NOTE: A Serious Man has been promoted onto the List of 366 Best Weird Movies of all time after initially being placed in the “Borderline Weird” category. For reference, you can read the original borderline weird entry here.
“Even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the midterm.”–dream dialogue from A Serious Man
DIRECTED BY: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
FEATURING: Michael Stubargh, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Fyvush Finkel
PLOT: A Serious Man opens in the indeterminate past with a Jewish couple entertaining a man who may or may not be a dybbuk (ghost) on a snowy night somewhere in Eastern Europe. In 1967, in suburban Minnesota, a Jewish physics professor suffers from an escalating series of problems including a failing marriage, bratty kids, students willing to do anything for a passing grade, financial troubles, and a ne’er-do-well, mildly insane brother. Seeking advice on a life that seems to be spinning out of control, he visits three rabbis, each of whom is less helpful than the last.
- Though the film is not autobiographical, Joel and Ethan Coen grew up in suburban Minnesota roughly at the time the events of A Serious Man take place.
- The core idea for the movie originated when the Coens considered making a short film about a boy who attends his bar mitzvah stoned. As the story expanded from that scene, the idea was originally to make the father and son’s stories of equal weight, but as the script evolved the story of the elder Gopnik assumed center stage.
- The prologue is not an actual Jewish folktale. The Coens searched for an authentic legend to use but finally decided to create their own.
- The movie makes extensive reference to quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, theories of modern physics which suggest that there are limitations on our ability to know basic reality.
- The Coens’ script for A Serious Man was nominated for a Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The film won “Best Screenplay” or equivalent awards from the Boston Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, and National Society of Film Critics.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The very last shot, which I can’t reveal here.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Superficially, A Serious Man is only mildly weird. There are a few dream sequences and multiple nonsense parables, but unlike the Coens’ definitely weird Barton Fink, this story of a suburban Jewish man beset by an improbably mounting set of real life woes contains no surrealistic fireworks (although there is a conspicuous surrealistic pillow). On the other hand, A Serious Man has a skeletal undercurrent of ambiguity and disturbance running through it like a bone cancer; it feels weird at its core. With a head-scratching prologue and epilogue bracketing a central fable about a goy’s teeth, the thoughtful and frequently brilliant A Serious Man earns its place on the List by mining the mysteries at the basis of existence.
Official trailer for A Serious Man
COMMENTS: A Serious Man is a retelling of that most fascinating parable in the Old Continue reading 49. A SERIOUS MAN (2009)