St. Thomas goes to the Movies: A Serious Man
I love the Coen brothers. In my mind, they are THE best filmakers we havet. I know, I know. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. For those of us who love dark humor, questions about the nature of reality, and beautifully shot films all rolled into one, the Coen brothers can’t be beat. I’m a fan of everything they have done, even their not so stellar efforts like, “The Ladykillers”.
Then comes what will probably considered one of their best works: A Serious Man.
First, I have to something about the experience of seeing the movie. Mrs. St. Thomas and I went to the Drexel theater in Bexley, a neighborhood of Columbus. We had a great dinner at the little cafe. As we grabbed our seats in the theater, the owner of the Drexel came out to introduce the film. How often does that happen? He gave some updates on upcoming films and introduced the film.
Very cool and beats the megaplex experience anytime.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
In my mind, the film is a modern retelling of the book of Job. If you haven’t read that particular book in the Old Testament, it’s not exactly a beach novel. The book is full of suffering, the questions it brings and God’s answer (or lack there of). The story is told through the eyes of Larry Gopnik, a committed Jew living the suburbs of Minneapolis (a hint at the Coen brothers upbringing). He is a guy whose live is going fine when we first meet him. He is a physics professor on the verge of tenure, he has a family, and they live in a nice, safe neighborhood.
Then, it all hits the fan. We found Larry’s life going down the toilet in a hurry. His wife is cheating on him and kicks him out of the house. His kids are stealing from him and smoking pot. Someone is writing nasty letters to the tenure commitee calling his integrity into question. One of his students is trying to bribe him for a grade. His neighbor hates him for being a Jew. And, he is tempted by his other neighbor, a nude sunbathing woman who is ready to pounce on Larry should he give the go ahead.
He goes to three different Rabbi’s who give him answers that aren’t satisfying in the least. Larry doesn’t get any answers except hints of beauty. His son’s bar mitzvah. His love of math. Friends are trying to help. But the ending punches you in the gut. I won’t give it away, but to say, again, Job gives us a hint.
And, if left there, we would think the Coen brother’s are complete existentialist, with the idea that life is meaningless and random. Some people have argued this is exactly the point of any Coen brothers film. They argue that the Coen’s absurdist dark humor is meant to point out the meaninglessness of life.
To think so would ignore moments of genuine beauty and loveliness in their films. In Fargo, it’s pregnant Marge, as her husband puts his hand on her stomach and says, “Three more months”. In O Brother, it’s the dam breaking scene that stands in for God’s washing or the baptism of a congregation. In No Country, the sheriff dreaming of his father or laughing at the absurdity. You see, it’s the laughter that brings beauty and meaning in the films.Their moments of beauty are meant to knock us out of our cynical malaise. We are like Larry, who before his life goes up the creek, says, “I have done nothing. Nothing.” He meant he has done nothing actively wrong. But, then again, because he has done nothing, he has responsiblity for what has happend to his life. Just like us.
The Coen brothers invite us to contimplate the seeming abusrdity of life with the whispered hints of meaning just beyond the veil.