befalls the “hero”, it is generally inexplicable, and they are powerless to resolve it. The key elements being the external nature and the inexplicability. (And please, I’m not inviting a debate, it’s just what popped into my head, that’s all.)

The tonal differences go from broad comedy to violent drama, from light to dark. This one, to me, comes off as their most personal and realistic. Call it a dark comedy or call it a light drama, it really doesn’t make a difference. I believe it is deliberately meant to leave you unsure and unresolved, just like the hero of the story.

That said, like many movies I would only recommend it to a select group of people. An earlier poster cited Lynch, I would say that someone who can stomach Lynch could weather this one easily. However, I would not even bother to use words like “like” or “dislike”.

Nitpick: Coen with no H.

Thanks, I retract my ‘H’. :smack:

I liken it to Barton Fink but without the heavy surrealism touches. I don’t think I’ve every felt like such a goy in my entire life, but I found the movie mysterious and marvelous, bizarre, beautifully shot and acted, heart-breaking, inscrutable, and very very funny. Nowhere near as accessible as a majority of the Coens’ films, it strikes me as one of their most personal ones (they usually have such ironic detachment that you don’t get much of a sense of them as people; but with this, I suspect a bit of perverse autobiography may be at play). Definitely one that needs to be seen again, but one of my favorites of the year.

And will someone give Roger Deakins a freakin’ Oscar already?!?!

I’d love to see it. But it doesn’t appear to be in wide release and I’d like to go closer to home. Is it doomed to be stuck only in tiny theaters hither and yon?

ArchiveGuy, here’s an interview from the AV Club where the Coens talk about the personal aspects of the film.

I agree with everything you say btw, including Roger Deakins.

I was rolling in the aisles at this. I thought it was brilliant, hilarious. I loved the setting, the cinematography and the characterisation. I liked its (presumed) insights into a culture I know nothing or very little of.

What’s interesting to me is how many views this thread has relative to the number of actual posts (which I just increased by 6%). Must be a lot of interest in this movie.

The unresolved ending was one of the things I liked about it. Brilliant movie. The best of the year.

(And I hate David Lynch. It is really a disservice to this film to compare it to Lynch’s movies. This is Coen brothers through and through.)

I saw it back in October and loved it. Probably my favorite movie of the year. Of course, I am a huge Coen Bros. fan.

My friend who saw it with me thought it was derivative of American Beauty. I hadn’t seen it at the time, but I watched it shortly afterward and disagree with him.