Coen Brothers’ Modern Morality Play Arrives on Blu-Ray
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man is a modern morality play revolving around a latter-day Job burdened by a host of woes of Biblical proportions. After a pre-opening credits tableau in a 19th C. Europe, the setting shifts to Minnesota in 1967 where are introduced to the protagonist, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg).
The mild-mannered economics professor resides in a modest, middle-class home on a nondescript, suburban tract typical of the era, a defoliated landscape dotted with rows of identical houses devoid of personality. The members of his dysfunctional family, however, bear little resemblance to their sterile environment, as each is a colorfully-comical character with a skeleton in his or her respective closet.
There’s Larry’s wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), who wants a divorce so she can remarry unctuous, recently-widowed Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). Meanwhile, their spoiled teenage daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), has been stealing money to pay for a nose job, and their son, Danny (Aaron Wolff), is hooked on Marijuana at the age of 12. Finally, we have unemployed Uncle Arthur (Richard Kind), a slacker who keeps landing on the wrong side of the law.
Things aren’t any better for Larry at work where someone’s been anonymously sending letters to his department suggesting that he be denied tenure on the grounds of moral turpitude. Plus, a desperate Korean student (David Kang) who failed an exam has been trying to bribe him for a passing grade.
All of the above trials and tribulations leave Larry overwhelmed, both financially and emotionally. So, he requests an audience with sage Rabbi Marshak (Alan Mandell), only to be told he has to work his way up the spiritual ladder by meeting first with assistant Rabbi Scott (Simon Helberg), and then with Rabbi Nachtner (George Wyner). Neither, of course, is able to resolve the dilemma, thus leaving it up to Larry, like Job, to be buoyed by faith alone.
Its religious pretensions notwithstanding, A Serious Man isn’t as heavy in tone as it might sound. In fact, the film is first and foremost a sublime comedy given to poking fun at mid-western Jewish mores at the time the Coen Brothers themselves were raised in Minnesota. Perhaps because of their intimate familiarity with the subject-matter, this picture proves to be their most mature, coherent and satisfying offering yet.
A sumptuous cinematic feast, and kosher to boot!