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Movie Review : A Serious Man

25 Sep

I fucked your wife, Larry! I seriously fucked her!” says Ableman to Larry Gopnik. So, how is Larry supposed to react when his wife’s lover mutters something so disturbing in such a casual manner. He remains cool, calm and composed. That’s Larry for you. He cannot even cry out to the Almighty because he is agnostic at heart. And this is just first of the many problems that he would go onto experience.

Here is a man, so full of problems, that he has no time for himself. He believes in karma, and thats demonstrated by the fact that he keeps asking why these things were happening to him when he has not done anything. His wife is not in love with him, his son is a marijuana addict, his daughter only wants to stylize her hairs, his brother is a gambler and he himself is facing professional problems as his tenure at the college is about to expire and he needs good reccos to have that tenure extended. So, what should he do? How is he supposed to handle his life!

Larry is a physics professor in a university and is shown teaching students about Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. But the irony is that, the joke is on him.

The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can’t ever really know what’s going on. So it shouldn’t bother you. Not being able to figure anything out.

Larry himself doesn’t know what’s going on and not being able to figure it out bothers him. For all his problems, the only advice he gets from everyone is to ‘visit a rabbi’. But agnostic that he is, he wonders if a rabbi will be of any help. His disbelief in God and religion is also established in that scene where he repeatedly says to the person on the phone, that he did not ask for Santana’s Abraxas gramophone record. The allusion here is to God, as in Abraxas, which he has no need for.

But after much self-convincing, Larry plods his feet to meet a rabbi. His brush with the various  rabbis makes for some engrossing watch. One of the rabbi narrates to him, a story of a dentist who while making dentures noticed hebrew characters in the tooth of the patient and the words inscribed were ‘help me, save me’. The dentist was really worried as he did not understand what this meant. His inquisitiveness brought him to the rabbi. So, was the rabbi able to help the dentist? What does the story imply? Will the rabbi’s wisdom help solve Gopnik’s problems?

In another encounter, a junior rabbi points to the parking lot and says that its all about the perspective. If he changes his viewpoint and sees the parking lot from a fresh perspective, he maybe able to see/feel God and his presence and that may solve his problem.

As already stated, Larry is a man who believes in karmic cycle of life; but that’s where he could be wrong. It may not be his ‘karma’ thats bothering him, it could be an age old curse which was played as an epilogue to the movie. The first few mins of the movie builds a fable wherein a family gets cursed for mistaking a living being for a wandering spirit/ghost and harming it. So, has the ghost of the past caught up with the descendents of that family? Its never explained. The fable could just have been played out to set the tone of the movie. Yes, its plain black humor.

When the truth is found to be lies
and all the joys within you dies

The speciality of Coen brothers is that, they put people in tumultuous situations and unfold the character’s response to the stimulus. Gopnik of Jewish descent is a man with multiple problems, all pounding on him in a multi-prong assault. When he tries to concentrate on his wife, his job comes back to bite him. When he is at work, he is constantly thinking of his wife and her lover. When he is with his lawyer, he is thinking of his job and his wife.

The epilogue at the beginning of the movie and the dentist-rabbi interactions are the most interesting parts; the former scene gives a nice start to the movie while the later gives it the much-needed boost else the movie would have become boring, slow as it already is.

The movie is not just about Larry and his despicable life but is also about religion and its importance or the lack of it. Will religious heads like rabbis and gurus help us solve our problems? Not sure. The movie almost borders on atheisim because it shows a dutiful and responsible but an agnostic man not being happy. And the agnosticism makes people feel that if Larry visited a rabbi and believed in existence of God then his problems would be resolved. So, is it important to be religious to have a happy life!  I think the Coens can make another movie with the contrarian view of a deeply religious man being swarmed with problems and leading a life of dismay and sadness.

The Coens have shot the movie beautifully, bringing to life Minnesotta of the late 60′s and early 70′s. Beautiful houses, clear skies, the empty streets, the lifestyle [dressing and clothing] of the jews has been very well re-created and captured. Its an indepth study of a conservative jewish family and their culture and religion, be it the reference to bar-mitzvah or hashem or dybuk or gett.

But what stood out was the acting. This movie deserves a serious look from Coen fans for the sheer emptiness of Larry Gopnik’s life and the way his character is brought out, always in a self-conflict, always self-consumed. The only time he gets out of character is when he spots his neighbor sunbathing. That pulls a few strings of his losely wound life. Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry is just perfect. He brings out the vulnerability and helplessness of the character very well. All other minor characters have done well, but its Larry all the way.

The movie starts with a bilzzard in the fable as mentioned earlier, and ends in a tornado which stormed Minnesotta in ’67. Fantastic portrayal of a life full of confusion, a great satire of a man who wants nothing but a few moments of peace and joy.

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Posted by on September 25, 2010 in hollywood, movie review, movies

 

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